Sunday, October 24, 2010

Spirited: Notes on My Thesis, #2

I was walking through the corridor at the Getty in an attempt to find the stairs, when I found something amazing. This vase may not look striking at first glance-- it has muted colors and much of the paint has worn off the vase-- but to me, it is absolutely incredible. I will explain the reason behind my awe at such an unimposing object.

Like many Geometric vases, this vase displays a burial scene. On one side of the corpse, there are men with one hand on their heads, indicating mourning, and keeping the other hand behind them. On the other side of the corpse, there are women, shown with two hands on the top of their head, indicating mourning, and possibly, pulling of their hair as a sign of grief. A man and a woman head the procession on each side and touch the body. These are presumably relatives of the deceased and the artist indicates both their relationship and potentially elite status because they are larger than the other figures on the vase. There are two striking and exciting aspects of this depiction:
Athenian Vase from the Getty Villa [1]
  1. The vase differentiates the mourners by gender, and not only are their gestures are different, but men and women stand on opposite sides of the vase. This is exciting because it shows a marked difference from the undifferentiated mourners in Dipylon Vases in my last blogpost.
  2. There are two figures differentiated strongly through gesture from the other figures. I am not an art historian so this may be a little shaky, but I think there is a stronger sense of individualism in these figures than the ones in the Dipylon Vases.
So what does this have to do with either tragedy or Plato, you might ask (since this is called "Notes on My Thesis")? My thesis specifically focused on Plato's criticism of male lament in tragedy and the cultural context for this critique. Although there may be many earlier (I used art history surveys rather than vases  to analyze the trend of representations of mourning), this is the earliest vase that I know of which indicates not only a strict division between the sexes during prothesis [2], but also signals that there was a difference in the ritualized lamentation of women and men. Although the gestures certainly serve as a marker for the genders, the skirted women and the bare legs of the men provides a sufficient  indicator of this difference and it is only reinforced by the differences in the stances of mourning.

  1. This is "Storage Jar with a Funerary Scene," a terracotta vase made in Athens between 710-700 BCE. Photographed by Sulpicia III.
  2. The prothesis was the parading of the body as it was mourned by the family before burial.

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