Αρχική > πολιτισμός > Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey / Geometric Art in Ancient Greece

Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey / Geometric Art in Ancient Greece


Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey

Literature and Literary Connections, Greek Poetry, Homer: Iliad and Odyssey

Works of Art (9)

Bust of Patroclus, 1843, William Henry Fox Talbot (British), Salted paper print from paper negative (1988.1159)

Kylix, ca. 540–530 B.C.; black-figure, Attributed to the Amasis Painter, Greek, Attic, Terracotta (1989.281.62)

Naval Battle between Trojans and Greeks, 1538, Giovanni Battista Scultori (Italian, Mantuan), Engraving printed in brown ink (53.600.996)fi

Papyrus fragment with lines from Homer’s Odyssey, Early Hellenistic, 285–250 B.C., Greek, Ptolemaic (09.182.50)

«Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night,» 1886, Dora Wheeler (American), for Associated Artists (New York City), Silk embroidered with silk thread (2002.230)

Polyphemus and Galatea in a Landscape, last decade of 1st century B.C.; mid-Augustan, Third Style, Roman, Fresco (20.192.17)ar

Relief plaque, ca. 450 B.C., Greek, Melian, Terracotta (25.78.26)

Stamnos (Jar), late 6th century B.C., Attributed to the Painter of London B 343, Greek, Archaic, Attic, black-figure, Terracotta (2011.233)

Ulysses at the Table of Circe: Plate 16 of The Odyssey of Homer Engraved from the Compositions of John Flaxman R.A., 1805, John Flaxman (British), Printmaker: James Parker (British), London, England, Etching (1977.595.53)


Geometric Art in Ancient Greece



The roots of Classical Greece lie in the Geometric period of about ca. 900 to 700 B.C., a time of dramatic transformation that led to the establishment of primary Greek institutions. The Greek city-state (polis) was formed, the Greek alphabet was developed, and new opportunities for trade and colonization were realized in cities founded along the coast of Asia Minor, in southern Italy, and in Sicily. With the development of the Greek city-states came the construction of large temples and sanctuaries dedicated to patron deities, which signaled the rise of state religion. Each polis identified with its own legendary hero. By the end of the eighth century B.C., the Greeks had founded a number of major Panhellenic sanctuaries dedicated to the Olympian gods.

A newly emerging aristocracy distinguished itself with material wealth and through references to the Homeric past.

Geometric Greece experienced a cultural revival of its historical past through epic poetry and the visual arts. The eighth century B.C. was the time of Homer, whose epic poems describe the Greek campaign against Troy (the Iliad) and the subsequent adventures of Odysseus on his return to Ithaca (the Odyssey). A newly emerging aristocracy distinguished itself with material wealth and through references to the Homeric past. Their graves were furnished with metal objects, innately precious by the scarcity of copper, tin, and gold deposits in Greece.

Evidence for the Geometric culture has come down to us in the form of epic poetry, artistic representation, and the archaeological record. From Hesiod (Erga, 639–640), we assume that most eighth century B.C. Greeks lived off the land. The epic poet describes the difficult life of the Geometric farmer. There are, however, few archaeological remains that describe everyday life during this period. Monumental kraters, originally used as grave markers, depict funerary rituals and heroic warriors. The presence of fine metalwork attests to prosperity and trade. In the earlier Geometric period, these objects, weapons, fibulae, and jewelry are found in graves—most likely relating to the status of the deceased. By the late eighth century B.C., however, the majority of metal objects are small bronze figurines—votive offerings associated with sanctuaries.

Votive offerings of bronze and terracotta, and painted scenes on monumental vessels attest to a renewed interest in figural imagery that focuses on funerary rituals and the heroic world of aristocratic warriors and their equipment. Thearmed warrior, the chariot, and the horse are the most familiar symbols of the Geometric period. Iconographically, Geometric images are difficult to interpret due to the lack of inscriptions and the scarcity of identifying attributes. There can be little doubt, however, that many of the principal characters and stories of Greek mythology already existed, and that they simply had not yet received explicit visual form.

Surviving material shows a mastery of the major media—turning, decorating, and firing terracotta vases; casting and coldworking bronze; engraving gems; and working gold. The only significant medium that had not yet evolved was that of monumental stone sculpture—large-scale cult images most likely were constructed of a perishable material such as wood. Instead, powerful bronze figurines and monumental clay vases manifest the clarity and order that are, perhaps, the most salient characteristics of Greek art.

Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Department of Greek and Roman Art. «Geometric Art in Ancient Greece». In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grge/hd_grge.htm (October 2004)

Further Reading

  • Coldstream, J. N. Geometric Greece. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977.
  • Garland, Robert The Greek Way of Death. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985.
  • Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3d ed., rev.. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Langdon, Susan, ed. From Pasture to Polis: Art in the Age of Homer. Exhibition catalogue.. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993.
  • Lawrence, A. W. Greek Architecture. 4th ed., rev. by R. A. Tomlinson.. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.
  • Padgett, J. Michael, ed. The Centaur’s Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art. Exhibition catalogue. . Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum, 2003.
  • Pedley, John Griffiths Greek Art and Archaeology. 2d ed.. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998.
  • Schweitzer, Bernhard Greek Geometric Art. New York: Phaidon, 1971.
These related Museum Bulletin or Journal articles may or may not represent the most current scholarship.
  • Moore, Mary B. «Ships on a ‘Wine-Dark Sea’ in the Age of Homer.» Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 35 (2000).JSTOR | PDF
  • Mertens, Joan R. «Some Long Thoughts on Early Cycladic Sculpture.» Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 33 (1998).JSTOR | PDF
  • Von Bothmer, Dietrich «Greek Vase Painting.» The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 31, no. 1 (Fall, 1972).JSTOR | PDF | Supplemental PDFs
  • Richter, Gisela Marie Augusta «The Department of Greek and Roman art: Triumphs and Tribulations.» Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 3 (1970).JSTOR | PDF
  • «Greek Vases in the Recent Accessions Room.»Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New ser., v. 19, no. 5 (January, 1961).JSTOR | PDF



Krater, second half of 8th century B.C.; Geometric

Attributed to the Hirschfeld Workshop

Greek, Attic

Terracotta; H. 42 5/8 in. (108.25 cm)

Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.130.14)


During the Geometric period, monumental grave markers were introduced in the form of large vases, often decorated with funerary representations. On this magnificent krater, the main scene, which occupies the widest portion of the vase, shows theprothesis, a ritual in ancient Greek funerary practice in which the deceased is laid out on a high bed (bier), usually within the house. During the prothesis, relatives and friends may come to mourn and pay their respects to the deceased. Here, the figure seated at the foot of the bier may be the dead man’s wife, and the smaller figure on her lap their child.

For optimal clarity, the deceased is shown on his side and the checkered shroud that would normally cover the body has been raised and regularized into a long rectangle. The figures on either side of the bier are depicted with the triangular chests shown frontally and breasts in profile. The figures’ legs and circular heads are also rendered in profile. A meander pattern delineates the neck from the body of the vessel. This vase represents the Geometric style, which takes its name from the geometric shapes that constitute its artistic language.

In a band below the funeral scene, chariots stand hitched to teams of horses and warriors carry spears and large shields. The figures may refer to the military exploits of the deceased; however, as hourglass shields and chariots played a more limited role at this time than in the earlier Bronze Age, the scene more likely evokes the glorious ancestry and traditions to which the dead man belonged.

Statuette of a horse, 8th century B.C.; Geometric


Bronze; H. 6 15/16 in. (17.63 cm)

Rogers Fund, 1921 (21.88.24)


The clarity and elegance of form in Greek Geometric art is as effective in three-dimensional sculpture as it is in vase painting. Small-scale bronzes, such as this horse, were produced in workshops throughout the Greek mainland and represent the most innovative sculptural achievements of the period.

This solid-cast bronze horse exemplifies Geometric art at its best. The flat parts of the neck and legs are carefully integrated with the cylindrical muzzle and body of the animal. The base, articulated with triangular patterns suggesting a rocky terrain, further contributes a sense of volume and lends definition to the space occupied by the figure. Freestanding figures of animals, such as this one, were often dedicated in Greek sanctuaries.

Statuette of a man and centaur, ca. 750 B.C.; Late Geometric


Bronze; H. 4 3/8 in. (11.10 cm)

Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.2072)


This magnificent bronze statuette represents a man and a centaur locked in combat. The man stands upright, naked except for a broad belt and tall conical helmet. With both legs firmly planted on the ground, he towers over the centaur, reaching out with his extremely elongated left arm while holding back the raised right arm of the centaur. It is likely that the centaur originally held the branch of a tree or another weapon in this hand. With his left hand the centaur grasps the man’s right arm, which held a weapon, a spear or sword, the remains of which protrude from the centaur’s side. The centaur also stands upright with all four legs firmly planted on the ground. Depicted with the body of a man attached to the hindquarters of a horse, the mythological beast wears a tall conical helmet similar to that of his antagonist. A line of hair, represented as a herringbone pattern, delineates the centaur’s equine spine all the way to the tail. The general characteristics of man and centaur—the proportions of the bodies, the large rounded heads with small pointed beards and pronounced ears—are similar, but the man is distinguished by his taller stature and deep-set eyes, which originally may have held inlay. The simplified geometric style belies the tense action of the scene and imbues it with a static, almost monumental quality.

On the underside of the base, concentric rectangles frame two symmetrical zigzag patterns, whose hollow areas pierce the base as series of triangles between the legs of the centaur. Careful ornamentation of both the top and bottom of the base is characteristic of many fine small bronze statuettes of this period. Interest in the geometry of form and the tendency to finish all parts of the object, even those not readily visible, such as the underside of the base, become fundamental tendencies of the finest Greek art in the ensuing centuries.

Figural groups are rare in Geometric Greek art. The statuette is said to come from Olympia and may be associated with a Laconian or other Peloponnesian workshop. The lack of attributes and close parallels make it impossible to identify the figures with any certainty, although a mythological scene is almost certainly represented. A careful reading of the action clearly indicates that it is a violent scene of combat, particularly evident from the blade in the centaur’s side. Scholars have suggested a variety of plausible interpretations. The figures could represent Zeus and an early conception of the monster Typhon. Alternatively, the scene has been identified as Zeus and one of the Titans, or even Zeus and Kronos. More likely, the scene depicts the hero Herakles and one of the centaurs, such as Nessos. The superior height of the man and the mortal wound of the centaur indicate the outcome of the combat.

This bronze figural group was cast using the lost-wax method. The craftsman modeled the figures and their base in wax, then encased them in clay, and heated the clay-covered model to melt the wax. The hollow left in the clay served as a mold, which the craftsman filled with molten bronze, heated to a very high temperature. This method of casting bronze is technically and conceptually demanding, suggesting the sophistication of the craft behind the man and centaur’s simplicity of form.

Thematic Essays
Works of Art by Collection







Pyxis (box with lid), mid–8th century B.C.; Geometric

Greek, Attic

Terracotta; H. 9 15/16 in. (10.49 cm)

Rogers Fund, 1948 (48.11.5a,b)


This type of pyxis is an innovation in Athens around 850 B.C., based on influences from Mycenaean and Protogeometric pyxides and wooden boxes. It features a strongly curving body and a lid smaller in diameter than the box itself. The handle of the lid consists of a ridged shaft surmounted by a small reproduction of the pyxis, including a sort of conical handle often found on pyxides of this type.

The artist of this pyxis has carefully organized the painted designs to highlight the vase’s construction. A hatched meander, to which all other patterns are subordinated, designates the widest part of the vessel. It recalls the tradition of early Attic Geometric pottery that featured a single, large motif. Concentric bands of dogtooth, zigzag, and dots fill the remaining space on the body and lid. The miniature pyxis on the knob features a chevron frieze and a series of concentric bands.

Although most pyxides are found in graves, ancient repairs on many of these vessels indicate their use during an owner’s lifetime. This pyxis may have served as a container for small objects, such as jewelry and toiletries. Its lid and rim are perforated for a string so that the vessel could have been suspended from a shelf, for example.




Neck amphora, fourth quarter of 8th century B.C.; Late Geometric

Greek, Attic

Terracotta; H. 27 in. (68.5 cm)

Rogers Fund, 1910 (10.210.7)


This tall wide-mouthed amphora represents the fully developed Geometric style and illustrates the profoundly significant shift of focus from abstract design to the human figure. Decorative bands, consisting of a zigzag, crosshatching, and dots, fill the area above and below the two main figural scenes. On each side of the amphora’s neck is a warrior with a round shield poised between two horses; a long-legged bird stands beneath each horse. Five two-horse chariots with charioteers parade around the belly of the vessel. Each driver wears a long robe and holds four reins, signifying that two horses, not one, pull each chariot. Anatomical details of the warriors, charioteers, and horses have been reduced to simple geometric shapes. Characteristically, the heads are rendered in profile and the bodies in three-quarter view. Scattered lozenges, zigzags, and other shapes fill the background of both figural scenes. Snakes modeled in the round set off the lip, shoulder, and tall handles of the amphora.

Armed warriors, chariots, and horses are the most familiar iconography of the Geometric period. Whether these images reflect a real world of military threat and conflict, or refer to the heroic deeds of ancestors, is a longstanding debate in studies of Geometric art. Snakes, traditionally associated with death, probably refer to this amphora’s function as a funerary dedication.



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