Skip to content

See Plan your visit for health and safety information including mandatory check-in and use of face masks.

Red-figured bowl with a design featuring black on red ground, with white accessories and various figures. - click to view larger image
Volute krater

PATRICIA KARVELAS: This vessel is called a krater and was used for mixing water and wine in a manner similar to the modern punchbowl. Servants would ladle out the water-wine mixture from the krater into cups for serving to guests at drinking parties.

The decoration of this ceramic vessel was possibly inspired by one of Euripides’ most famous plays, Iphigeneia in Aulis. The vase was made in southern Italy, a region that we know was particularly fond of Euripides’ plays. A considerable number of vases from this region seem to have theatrical connections. It is even said that captured Athenian prisoners of war were supposedly able to get better treatment from their jailers in Sicily by reciting Euripides to their captors in return for provisions.

The play Iphigeneia in Aulis tells the story of the terrible sacrifice made by the Greek general Agamemnon in order to get to Troy. On his way to Troy, Agamemnon found himself becalmed at Aulis. After consulting the seer Calchas, Agamemnon learnt that the reason for the lack of wind was that he had offended the goddess Artemis, and to appease her he must sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigeneia. Agamemnon was initially reluctant to perform the act, but his heart hardens and he tricks his wife Clytemnestra into bringing Iphigeneia to the Greek camp on the pretext that he is going to marry her to Achilles. Both women arrive at the camp, joyful at the prospect of the coming union. At this point, Agamemnon reveals his deception. Clytemnestra is distraught, and her love instantly turns to hate and she begins to plot Agamemnon’s destruction. However Iphigeneia, realising that she has no other option, agrees to sacrifice herself for the greater cause of the expedition against Troy. She is led to her death at the altar but at the last minute, Artemis whisks her away and substitutes a sacrificial deer in her place.

In the central scene on the vase, we see Agamemnon (or possibly Calchas) standing over an altar with a knife in his hand. Iphigeneia stands with her head bowed, ready to be sacrificed. Look closely at the figure. We can also glimpse behind her the deer that will be her sacrificial substitute. Above this scene, Artemis, and her twin brother Apollo, look on.

Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.

© National Museum of Australia 2007–21. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 17 December 2021

Return to Top