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Mythos Troja

Mythos Troja

Edited by Raimund Wünsche. Pp. 448, figs. 495. Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, Munich 2006. €42. ISBN 3-933200-11-3 (paper).

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This is an excellent catalogue, mostly for specialists in classical art and iconography, created for the exhibition held in Munich at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen and Glyptothek, for which a large wooden horse was erected in the Königsplatz (10–11, figs. cover, 1–6) between the two museums and modeled after the well-known seventh-century representation of it on a relief amphora from Mykonos (fig. 43.1). The catalogue contains no canonical bibliographical listings but rather sparse references incorporated into compact endnotes (418–29) with abbreviation listings (431). Succinct catalogue entries are compiled at the back (431–48) with miniature black-and-white photographs.

The 139 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan artworks exhibited and illustrated in the text in color are all from standing collections in the two sponsoring museums but are supplemented throughout the catalogue by mostly black-and-white illustrations of others (some post-Antique, e.g., Judgment of Paris by Heinrich Aldegrever, Laocoön Group by Alessandro Allori) now in various collections. The visual media selected incorporate a variety of types, including terracottas, coins, gems, metal wares, sculptures, and stone and metal reliefs, but largely a variety of vases. The presentation is not simply an array of exquisite artworks depicting scenes of the saga but is skillfully grouped in clusters hinged to the chronological narratives of the theme and roughly set up in a sequential order encompassing episodes before and during the war, including the sack of Troy and the homecomings. These rely on and are often compared with the ancient texts that make up the epic cycle of which the Iliad and Odyssey are understandably most prominent. A discussion on Homer, including references to him in ancient art and literature, introduces the viewer to the setting. There have been a number of publications focused largely on the Trojan War in art, such as by Scherer (The Legends of Troy in Art and Literature [New York and London 1963]), Johansen (The Iliad in Early Greek Art [Copenhagen 1967]), and Woodford (The Trojan War in Ancient Art [Ithaca 1993]), to which can be added much of the work by Schefold (Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art [Cambridge 1992, trans.])—yet none of these was geared to an exhibition.

The accounts revolving around Troy basically begin with Zeus’ abduction of Ganymede, followed by the love affairs of Eos and Aphrodite with other Trojan princes (respectively Tithonos and Anchises), and leads on to Helen’s birth and ultimate abductions before (Theseus) and after (Paris) her marriage to Menelaos. The marriage of Peleus and Thetis and the rise of Achilles follow suit. With these episodes in place we then encounter the episodes of Philoctetes’ misfortunes, Telephos with Orestes, and the sacrifice of Iphigenia before we are launched into the primary struggles. Having the Glyptothek in Munich as a primary source understandably allows for an emphasis here on the Aegina temple pediments. Identification of the figures is a prime objective; varying opinions are clarified, and two Trojan wars—one led by Herakles against the city under King Laomedon and one organized by Agamemnon against the citadel ruled by Priam—are traditionally segregated between the east and west pediments, respectively. Of the homecomings, those of Odysseus and Agamemnon are highlighted, while a selection of episodes involving Orestes and either Elektra or Iphigenia brings the ancient narrative to a close.

The catalogue provides us with a number of special interests. There is the benefit of excellent photographic details such as the black-figure hydria (cat. no. 37) (figs. 12.3, 22.6) by the Antimenes Painter combining the Judgment of Paris on the body with a scene of the Pursuit of Troilos suitably incorporating a broken hydria on its shoulder. We are invited to study contrasting versions of aged male heads, one on the stamnos with a warrior’s departure by the Kleophon Painter (cat. no. 68) (fig. 27.3) and the other (Priam) on Euthymides’ amphora (cat. no. 69) (fig. 27.4) depicting Hector arming. A marvelous scene of narrative detail reveals Achilles dragging the body of Hector past the tymbos (grave mound) of Patroklos (Il. 24.14–18) with an armed eidôlon (spirit) of him emerging from it, and Iris hastening off in the opposite corner (cat. no. 77) (fig. 36.1) with her mandate from Zeus to Priam to ransom his son’s body (Il. 24.159–87).

Other vignettes of great clarity reveal the line of galloping horsemen along the edge of Achilles’ kline (couch) in the Ransom of Hector (cat. no. 78) (figs. 36.4, 36.6) by Oltos, Ajax carrying the frontal-faced corpse of Achilles from the field on a black-figure amphora near the Leagros Group (cat. no. 18) (figs. frontispiece, 39.11), the Diomedes statue in the Glyptothek carrying the (lost) Palladion (cat. no. 101) (figs. 42.1, 42.5–8), and a selection of gems depicting Philoktetes (figs. 17.1–4, 17.6) and Diomedes (figs. 42.11–15). There are also splendid sets of images allowing for comparisons in treatment of various important sagas by diverse artists. These subjects include Leda and the swan, Peleus and Thetis, the Judgment of Paris, the Death of Troilos, and Achilles and Ajax playing a board game.

For the final stages and aftermath of the war, there is space here to reference two important discussions on two prominent artworks, neither of which appeared in the exhibition. One is the Belvedere torso in the Vatican (270–79), which is reconstructed as Ajax contemplating suicide and is based on images found on Roman gems, lamps, and a bronze statuette, and on drill holes in the extant torso that might reference the attachments of weaponry reflected in the small-art imagery. The other is the Late Geometric oinochoe in Munich depicting a shipwreck (366–67), which, despite feelings to the contrary expressed by some scholars, is considered an improbable depiction of Odysseus’ maritime mishap described by Homer (Od. 12.415–25). It is based largely on the inherently nebulous clarification of personages and their actions practiced by artists in Geometric Greek art, although the notion of heroic tragedy at sea is a subject still thought to cater to aristocratic tastes and hence its placement on the vase as prominent decor.

Karl Kilinski II
Division of Art History
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, Texas 75275

Book Review of Mythos Troja, edited by Raimund Wünsche

Reviewed by Karl Kilinski II

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 111, No. 4 (October 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1114.Kilinski

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