The Euphronios Krater

Analyze the Euphronios Krater in terms of its shape, style, and subject matter, based on what you can tell just by looking.

Public domain image

View the Entire Vessel

Front:

Side

Back

More information on the Euphronios Krater

New York Times Article: Ancient Vase Comes Home to a Hero’s Welcome

Euphronios Krater: Poem by Jared Carter


Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments on this piece. I want to summarize the important points you brought up and also respond to some of them.

The Value of the Pottery. Olivia, Linda, and Asa have been wondering how valuable the Euphronios Krater was in its own time. As a matter of fact, scholars who study the classical world are wondering the same thing. Some of these classicists think that Greek pottery was a really cheap product that exporters included in their cargo just to add some extra weight (ballast) to keep their ships from tipping over. Others argue that the pottery had a higher worth, by weight and volume, than other trade goods.

It is undoubtedly true that we value this pottery more now because it is ancient and rare and famous.

Just in case you’re wondering about the prices, a high-quality red figure ware volute krater by a well known (if unnamed) painter sold recently for $47,500, a wild goat style oinochoe for $13,164, and a black figure lekythos for $5,000.

The shape of the vessel is a calyx krater.

The subject matter:

Front: The death of Sarpedon.

Sarpedon, the son of Zeus, and an ally of the Trojans, is dying of wounds he received from Patroclus, who is a cousin and close friend of Achilles.

Hermes, the messenger of Zeus is instructing the gods Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death) to carry Sarpedon away.

Back: Athenian warriors preparing for battle.

“….a dying person being borne away by two others while a surprisingly cheerful person holding a staff is directing them or waving goodbye.” – Linda

“The wounded man in the center is Sarpedon, who appears to be suffering an agonizing death from three wounds. The New York Times article identifies the two winged figures on each side of Sarpedon to be two gods, Sleep and Death.” – Vivian

The style is indeed red figure ware (note the spelling, ware as in “something for sale” or “a particular kind of pottery” rather than “wear” as in something you wear.)

“The scenes on the Euphronios Krater are depicted with a great deal of attention towards proportion and the anatomical structure of the human body; every visible muscle is carefully outlined. Perspective is also taken into account, as certain parts of the men’s bodies are not visible due to others being in the way.” – Alina

“…Sarpedon (the dying man)’s abdominal muscles are shown in outline, and have some sort of outline around them, as if there wasn’t any skin there. The blood doesn’t flow like liquid; instead it waves like stiff red flags attached to his body. The thigh muscles are also outlined.” – Asa

“I can see some influence of ancient Egyptian art also. For example, the heads are turned to the side so that the face is drawn more in profile. However, … this pottery shows a foreshortened foot (on the bottom left), which was never in ancient Egyptian art.” – Jenny

Decorative elements:

“There are patterns of flower surrounding the Krater which obtained in the Orientalizing period where art patterns where being borrowed.” – Stephany

Stephany also writes, “One man’s shield has a crab on it which implies that the marine life is still important to them.”

Notice that another of the soldiers on the back has a scorpion on his shield. In his book Classical art and the cultures of Greece and Rome, John Onians writes that the “aggressive skeletons of the aggressive arthropods” are an elegant allusion to the soldiers’ armor.

Composition:

“…the artist creates a nice balance in their composition. The Euphronios Krater (on the front) has those two wings extended out in sort of like a mirror image. The man in the center standing up has one of his hands raised, which seems to be balanced out by the object that he is holding.” – Tina

“The whole composition is very balanced, and so even in the chaotic scene, your eye is drawn to falling body.” – Micaela

“…the red figures appear prominent against a deep black background, the ornate patterns on the gods’ wings are balanced by the plainer details of Sarpedon’s body.” – Vivian

Thematic considerations

“Another point of contrast is the difference between the concept of painful death from war (which is chaotic and bloody) versus the peaceful presence of the gods carrying his body away to eternal sleep. It seems that Euphronios invites viewers to sympathize with Sarpedon’s lamentable fate. The image is also symmetric down the center, with an equal number of figures on either side of the man in the middle.” – Vivian

” [The image on the Krater makes it so that the] family of [a soldier] can remember that his son is being a soldier and helping the country which make them proud of his son.” – Anthony

Here is an interpretation, from the Wall Street Journal, of the relationship between the front image and the back image:

“On the opposite side, he captured an image of Athenian youths arming for battle. The two sides were undoubtedly planned as a couplet, and at a time when the common men of Athens were beginning to feel their democratic oats, Euphronios saw a parallel between the everyday heroism of his compatriots and that of Sarpedon generations before.”

“This pottery shows that when one soldier dies in battle, more must take his place.” – Feibi

The Wall Street Journal article quotes the following passage from the Iliad, which may shed some light on why the figures all look so peaceful: “Everything that befalls a young man killed in battle becomes his glory/Though dead he may be, he is beautiful, no matter what happens.”

26 Responses to “The Euphronios Krater”

  1. Olivia Says:

    Because this pot uses the red-figure wear style, the details can be more easily seen. This pot appears to be a calyx krater because it has handles at the bottom which means it may have been used for heavy lifting. Why would a pot that is so beautifully ornamented be used for anything? Was this pot actually used or did it just stand as a decorative piece of art in a household?
    This pot depicts some type of story probably from the Iliad by Homer. Just like Exekia’s pot which features Ajax and Achilles, this pot has names by each of the characters, making it easier for one to recognize the story. Again, like the other pots of this era which we have seen, this pot feature a floral border around the central image. In this image there appear to be soldiers, the ones wearing armor, but something is strange about them. They have wings which makes me wonder if these are mythical creatures, or if the Greeks revered the soldiers as so great that they decided to depict them with these mythical qualities.

  2. lin Says:

    The krater depicts, in the red figure style, a dying person being borne away by two others while a surprisingly cheerful person holding a staff is directing them or waving goodbye. The person being carried away (in a not-quite-princess style) is probably on his deathbed, but not yet dead, as he is still bleeding. The two people bearing him are quite similar as both are wearing helmets and wings. On the edges of the scene, two soldiers stand guard on either side with their spears and shields, giving the image a sense of symmetry.

    I really wonder who this was made for and who appreciated it at it’s conception. How much it was worth monetarily and if it had the same prestige that it does today.

  3. Stephany Says:

    The Euphronios Krater shows a lot of knowledge put together into one piece of art. The anatomy of the body is shown numerous times with the proportions in tact somewhat. It seems that the more important figures have clothes while the less important like the dying man are not clothes at all. The man that seems to be dying is held up by what appears to be two men that are angels or gods. There are patterns of flower surrounding the Krater which obtained in the Orientalizing period where art patterns where being borrowed. This Krater is very different in compared to Exekias’ pot of Achilles and Ajax. The men seem to be preparing for battle all around the Krater except for the front where the man is being killed. One man’s shield has a crab on it which implies that the marine life is still important to them. The patterns surrounding the pottery seem to be symmetrical.

  4. yutina Says:

    For both the red figure and black figure styles of pottery, I find it interesting how even though the image on them is not completely symmetrical, the artist creates a nice balance in their composition. The Euphronios Krater (on the front) has those two wings extended out in sort of like a mirror image. The man in the center standing up has one of his hands raised, which seems to be balanced out by the object that he is holding. Although the whole entire Euphronios Krater is not symmetrical or balanced, when it is turned so that the shape looks centered, the image on it looks like it could’ve been meant to be a mirror image.

  5. micaela Says:

    This pot is recognizable as a calyx krater because of its large size and handles. Something that really struck out to me about this piece of pottery was the amount of action and emotion that was shown from the front view. I also noticed that the piece isn’t too overwhelming because of the balance between the more lively figures and then the almost statuesque postures of the guards standing on the left and right of the scene. The whole composition is very balanced, and so even in the chaotic scene, your eye is drawn to falling body.

  6. anthony0513 Says:

    I think this pottery is talking about a story about a brave soldier. So the story is beginning for the side where has a lot of flower. Then, we can see a naked person who is cleaning his body and then being a soldier. At last, we can see a man who die and some god come down and take his body back to the place that where he come from.
    I think this pottery shows that what should a civilian — being a soldier to protect their own land. I think this pottery sent to a soldier or a person who is in the army’s house. That make the family of this person can remember that his son is being a soldier and helping the country which make them proud of his son.

  7. Asa013 Says:

    This krater immediately struck me as strange for the period. Earlier in Greek pottery a completely different style was used, but this was only around 200 years previous. For example, the piece of pottery Achilles and Ajax, by Exekias, shows a much different portrayal of the human anatomy. The muscles are shown, but not outlined or exaggerated. In this, however, Sarpedon(the dying man)’s abdominal muscles are shown in outline, and have some sort of outline around them, as if there wasn’t any skin there. The blood doesn’t flow like liquid; instead it waves like stiff red flags attached to his body. The thigh muscles are also outlined.
    Nonetheless, this krater is very advanced, showing great amounts of motion (and at the same time, inertia) in Sarpedon’s body. Hypnos’ and Thanatos’ body language shows that they are carrying a great detailed weight, as opposed to a light two-dimensional figure.Also, there is a great amount of detail in their wings.

  8. Jenny0413 Says:

    I think the Eurphronios Krater is pretty interesting pottery. I notice the stylized floral pattern on the top and the bottom of the vessel. The depiction of human figures are quite stylized also. The muscles are clearly shown. For example, the abdominal muscles are very evidently defined. I can see come influence of ancient Egyptian art also. For example, the heads are turned to the side so that the face is drawn more in profile. However, the art on this pottery also differs from Egyptian art because this pottery shows a foreshortened foot (on the bottom left), which was never in ancient Egyptian art.

  9. vivian_c Says:

    Designed in the red-figure ware style, this krater pot by Euphronis had the purpose of mixing water and wine. The image on the krater is a story from the Illiad, a Greek epic poem about the Trojan War. The wounded man in the center is Sapedon, who appears to be suffering an agonizing death from three wounds. The New York Times article identifies the two winged figures on each side of Sapedon to be two gods, Sleep and Death. This work if full of contrast, balance and symmetry. The red figures appear prominent against a deep black background, the ornate patterns on the gods’ wings are balanced by the plainer details of Sapedon’s body. Another point of contrast is the difference between the concept of painful death from war(which is chaotic and bloody) versus the peaceful presence of the gods carrying his body away to eternal sleep. It seems that Euphroios invites viewers to sympathize with Sapedon’s lamentable fate. The image is also symmetric down the center, with an equal number of figures on either side of the man in the middle.

    From reading the article, it seems that that the Italians saw this krater pot as a metaphor of their victory over grave looters.

  10. feibi Says:

    What is interesting to note is the symmetry in the Euphronious krater. The scene is centered around Sarpedon, Zeus’s son and Trojan ally, with Hermes standing on top. Sarpedon appears to be either dead or badly injured, and thus he is depicted in a reclining position which wraps around half of the vase. On either side of him his Sleep and Death, which appear similiar in appearance. They are carrying Sarpedon, one is holding his legs, while the other is holding his shoulders. These winged gods create that atmosphere of symmetry as I mentioned above. Furthermore, the two nondescript soldiers on either side of Sleep and Death also add to the balance.

  11. Abhinav Says:

    The Cater is very interesting because of the near symmetry that is visible from the side views. However, it is hard to tell because there is no view of the back. Also, the astounding detail with which the gods are drawn is quite amazing. It appears as if there are words next to the mouth of the two gods lifting Sarpedon. His death seems almost unrealistic because, even though there are three swords (or arrows and spears), he still has a smile on his face. That is very ironic, until unless he was happy to die. Also, it is somewhat unusual that the scene is of death but the it is portrayed as being not as melancholy as expected. With the effect of the flowers and the smiling gods, it almost appears as if there is no remorse at all. The red figure style makes the detail easier to see as opposed to the black figure style.

  12. Olivia Says:

    Lin,
    I do not think that these pots have the same prestige back in that era as they do today. The reason that they are so important to us is because they are rare. Back in the times when they were manufactured, they were abundant. However, since those days it seems that many have gone missing and the few that we have are placed in museums. They serve great importance today because we can get a glimpse of how they lived, their daily activities, cultural interactions, and their stories. Also, these pots are the only Greek paintings available!

  13. Asa013 Says:

    Olivia,
    I’m sure this pot krater was used for its utility, too. If something beautiful were made now and put on something we use, we would happily use it, and sometimes defecate it. For instance, a book may contain beautiful words, but that might not stop some from highlighting it. Also, now we have a much greater appreciation for preservation of the past.

  14. Stephany Says:

    I noticed how so many people have noticed the symmetry in the figure, but not really in that there are a few differences that really stand out. I agree with Jenny that there is a lot of part of the body shown in the Krater. I also agree with Vivian when there seems to be contrast in the dead being take away by the gods while others prepare for battle.

  15. micaela Says:

    Olivia and Stephany-

    I think that the winged figures definitely have to be immortal, but it’s interesting the way that they are depicted as completely human men, just with wings. I guess it supports the Greek ideal of athleticism and sport; even their deities had strong, athletic bodies.

  16. Asa013 Says:

    Micaela,
    In Greek Mythology, the gods were almost identical to humans, save a few mystical powers. They were in general not omnipotent, and were sometimes petty and very human-like.

  17. micaela Says:

    Olivia, Lin, and Asa-

    I feel like these pots would have been of significance to the people because of the intricacy and elaborateness of the designs. Besides that, the image is of a story having to do with their religion and (at least in our society) we probably wouldn’t use items practically that had such a religious meaning for us.

  18. vivian_c Says:

    In response to Asa’s first post,
    I agree that that Sarpedon’s muscles appear somewhat oddly outlined, maybe it was surprising to see an attempt to depict human anatomy in Euphronios’s work in comparison the the figures of Ajax and Achilles because they were wearing clothes. perhaps if they were not, Exekias might have portrayed the human body in the same way.

  19. feibi Says:

    In response to Anthony, I agree with the idea that this pottery depicts the relationship between being a soldier and being a citizen. Since Sarpedon was considered a god or demi-god ( I am not quite sure) , he must have had a special and honored place fighting in battle. This pottery shows that when one soldier dies in battle, more must take his place. In the back of the pottery, young warriors are taking up arms. They are portrayed in less detail; however, these young soldiers represent the cycle of warfare. Euxitheos is illustrating the idea of duty Greek citizens must have had towards protecting their country. Nonetheless, this theory could be refuted since Sarpedon was an ally of the Trojans, the greeks most hated enemy. But what I am sure of is the glory of a warrior as depicted by Sarpedon’s respectful homecoming.

    Feibi – Euxitheos is the potter–they guy who threw the actual pot. Euphronios is the painter. – LS

  20. Jenny0413 Says:

    Tina,
    I really like how you talked about symmetry and balance of the krater. I understand what you meant by if the krater could have been symmetrical and balance. Like what you have said, the wings of the two men on either side of the krater looks like mirrored images, even though it is not since one of it curves up and the other curves down. Also, the men on far left and far right are standing in a same pose. However, one has his shield facing us and the other has his spear facing us.

  21. Alina Says:

    The scenes on the Euphronios Krater are depicted with a great deal of attention towards proportion and the anatomical structure of the human body; every visible muscle is carefully outlined. Perspective is also taken into account, as certain parts of the men’s bodies are not visible due to others being in the way. I am interested by the way Hermes–the “surprisingly cheerful person holding a staff” (haha, Lin) is painted, as he seems to be completely disjointed from his feet (foot?). As to whether this is because I am not comprehending the image correctly, or because this particular painting is still an experimental attempt at perspective, I have no idea. The floral designs on the sides and along the borders are also done so precisely that it’s hard to think of them being painted by hand. I am also interested by the crab on the youth’s shield, which is probably a piece of symbolism that has gone straight over my head.

  22. yutina Says:

    Vivian,
    I didn’t really think about how the blood and sleeping can be a sign of sympathy, but i do agree since it does look like his fate was meant to be dead, but I am not sure whether it is suppose to be positive or a negative thought, since he is being carried off peacefully, yet it is an unfortunate that he can’t avoid this situation.

  23. Asa013 Says:

    Abhinav,
    I agree with your idea that the man’s death is ironic, but this is only ironic to people in the present, because death has become a hated and dark thing. The Greeks are treating it like he is being taken to a better place by winged gods, and he is smiling happily.
    P.S. Thanks Stephany for that great interpratation!

  24. Abhinav Says:

    Asa
    Now that you mention it, I realize what you mean. When I look back at the Achilles and Ajax, they actually do show less muscles than in this krater; although they show the arm muscles in more detail in the Achilles and Ajax krater. Something I found unusual was the muscles of the leg. In both the left and right legs, the muscles and bones are shown in much more detail than the rest of the body, aside from the abdomen. Also, it seems as if the left foot is broken because it is bent in an unusual way. In addition, the detail in the kneecap is greater than in most of the other Greek images of the time.

  25. anthony0513 Says:

    Jenny,
    I agree with what you said that it have some characteristics from ancient Egyptian art. Most of the figures, including the ones on the back of this has their head turned to the side. I think it is interesting how you said that it has a foreshortened foot. This is something that ancient Egyptian arts do not have.

  26. lin Says:

    Dearest Olivia,

    I do agree that the krater was probably less valued than in the past because of the abundance of such items, but I also think that it was also appreciated for it’s beauty, since it is a pretty pot. These days, there are lots of artists and lots of artworks, but that doesn’t devalue the truly fine pieces of art since they stand above the hoi polloi.

    I’m still kind of curious how they were bought and sold though.

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