The people and culture of Ancient Greece have shaped the way modern civilization is today. Since 800 BC, the Greeks were the first to civilize their country and rid of the rule of kings, forming a democratic system of government.1 Greek Gods were also anthromorphic, but humanized, and had their own personalities and conflicts.2 The basic form of literature was developed, hence the reasoning for the many myths and stories behind Greek art.3 Exekias’ black figure paintings of Gods on pottery showed a great deal of power, symbolism, and drama. Narrative storylines can be seen in his paintings of Achilles and Ajax Playing a Board Game, and Dionysus on a boat. However, the symbolic power of the two is displayed in much different ways.
Exekias’ painting of Achilles and Ajax shows a scene of rest in between fighting the Trojan War. In this scene, they are sitting down, playing a board game called Petteia.4 At the edge of their seat and literally tippy-toeing, they appear to be absorbed into the game. The two spears that each God is clutching on to directs the viewer’s eye to the intensity of the game, as well as focusing it out of the focal point to create an overall roundness in composition. The image is quite symmetrical, although Achilles sits on a higher stool and has his helmet on while Ajax’s is placed aside. Thus, Achilles seems superior and more imposing than his opponent. The number ‘four’ is spelled out in Greek by Achilles’ mouth, and ‘three’ beside Ajax’s, another indication that Achilles is obviously in the lead.5
This painting shows not only the power of both warriors, but also the humanization of the Gods. The tension and focus between Achilles and Ajax are dramatized. Ironically enough, although the scene is during a break in between battles, the two Gods were in a battle themselves, with Achilles dominating Ajax.
The kylix painting of Dionysus in a Boat tells a completely different story. Best known as the grape and wine god, he was also...
Bibliography: Adams, Laurie Schneider. Art Across Time. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.
n.a., “Attic Black-Figure Amphora by Exekias” Vatican Museums. http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/x-Schede/MGEs/MGEs_Sala19_04_056.html (accessed 7 November 2012)
n.a., “Greek God of Wine and Ecstacy” Dionysus. http://www.godandgoddess.com/the-god-dionysus.html (accessed 1 November 2012)
n.a., “Latrunculi” http://www.aerobiologicalengineering.com/wxk116/Roman/BoardGames/latruncu.html (accessed 2 November 2012)
Mus, P. Dionysus. “God of Grapes” Dionysus. http://home.scarlet.be/mauk.haemers/collegium_religionis/dionysus.htm (accessed 2 November 2012)
Thompson, Kristi. Dionysos. http://dionysia.org/greek/dionysos/thompson/dionysos.html (accessed 3 November 2012)
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