White Ground Lekythoi: Iconographic Analysis
Attic polychrome white ground lekythoi are a very special type of ancient Greek ceramic vessel. With only a lifespan of about 60 years in the fifth-century BCE (ca. 470-410 BCE), they are a purely Athenian phenomenon, made for Athenians by Athenians.
The lekythos as a general ceramic shape both precedes and succeeds these Attic polychrome white ground vessels, but this class of the vessel sheds significant light onto Classical Greek burial customs and funerary rites. They are found archaeologically within about 25% of known Athenian graves from this time span (cf. Oakley, John H., 2004. Picturing Death in Classical Athens. Cambridge). While scenes on Attic polychrome white ground lekythoi do depict themes of death from a mythological standpoint, (often including scenes of Charon, the ferryman to Underworld; Hypnos, the allegorical figure for Sleep; and Thanatos, the allegorical figure for Death), this iconographic analysis focuses on the mortal aspects of death, placing the lekythoi within one of four categories: domestic scenes, scenes at the prosthesis (the funerary wake), scenes at the grave, and scenes that conflate two categories together.
The purpose of this analysis is to promote a literacy in reading the images on Greek ceramic vessels in a digital capacity. An additional goal is to elucidate upon Classical Greek mortuary practices, particularly emphasizing common motifs as well as the many unique intricacies brought forth by Attic polychrome white ground lekythoi.
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