Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece

Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece

Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece

Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece


Myth into Art is a comparative study of mythological narrative in Greek poetry and the visual arts. Thirty of the major myths are surveyed, focusing on Homer, lyric poetry and Attic tragedy. On the artistic side, the emphasis is on Athenian and South Italian vases. The book offers undergraduate students an introduction both to mythology and to the use of visual sources in the study of Greek myth.


The comparative study of mythology in Greek literature and art was pioneered by Carl Robert, in his book Bild und Lied, published in 1881; I have written this book partly in the belief that a new Bild und Lied would be useful to English-speaking students for whom Robert and other German scholarship are inaccessible. It is true that in recent years, French scholars have taught us new and interesting ways of looking at the images on Greek vases, applying principles of semiotics and structuralism, but the reader will not find any trace of that approach here. I doubt that Robert was any less sophisticated in his reading of Greek visual imagery than the modern iconographer and make no apologies for the unabashedly old-fashioned approach employed here.

I am, like all scholars of iconography, most of all indebted to two influential writers whose work is too seldom translated, Karl Schefold and Erika Simon. Schefold’s recently completed series of five volumes on mythological imagery from the Archaic to the Hellenistic periods is far more comprehensive than this little book could hope to be and should be consulted at least for the many beautiful illustrations, if not for Schefold’s extraordinarily sensitive appreciation of both Greek poetry and the art of the vase-painter. Similarly, Erika Simon has molded the present generation of iconographers with her many publications of the past forty years, and whatever interpretive skill I may possess is largely owed to the example of her work.

The other reason I have written this book is that I felt I had something to say about the narrative techniques of Archaic and Classical vase-painters that has not been said and illustrated systematically before. Although there have been many specialized studies on the problem of narrative published in recent years, all of them building on the work of Carl Robert, there has not been a general introduction to “reading” Greek narrative art. This aspect of the book is addressed both to students and to my fellow classicists, in particular philologists and literary critics who may not have found easy access to the visual sources that complement surviving texts.

This is not a handbook of Greek myths, for it deals with only some thirty

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