Comparative Guts

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Athenian red-figure krater signed by Euphronios

death of Sarpedon c.500 B.C. 

Cervetri, Museo Nazionale Cerite
Photo: Jaime Ardiles-Arce, CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

This pot has become particularly famous because it was illegally excavated and then acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The Met. subsequently agreed that its acquisition had been inappropriate and the crater was returned to Italy. The pot is signed by the potter Euxitheos and the painter Euphronios, and is an outstanding example of Athenian late sixth-century red-figure pot painting.

The scene is taken from book 16 of Homer’s Iliad where after Zeus’ own son Sarpedon, the lord of the Lycians, has been killed by Patroklos and despoiled of his armour by the Greek troops, Zeus commanded Apollo to go and rescue Sarpedon, cleanse him of blood and have Sleep and Death carry him home to Lycia for burial. The image shows Sleep and Death carrying off Sarpedon, blood still pouring from his wounds, accompanied not by Apollo but by Hermes, who escorts the souls of the dead to Hades, and with a sort of guard of honour of soldiers flanking the scene.

The body of Sarpedon is huge and its anatomy rendered in almost unparalleled detail, but despite the blood pouring out, the flesh is merely cut, with no indication of the innards of the body being exposed. This despite the fact that the Iliad explicitly describes not only the way in which Patroklos’ spear ‘struck where the beating heart is closed in the arch of the muscles’ (Il. 16.481 [ἀλλ᾽ ἔβαλ᾽ ἔνθ᾽ ἄρα τε φρένες ἔρχαται ἀμφ᾽ ἁδινὸν κῆρ]) but how when Patroklos ‘dragged the spear out of his body… the midriff came away with it [ἐκ χροὸς ἕλκε δόρυ, προτὶ δὲ φρένες αὐτῷ ἕποντο], so that he drew out with the spearhead the life of Sarpedon’ (Il. 16. 503–5).