Sotades: Symbols of Immortality on Greek Vases

Sotades: Symbols of Immortality on Greek Vases

Sotades: Symbols of Immortality on Greek Vases

Sotades: Symbols of Immortality on Greek Vases


In this book the author explores the work of the fifth-century BC Athenian vase-painter, Sotades, one of the most familiar names in vase painting. Previous scholarship has dealt mainly with questions of attribution, style, and iconographic interpretation, but Dr Hoffman concentrates on inherent meaning: what does the imagery of these decorated vases really signify. He argues that, contrary to widely held conceptions, there is an underlying unity of meaning in Greek vases and their imagery, a unity rooted in the religious beliefs and ritual practices of the society from which they spring. Each chapter discusses a specific aspect of the artist's iconology, placing it in the context of fifth-century BC Greek philosophical and religious thought.


Out of all things comes unity, and out of unity all things.

Herakleitos, Fr. 10 (Diels and Kranz)

I BEGAN writing this book about Sotades in the early 1970s as a traditional archaeological monograph in the Ceramica-Foundation's Künstlermonographien series. My motivation at that time was largely aesthetic: the Sotadean œuvre includes some of the finest and most beautiful Greek vases in the world. Then my interests started changing. I had had every professional success I ever wanted and had written several well-received books on Greek vases when I began to realize that something fundamental was missing from my work. It seemed to me that all the empiric data I had assembled and published for two decades amounted to only half the picture--that meaning (and a theory that would be instrumental in its determination) was waiting to be added.

At this point I decided that my scholarly horizon needed to be expanded. Taking a leave of absence from university teaching duties, I embarked in 1973 for Oxford to study social anthropology. I had, from my readings in the subject, come to understand this field as the study of man in his totality; I knew that phenomena as diverse as art, myth, religion, and technology fell within its scope and therefore was persuaded that anthropology, not being per se specialized, would help bring my art-historical practice to fruition.

The year spent at Oxford was rewarding, for it broadened my vision and furnished me with indispensable conceptual tools. Shortly thereafter, I made the acquaintance of a notable anthropologist, Sir Edmund Leach, and in the course of conversation mentioned my plan, then just budding, to study Greek vases again from an anthropological perspective. A few days later I received a note from Sir Edmund: would I join his Graduate Seminar in the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge? Thus began my sojourn at the 'other place'.

The tangible fruit of that chance encounter was Hoffmann (1977), a RAI publication which examines the imagery of a small and cohesive group of Athenian offering containers, the askoi, and shows how the painted imagery of each and every askos is of necessity related to that of every other and to the function, as offerings, of the group as a whole. Such a demonstration, while fairly obvious to most anthropologists, seemed venturesome to me: no one had ever before applied systems theory to the analysis of Greek vases! With the help of this theory it was possible to show that substantial meaning of these vessels resided in their manifold variations on the theme of sacrifice.

At the end of that second year in England another welcome surprise reached me: an . . .

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