Book Rev STEINER Reading Greek Vases 2007 | Paintings | Science


Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.11.19 Ann Steiner, Reading Greek Vases. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. 346. ISB !7"#0#$2%#"2$22#%. &"$.00.

'evie(ed by )i*+ae, S-.ire, C+rist/s C0,,ege, Cambridge 1m2s733*am.a*..45
Word count: 2472 words

As its title indicates, the essential argument of this book is that Greek vases, like the inscriptions sometimes scribbled on them, functioned as te ts to be read! "teiner #henceforth "!$ posits that the %overall message of the unified te t of the vase% #p!&'$ inhered in a s(stem of pictorial conventions analogous to those of a language! )ore specificall(, she suggests that this conventional s(stem was predicated upon the hermeneutics of repetition and s(mmetr(! *f we onl( learn the specific interpretative values of repeating shapes, formulae and scenes on the different visual fields of an individual %vase+te t%, modern viewers can %decode% the overarching %meanings% that the( originall( communicated! "! readil( admits that she is b( no means the first to draw attention to the use of repetition on Attic vases, more specificall( on Archaic vases produced between ,--+ 4.- /0 #p!1$! "he begins with the habitual nod to "ir 2ohn /ea3le(, and proceeds to reference the work of numerous other scholars working in the late twentieth centur( #most notabl( 4eide 5roning$!1 /ut "! maintains that her book offers something new! 6o previous critic, as "! puts it, %has tapped into the theoretical material available to guide a stud( of repetition, to understand the development and parameters of its e ploitation b( Athenian vase+painters% #p!11$! *f this professed ob7ective does not 8uite live up to that embla3oned on its dust+7acket ++ that the book %provides an entirel( new wa( to read ancient Athenian vases% ++ "! does attempt to relate her %readings% to much larger theoretical frameworks, drawn from the interconnected fields of information theor(, social anthropolog(, semiotics, structural linguistics and narratolog(! 9hese interdisciplinar( connections are the sub7ect of "!%s first chapter, in which she attributes to repetition on Greek vases an %interpretative% rather than purel( %aesthetic% function! :pening with the famous red+figure pelike b( ;uth(mides and ;uphronios in /oston, "! shows how the similarities and differences between the two sides of the vase spark a visual e ercise in %spot the difference%! Although visuall( mediated, "! argues that this game had, as it were, e tra+visual significance! After looking to earlier studies of form and variation in /ron3e Age iconograph( and the uses of the formula in 4omeric epic, "! presents the theoretical basis of her own anal(sis! 9he book

paradigmatic relation #0hapter "even$. though. %reduplication% and %redundanc(% ++ although these terms have little direct relevance for the thematic discussions that follow! 9he second chapter offers a practical %primer% to the theoretical framework laid out in the first! .ach of the individual chapters deals with one of the four potential interpretative effects of repetition: narratological connection #0hapter "i $. five of them illustrated here. and a means of logicall( connecting the different visual fields of a vase! "he ends with a set of technical definitions ++ concerning %repetition%. %Glaux+sk(phoi% and %. and "! does not e plain its particular resonance for her argument!$ 9he fifth chapter. especiall( the wa(s in which written messages might be split over different visual fields. ekias provides the primar( set of case studies: nine e amples from his oeuvre. leading viewers to search for other associations between them! 0hapters "i through 6ine provide the real meat and bones of the book! "! applies to the interpretation of repeated figural scenes the sorts of meanings attributed to the repetition of inscriptions in the fourth and fifth chapters! . and thereb( the visual conventions of the late si th centur(! 0hapter 9hree proceeds to tackle the 8uestion of repetition on a grander scale! /ecause both sides of %horse head amphoras%. function %metadiscursivel(% as a sort of commentar( on the mechanics of interpretation! #%)etadiscourse% is a term introduced here for the first time. la(ing out how writing on vases is essential to decoding the semantic value of repetition% #p!1. %duplication%. it seems. the fourth chapter opens with a self+confessed %digression% #p!12$ ++ into how first spectators. %komast+dancer cups%. %verbatim repetition%. . and onl( then inscriptions. offers a useful surve( of the various functions of inscriptions on black+ and earl( red+figure vases.2 derives from information theor( a means of evaluating the efficienc( #or %entrop(%$ of different %s(stems% of communicating %messages%!2 5or "!. causal or e emplar( connections between the different sides of their wares! 9he chapter concludes b( suggesting that .$! *n practice. making them a standard part of their own visual language. %redundanc(% #e8uated with %repetition% on p!11$ is an obvious wa( of eliminating visual ambiguit(! "ocial anthropolog( and structural linguistics are likewise introduced here. b( contrast. %repetition is at the core of their identit(% #p!11$! 9hese vases are important. to show that we are dealing with a %cultural phenomenon% embedded in the larger communicative conventions of a given societ(! 5inall( "! looks to semiotics and narratolog( to argue that repetition functions as both part of a unified language for conve(ing meaning. are used in support of "!%s argument that skilled artists used repeated inscriptions and imager( alike to conve( chronological. because the( point to the popularit( of vases that conformed to a set %t(pe%! /ut there is a reverse argument too: %the vase with onl( some repetitive features shared between scenes calls attention to itself precisel( because it is not a member of a 9(pe and its repetitions are not known through other e amples% #p! 11$! 9he fourth and fifth chapters are a more motle( pair! "! promises in the introduction that these chapters will %deal directl( with the title of this monograph.(e+cups% are %identical or nearl( so% #p!4-$. ekias% direct followers #specificall( the Andokides<=(sippides >ainters$ inherited and developed his various uses of repetition. "! suggests.

for e ample. >hintias!!!: these artists all worked within a world of growing intra+elite competition.ight$.2$: while the work of the >ioneers must be understood as part and parcel of a larger climate of political and social upheaval. in its anal(sis of figurative imager(! 9he scare 8uotes with which "! introduces the notion of the %vase+te t% are ver( 8uickl( abandoned. and parodic deflation #0hapter 6ine$! "!%s interest is essentiall( thematic in nature.$! Although "! fre8uentl( flirts with an alternative rhetoric #whereb( repetition on vases should be read as more . the wa(s in which visual repetition functioned within its original viewing conte ts! "! begins b( re+evaluating the evidence for the %intended use venue% of the vessels surve(ed: although %recogni3ing that Athenian figural potter( ma( have had diverse use+conte ts%. n!&4$! 9he strongest parts of the book are undoubtedl( those that deal with written te ts.$! *nteresting here is "!%s insistence on the elite market of Attic wares. 4(psias. their products nonetheless appealed to a predominantl( elite market! . especiall( at the turn of the si th and fifth centuries #pp!21.uth(mides.+1-$. but the various self+referential games that the( pla(ed onl( served to distance the banausic world in which their vases were produced from the elite s(mposium in which the( were consumed! 9his is certainl( a wide+ranging and varied book! *n some wa(s. p!12.+21-$. . most notabl( the fifth chapter ++ one of the most discursive Anglophone surve(s of the range and register of Athenian vase inscriptions. as throughout the book. it summarises b( wa( of demonstration the arguments of the preceding nine chapters! 9he eleventh chapter finall( turns to a theme much anticipated in those that precede it ++ namel(.+2. p!&'? %the point the artist makes creating the links!!!%. "mikros. she focuses on the s(mposium as the principal sphere %in which the vases reverberate% #p!2&. neatl( integrated within the te t #117 in total$! 9wo final chapters round off the book! 0hapter 9en introduces si new case studies to show how %a single vase can e hibit multiple wa(s for repetition to create meaning% #p!212$: in effect. but to the Greek world at large! 9here are parts of the book that read like te tbook accompaniments to a core curriculum course on %0lassical Greek 0ulture and 0ivilisation%: the introductions to 4omeric epic #pp!. the vast ma7orit( of them illustrated with good+si3ed pictures. and a useful summar( of previous debates! "! is at her most sensitive and insightful here when e ploring the various performative functions of inscriptions #which she is surel( right to think were fre8uentl( intended for reading aloud at the s(mposium$! 9he book is less successful. p!14? %repetitions invite the viewer to read two or more fields together.$ and >indar #pp!24. not to mention the anal(sis of the s(mposium in the final chapter #apparentl( intended as a basic introduction to its defining characteristics and function: cf! p!&-4. although she does discuss her case studies in appro imate chronological order! 4ere.uphronios. it serves as a useful introductor( guide not onl( to the world of Athenian vase painting. reducing the likelihood that the total meaning will be lost%. :ld 0omed( #pp!1'1+1'.& character development #0hapter . as "! literali3es the metaphor of %reading%! 5undamental to the book%s te t+ centred semiotics is the logocentric assumption that images are %vehicles% that communicate intended meanings from artist to viewer #%repetition is essential to avoid transmission errors%. though. "! also gives her 8ualitative anal(sis a 8uantitative spin: she brings to her respective thematic anal(ses a wealth of e empla.

p!1&-$. ++ note how small a section of the vase survives here in an( case$B )an( will likewise be perple ed at the suggestion that the %spectators% on the two sides of a black+figure k(li b( the Amasis >ainter formall( %repeat% each other ++ never mind the specific conclusion that these remind viewers that %we too would do well to remember the e hortation of >oseidon in battle% #p!.-s: /Crard showed how the art of Athenian vase painting #and we might sa( 0lassical visual culture at large$ negotiated meaning b( both alluding to and deviating from a set of visual precedents!4 /ut "!%s conceptual framework is ver( different! . etc! Anilinear meanings are easiest to conve( to undergraduates.&+1.uphronios #p!1-4$! :n other occasions.4 discursive %e plorations% of certain themes$. this can at times prove a frustratingl( avisual book! 9ake the elasticit( of the term %repetition% itself! "! nicel( demonstrates that repeated verbs. and then another si followed suit@% #p!122$? %@the (outh is awarded the wreath as a result of having won the race@% #p!122$? %@the Athenian elite male is like 4erakles@% #p!12'$? %@men fight like Athena@ and @she fights with (ou@% #p!1&4$.uphronios #p!21-? cf! pp!1. nor about how %repetition% differs from %related comparisons% #pp!117+17-$! "ometimes she seems to rel( on rather vague similarities to establish a paradigmatic relationship between the two sides of a vase: the repetition of a %beard% and a conventional+looking %hairst(le% on a black+ figure column krater b( =(dos. %repetition% becomes a much looser categor(! "! never 8uite comes clean about what visual repetition looks like. there appears ver( little visual s(mmetr( between the two sides whatsoever! 4ow e actl( does the (outh on a .-$!& "ome of the most important work on Greek vase paintings in the late twentieth centur( has stemmed from the assumption that images work as or within an iconographic %language%! :ne thinks primaril( of the 5rancophone crew assembled b( 0laude /Crard in the earl( 1'. for e ample #p!14&$. for e ample.piktetos red+figure k(li %repeat the s(nta % of 9heseus on the other side #p!2-1$B What are the %several significant similarities% that associate the scenes of 4eracles sla(ing /usiris and three reclining s(mposiasts on another k(li b( the same painter #p!21. however. or the rather strained similarit( posited between a horse+drawn chariot and a horse+mounted rider on a red+figure k(li b( .ach of her various case studies is anal(sed in isolation. and convenient too for scholars who want 8uickl( to illustrate ideas and narratological trends! /ut the inclination to collapse image into verbal %meaning% nonetheless tends to eclipse the comple mechanics of visual response. we might . as part of a closed visual s(stem: ever( duo or trio of images is read in independent terms..$B And what is the compositional repetition between the two sides of an infamous red+figure amphora b( . meaning is deemed a singular entit(! 6owhere is this clearer than in "!%s reduction of pairs of images to te tual captions in inverted commas: %@to depart for war is heroic@% #p!21$? %@first these si hoplites battled. for approaching repetition as something %almost purel( intellectual and not at all visual%. and not least the wa(s in which these were developed in the Athenian s(mposium! 5or all "!%s valiant attempts to reinstate the importance of close formal anal(sis #criticising 9!/!=! Webster. kalos inscriptions and potter<painter signatures invited viewers to compare and contrast the different sides of a vase! When applied to figural decoration. without reference to the broader Athenian %cit( of images%! /ut if Greek vase paintings raised 8uestions about the relation between single visual fields.

but references ver( little published after the late 1'. ekian protot(pe #fig! 2!12..piktetos #fig!'!&$B 4ow do the %repeated% scenes of A7a and Achilles pla(ing dice on a bilingual amphora b( the Andokides<=(sippides >ainters themselves repeat #and alter$ the iconograph( of an earlier . "! engages with onl( one #now rather dated$ introductor( te tbook: 2! 0ampbell #1'. though.+. Entropy.-s! *f the book provides a useful seismograph of the epistemological shifts in the late twentieth centur(. fifth and twelfth chapters an important new s(nopsis of the various functions of inscriptions.2$ Grammatical Man: Information.'+1''! Anne )acka(%s important work on the common uses of repetition in both Archaic poetr( and black+figure vase painting is arguabl( underpla(ed here #and her name misspelled throughout$! 2! *n fact.1 think that the( also encouraged viewers to relate these same 8uestions to issues of iconographic allusion at large! What should we make of the possible resemblance between the Ama3ons of a red+figure krater b( . but fre8uentl( collapses into 8uestions of chronolog(? it aspires to bring to the discipline %theor(% developed from outside its traditional confines. the( arguabl( refuse the sorts of te t+centred readings in which "! indulges! 9o respond to these images as images is thus to admit that formal correspondence between visual fields does not necessaril( make %message+ deliver(% more %effective% #contra p!11$! %Depetition% might 7ust as well complicate as clarif( visual response. 6ew Hork! &! "ome will also take issue with the specific %readings% advanced! *t seems rather .7: /ea3le(%s ghost dies hard$? it attempts thematic discussion. moreover. but recurrentl( falls back on notions of the %author+artist% #pp!. Archaic vase painters themselves activel( e plored the %conventionalit(% of visual e pression within the wake of new naturalistic visual st(les!1 9his is not to detract from the evident merits of "!%s book! 6ot onl( does it provide in its fourth.uphronios and the runners of >anathenaic amphorae #fig!1-!1-$. it also testifies to some of the conspicuous challenges that remain! 0tes: 1! 4! 5roning. %Anfange der kontinuierenden /ilder3ahlung in der griechischen Gunst%. then. for instanceB *s there significance in attributing 9heseus with the pose of the t(rannicidal Aristogeiton in a red+figure k(li b( . Language and Life. %often!!! there is a disconnect EsicF between the meanings of the words and the imager(%$! 9he urge to classif( pots into neat categories ++ to pigeon+hole a set of repetitions as establishing an %anton(mic% rather than %s(non(mic% relationship. for e ample ++ thus arguabl( tells us more about the classificator( origins of 0lassical archaeolog( than it does about modes of response in late Archaic conte ts! As Dichard 6eer has demonstrated. JdI 1-& #1'.$: 1. 2!1&$B /ecause Greek vases ask 8uestions.. it makes some substantial headwa( in associating these functions with their original s(mpotic conte ts! *n the end. rather like the riddlesome and nonsensical inscriptions that fre8uentl( accompanied such images #as "! admits on p!'2. * suspect that the book will fall uneasil( between different academic camps: it tries to reinstate the %viewer%.

5rida(. to suggest that the two scenes of lion+wrestling on a black+figure k(li b( the 4eidelberg >ainter were intended to contrast the 4eraclean labour with some sort of aristocratic imitation #the absence of attributed club %making it unlikel( that the figure depicted Eon the e teriorF is 4eracles%. (erformance *ulture and +t$enian . >aris! *n terms of her research on vase inscriptions.! Gassapoglou #eds!$. p!1&4$! And the interpretation of bilingual vases in chapter two as primaril( attempts to conve( narratological se8uence seems rather skewed! *n her discussion of a bilingual amphora b( the Andokides<=(sippides >ainters depicting two %repeated% scenes of a male figure reclining on a couch E2!14. pp! &1'+&7&.4$ La cité des images: religion et société en Grèce anti ue. -& April 2--' . to cite a single instance. 0ambridge! 1! D! 6eer #2--2$ -tyle and (olitics in +t$enian . L#image en &eu: de l#anti uité ' (aul )lee.emocracy. the other his future: but wh( should we necessaril( view either figure as 4eracles in the first placeB 4! 0! /Crard et al! #1'. pp! 71+'1. !critures II.1$ %>aroles d%images! Demar8ues sur le fonctionnement de l%Ccriture dans l%imagerie atti8ue%. >aris? idem #1'.. 2!11F.7$ "n flot d#images: une est$éti ue du %an uet grec? idem #1''2$ %Grap$ein: Ccrire et dessiner%.'+2-&. in 0! /ron and . in "! J! Goldhill and D!G! :sborne #eds!$. >aris? idem #1'''$ %>ublicit( and performance: Galos inscriptions in Attic vase+painting%. "teiner likewise builds upon the 5rancophone work of 5ranIois =issarrague: see especiall( 5! =issarrague #1'. for e ample. literal+minded. 0ambridge! Dead =atest *nde for 2--7 0hange Greek Jispla( /ooks Available for Deview /)0D 4ome Archives 49)= generated at 1&:&2:21.ase (ainting. in A!+)! 0hristin #ed!$. "! fancifull( argues that one side of the vase evokes 4eracles% past. pp! 1.

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