Purification is a necessary aspect of interacting with the ancient Greek dead. Death carries a certain miasma, or polluting effect. In fact, it was commonly thought that until the dead received a proper burial and funerary rites, their eidolon, or psyche/soul remained wandering amongst the living, furthering their noxious effect. The prosthesis, or funerary wake—according to both literary and iconographic sources—typically follows this format: first women bathe and prepare the body, anoint it with oil, and dress and adorn it with flowers, wreaths, ribbons, and jewelry. Men, women, and children often outwardly lament and wildly gesticulate for the deceased, who is always seen lying on a bier, or bed, wrapped in a shroud and head facing the right. It seems as though the prosthesis is located inside of the family’s house, although its location has ambiguous evidence. The purpose of the prothesis is for family and close friends to grieve and confirm the death of the individual. On white ground lekythoi women are often seen as the most emotional and the most affected by the death, commonly depicted with short, tattered hair and clothing, iconographic signs of mourning.
Scenes depicting the prothesis span to the mid-geometric period on kraters around 770-760 BCE and continuing as a fairly consistent motif well into the 5th century BCE particularly on Attic black figure funerary vases, funerary plaques, and polychrome white ground lekythoi.
Please select a lekythos by clicking on its thumbnail image, then hover over the scene for its iconographic analysis. Below the image of each individual lekythos, you will find more information about it including its artist, date of production, and a description. Feel free to zoom in and out and drag the images after you select a thumbnail.
Polychrome Prothesis Extended Prothesis