The Codrus Painter, Kylix, Circa 430BC. Red figure painted pottery. Diameter: 31.75 cm., height: 12.70 cm. The British Museum, London.
The Kylix our group chose is a wine drinking cup that was created in 430 B.C. This piece pays homage to Hades and Persephone as they are featured in the middle of the cup enjoying a banquet. The figures of Hades and Persephone are encased by the decorative border popular in both Greek and Roman art, the Greek meander pattern. On the outside of the cup is the gods and goddess of Olympus banqueting. This kylix is an example of red figure pottery which was popular within the Greek society. This kylix piece portrays the god of the underworld, Hades, as wealthy, host to many and a metaphor to the Underworld and Olympus.
The piece portrays Hades as “Plouton” and “Polyxeinus” because of his attire and hosting for Persephone. “Plouton” (La Fond) means wealthy, and based off his appearance you can tell this is true. Hades is shown relaxing on a chair and his toga that he is depicted wearing. Hades is featured wearing a himation, which is an outer garment that can express elite status based off arrangement. Hades is also shown with a shallow drinking cup, or a phiale used for drinking. In the picture, you can see Hades have a laurel wreath around his curls, his complete outfit shows that Hades is wealthy. The other half of the picture is Persephone, as she too is enjoying the banquet. “Polyxeinus” means host of many and this is shown with his banquet with Persephone. There may not be many but in reference to Hades as someone referenced to “not seen” (La Fond) this could be many to him.
The cup could also be referencing not only Hades as the god but as the underworld. On the outside you can see other Gods and Goddess banqueting and then on the inside is Hades and Persepone banqueting. This could be a metaphor for the underworld as it is below Mount Olympus and the lack of Hades throughout mythology. In the lecture, “I’ll see you in hell: The Underworld and the Afterlife,” it talks about the dual meaning of Hades as both the place and the God but also about the very little presence within mythology. This could be shown on the cup as his lack of presence throughout mythology and how the other Gods and Goddess aren’t concerned about Hades and his life.
The Kylix is an incredible piece of art as it features Hades, a god that lacks presence in mythology. The piece pays homage to both ancient Greece and their art style that influenced the majority of other communities throughout the world. It also shows the activities that ancient Greeks enjoyed such as drinking wine and banqueting. The piece could be seen as a reference to the gods but also to Greeks daily lifestyle. The Kylix is rich in history and will continue to teach about ancient history and mythology.
Peter Paul Rubens, Orpheus and Eurydice, 1636 - 1638. Oil on canvas. 247.5 cm. X 196.5 cm. Museo Del Prado, Madrid.
While Created over a thousand years apart, Peter Paul Rubens’ 1636-1638 Orpheus and Eurydice, and the Codrus painter’s 430 BC Kylix both engage the same subject matter: Hades, the God of Death. The two depictions share similar attributes: Hades’ famous mythical connections and archetypal form link the two works. Yet the works’ formal treatments of Hades and differing levels of apparent symbolism set the two apart: the Kylix offers few clues to its subject matter while Rubens offers many symbols alluding to the God. And the Kylix centers on Hades while Rubens employs the God to serve a larger narrative. The two pieces, although members to different eras, are relevant as comparisons and approach mythic subject matter in their unique ways.
Hades’ pairing with his wife Persephone is another similarity between the two works. The abduction of Persephone is Hades’ main mythic narrative (La Fond) and is overtly referenced in both the Kylix and Rubens painting. On the Kylix, Persephone assumes placement at the base of her husband’s relaxed figure. Similarly, the abduction reverberates into Orpheus and Eurydice through Persephone’s presence in the underworld (“Orpheus and Eurydice”). Persephone’s inclusion is a strong signifier of Hades’ traditional mythic narrative and a connection between the pieces.
Hades’ Zeus-like appearance (athletic build and beard) is also present in both works, and a nod to how Hades is traditionally depicted (La Fond). The poses of the two Hades’ are different- Hades on the Kylix reclines on a couch symposium-style (“Kylix”), while Rubens’ Hades is dynamic with engaged muscles and a twisting torso- yet the two men share the same distinguishing features: an athletic build and beards. However, the Greek Kylix includes little other symbolism to indicate to the viewer they are looking at Hades. The main clue to the identities of the central figures is their isolated placement on the vessel. While the twelve main Olympians party on the outside of the bowl, Hades and Persephone, who primarily live in the Underworld, are formally separated. This mirrors the God’s mythical circumstances as well as distinguishes the couple as outside of the Olympians. By comparison, the Rubens painting is overt in its depiction of the God. Hades is accompanied by his three-headed guard dog Cerberus, emits a Godly glow (although this detail is not consistent with Classical mythology), and holds a Bident, the two-pronged staff associated with Hades (“Orpheus and Eurydice”). These symbols are more obvious to a less mythically-versed eye and make the God easily identifiable.
Hades is a god whose own specific myths and narratives are comparatively sparse to his Olympian relatives, and he is an infrequent subject for artists. Even the God’s most famous myth, his abduction of Persephone, is more famously understood through Persephone’s or Demeter's perspective rather than his own. Rather, Hades is often a secondary character, a God whose presence in mythology is most commonly in service to another, more epic tale (La Fond). This mythic pattern is seen in Rubens’ Orpheus and Eurydice. However, it is subverted by the Kylix. Hades' presence in Ruben's painting is contextual: he signals the underworld and thus helps clarify the subject matter to the viewer. Hades and Persephone play a large role in the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice- the couple agree to Orpheus’ bargain to revive his bride, thus aiding the hero in his main objective- but Hades is not the main hero of the myth, rather a consequential side figure, and in this painting, simply an indication of a larger myth being told. Here, Rubens somewhat sidelines the deity in favor of a more central focus on the hero Orpheus and his bride. While the two pairs of figures (Eurydice and Orpheus, and Persephone and Hades) are equal in size, Eurydice's glowing skin and sheath attract the eye while Hades' dark coloring allows his form to recede into the background. In contrast, Hades is front and center on the Greek Kylix. His placement inside the bowl of the drinking vessel means that it is his image which will be slowly revealed to the drinker. His presence aside from the Olympians alienates him, but also draws focus to him as particularly important.
Statue Group of Persephone-Isis and Pluto-Serapis with Cerbeus, mid-2nd century CE. Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
The statue trio group of Persephone, Hades, and Cerberus and is said to be dated around the middle 2nd century CE with the sculptor unknown. Persephone is on the left of the image of the statue with her hair covered but adorned with her traditional symbols (Raddato). On Persephone’s forehead are her symbols, a crescent moon, a solar disc, and a snake. In her right hand she is holding a sistrum, an ancient Egyptian musical instrument with a metal frame and traverse rods that rattle when shaken (Raddato). In the statue group, Hades has a modus on the top of his head, which is a measurement tool for grains, and staff in his left hand (Raddato). Next to Hades and at the bottom of the image is Cerberus, an Underworld guard that defines the identity of the two deities depicted. The inclusion of Cerberus is significant because the statue group includes typical Greco-Egyptian symbols of the two deities but the three-headed dog defines the deities as Hades and Persephone (Raddato).
Hades in Roman mythology was called Pluto and he is the brother of Zeus and Poseidon (Digen & Delahunty). The name Hades overtime began to allude to and be associated as a place and/ or a being of unending gloom and darkness (Digen & Delahunty). In traditional myth, Hades’s Underworld is where people go after they die. Everyone goes to the Underworld if they are human, but there are regions that vary. Tartarus is the lowest region of Hades, a place of punishment for the most wicked people for their wrongdoings (Digen & Delahunty).
The earliest known surviving account of the realms of Hades is Book 11 of the Odyssey where Odysseus describes his visit to the Underworld (Morford et al. 355). Homer gave a geographical and spiritual depiction in the Odyssey which has served as a foundation for future elaborations for Hades and the Underworld (Morford et al. 355). But in the realm of Hades there are multiple realms such as Elysium, a version of Heaven or Tartarus, a version of Hell (Morford et al. 379).
Hades the deity also occasionally goes by the name of “Chthonian Zeus” (Morford et al. 379). The traditional Christian concept of Satan is unrelated to the ancient portrayals of Hades because everyone ends up in Hades’s realm just in different regions (Morford et al. 380). But there is an exception for certain people like Heracles, who was able to become a divinity and join the ranks of the gods on Olympus (Morford et al. 380). While Hades is not the best person, he is not the tormentor that he is generally depicted as in popular media or completely evil (Morford et al. 380). The portrayals of Hades in recent media is typically of someone that is evil and depicted as a type of Satan figure of the Underworld such as in the Disney movie Hercules and in the film Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.
In Homer’s depiction of Hades he had created a poetic environment, one where societal constraints and diving banning are not applicable (Gazis). The book by George Gazis Homer and the Poetics of Hades, takes on a different and new approach to the Iliad and to Odysseus’s trip to the Underworld. Homer sending Odysseus into the Underworld realm of Hades, it also sends the readers on a trip there as well through stories of the past (Gazis). But it is not crystal clear to the reader or known why Odysseus needed to visit Hades. It is also not completely known what Odysseus did while there (Gazis). A recent study by Tsagarakis Studies of the Odyssey, Tsagarakis proposes the idea that Homer had divided the realm of Hades into two parts, one is the proper Hades and the other is the area of the gates of the Underworld (Gazis). For Tsgagarakis, Homer was intentional in his vagueness in his description of Hades in order to manipulate poetic themes to serve his story (Gazis). While much might not be known about Hades compared to other deities, it can be said that he is not the evil being that he is typically portrayed to be.
Gazis, George Alexander. Homer and the Poetics of Hades. First ed., Oxford University Press, 2018.
“Kylix” The British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/G_1847-0909-6
La Fond, Marie. “
La Fond , Maria. “Lecture 6, Video 1: I'll See You in Hell: The Underworld and the Afterlife .” Canvas Login, 2021, canvas.uw.edu/courses/1457478/pages/lesson-6-video-lectures?module_item_id=13108130.
La Fond, Marie. “Realm of Hades” Classics 430: Classical Mythology. University of Washington, 26 July, 2021, University of Washington, Seattle. Lecture.
Morford, Mark, et al. Classical Mythology. 11th ed., Oxford University Press, 2019.
“Orpheus and Eurydice.” Museo Del Prado, https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/orpheus-and-eurydice/07c9d839-8284-44bd-9c37-79585a88770f
“Peter Paul Rubens” The National Gallery, https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/peter-paul-rubens
Raddato, Carole. “Statue Group of Persephone-Isis and Pluto-Serapis with Cerberus.” World History Encyclopedia, 18 May 2019, www.worldhistory.org/image/10673/statue-group-of-persephone-isis-and-pluto-serapis/.
Sheila Dignen ; Andrew Delahunty. “Hades ([Gk Myth.]).” The Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusion, 2010, pp. The Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusion, 2010–01-01.
“Statue Group of Persephone-Isis and Pluto-Serapis with Cerbeus.” World History Encyclopedia, Carole Raddaato, 18 May 2019, www.worldhistory.org/image/10673/statue-group-of-persephone-isis-and-pluto-serapis/.