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Friday, April 10, 2015

The Abduction of Helen

This Attic red-figure skyphos (two-handled drinking cup) from Suessula in southern Italy is one of the earliest certain depictions of the abduction of Helen by Paris.  Its date is c. 480.  The vase is signed by Makron as painter and Hieron as potter.  Paris, preceded by Aeneas, grasps Helen by the wrist and leads her away.  Peitho, the goddess of persuasion, crowns Helen with the encouragement of Aphrodite.  The small winged figure between Paris and Helen is Eros.  All the figures are identified with inscriptions. 

A note on Eros.  On Greek vases Eros or Erotes (plural) can appear with, say, Atalanta, or at the Judgment of Paris, or, as here, with Paris and Helen—all stories in which he has a powerful impact as the personification of love.  At first he is depicted as a wingless boy.  Later, from about 500 BC, he is shown with wings (often as a tiny, adult-like figure, aka homunculus), as on Makron’s vase.  He becomes quite popular, especially on red-figure vases, where he pursues other figures (sometimes with a whip) or carries a hare, which is the token of love, or a torch.  It is not until the 4th century that he is regularly shown with a bow and becomes the chubby kid that we recognize from the Roman tradition (in which he becomes Cupid or Amor).

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