Swallow this: a pelike within Late Archaic Song and Visual Culture.
On a well-known pelike in Saint Petersburg associated with the Pioneer Group of vase painters and dated to c. 510-505 BCE, (1) three figures point upwards to a swallow (Fig. 1). Coming from the mouth of the youth seated on the left are the words, "Look, a swallow" [IDO XELIDON], The older bearded man responds, "Yes, by Heracles" [NE TON HERAKLEA], while the boy to his side adds, "There it is [HAUTE!]" In between the last two figures the phrase "It's already spring" (EAR EDE) appears.
In recent decades, scholars have offered rich treatments of this pelike, citing it in discussions of the interface between oral and literate cultures, and in treatments of the nuanced relations between words and images on painted pottery. In Francois Lissarrague's account, the 'speaking' figures offer an instance of a mimesis that is at once visual and verbal, (2) while Richard Neer notes that the vase confronts viewers with three different modes of signification: the painted image, the word, and the oionos, a term that means simultaneously a bird/bird of prey, a bird of omen, and an omen drawn from a bird. (3) In Neer's subtle analysis, the vase also demonstrates how artists of the late sixth and early fifth centuries--the painters of the Pioneer Group in particular--liked to engage in visual ambiguity, creating riddling scenes that oscillate between different meanings, an effect that Neer styles poikilia, (4) According to his reading, the pelike's artist suggests the potential gap between the sign (the bird) and its referent (the advent of spring); for, as Neer nicely observes, while the swallow does, in a widely-attested belief from Homer and Hesiod on, herald the new season, a familiar Attic proverb warns, "One swallow does not a springtime make" ([[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). If a solitary bird is not an indicator of spring, then at least one statement on the vase fails to correspond to the phenomenon to which it refers. Most recently, Henry Immerwahr has offered an innovatory discussion of the pelike, reading it as an illustration of a piece of love magic first attested in a fragment of Hipponax; following his focus on erotic relations, Immerwahr further calls attention to the cohesion between the swallow scene and the two wrestlers depicted on the vase's other side (Fig. 2). (5)
The analysis of the pelike that I offer here develops the suggestions that mimesis, sign making, poikilia, and ambiguity are very much the painter's concerns--and this in ways that Lissarrague's and Neer's rich discussions have left still to be explored--while also accommodating these within the pederastic frame common to my and Immerwahr's analyses. My larger aim, however, distinguishes this reading from existing accounts. So as more thoroughly to reconstruct a late sixth-century viewer's response to its images, I contextualize the vase in two respects. First, I place its scenes and words within the larger, culturally determined systems of meaning surrounding them; both the gestures that these painted figures perform and the messages on the vase act much like formulae in epic song, as repositories of a significance that goes beyond their denotative meaning on this particular occasion and that encompasses both existing traditions informing acts of bird (and specifically swallow) identification and decipherment and the social practices typically associated with the individuals included in the scene. (6) And second, I reinsert the object into its sympotic milieu, showing how it was designed both to play an active part in the types of intra-elite verbal, social, and sexual competitions typical of the sympotic space, and to engage its audience by making them participate, as viewers, talkers, and singers, in its several representations.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
More narrowly, I make four principal points. First, the artist has chosen this precise scene because it confronts viewers with the type of griphos or 'riddle' so prevalent at the symposium, whose decipherment depends on recognizing the semantic uncertainty and doubleness of the terms that the puzzle includes. (7) Second, the youths gesture and his words involve a second level of hermeneutic difficulty, presenting a potential dolos into which viewers, like the older man and boy within the composition, are likely to fall. Third, the artist assigns himself a variegated role in the scene and uses both the inscriptions and the ornamentation on the pelike to comment on his status and position vis-a-vis his elite audience. And fourth, by combining speaking figures with a swallow, the vase juxtaposes the visual and auditory spheres in ways that explore the powers and limitations of these media and the possible exchanges between them, setting words and images in the simultaneously complementary and agonistic relationship that other contemporary works more explicitly articulate. Included in these several arguments are demonstrations of the close relations between the vase's two sides, and the way in which each comments on and responds to its pair. (8)
Since I presuppose a highly sophisticated and explicitly sympotic group of viewers, a preliminary word about the vessel type and its milieu is in order. In form and function alike, the pelike, one of the several new forms introduced by Attic potters into their repertoire in the final quarter of the sixth century, resembles the amphora. (9) Like its counterpart, although distinct insofar as (unusually in Greek pottery) its broadest point falls below the mid-height of the vessel, it would have been used to store wine and oil and could also serve for drawing water. Both amphora and pelike belong among what Anthony Snodgrass classes as "generally banausic" vessels, those found in non-sympotic settings, but he goes on to note the more floating status of these two vase types: "Especially in the case of the finer specimens with inscribed figure-scenes, it is hard to believe that they would not be shown off to the drinkers of the wine" (Snodgrass 2000, 28). This vase, for reasons to be discussed below, belongs among such "finer specimens," and would have been brought into the dining room where guests might view it while the wine was diluted with water before their eyes--a scene that sympotic poets frequently describe.
Juliusz Ziomecki's (1975, 85) brief discussion of the pelike offers a starting point for my initial review of scenes in which individuals apprehend a bird or birds, and grant the apparition the status of a meaning-bearing sign. As Ziomecki notes, the artist includes the inscriptions because otherwise the individuals' gestures would remain opaque: their upturned heads and pointing fingers tell us that they have noticed the bird, but only their words indicate that they regard it as significant, and what its significance might be. Archaic poetry stages many episodes when individuals, laymen and professionals alike, perceive and decipher bird signs (ornithomancy) and these, I suggest, form part of the "traditional referentiality" (10) informing a late sixth-century audience's response to the work. For all that these early sources feature milieus very remote from the here-and-now imagined by the artist, their relevance to the pelike is threefold. First, they show that the vessel exactly visualizes, through image and word, the schema framing such apparitions in a literary tradition already canonical by the late sixth century. Second, they exemplify how, from the early sources on, encounters with birds flying overhead are prime catalysts for dispute, debate, and contested meaning, and for struggles over power, verbal authority, and social status (see below). And third, insofar as hexameter poetry seems "self-consciously to appropriate the inherent ambiguity in the discourse of bird-omen reading as a metaphor for how it should be read itself," (11) the episodes anticipate the stratagem of the pelike; here too, I suggest, the appearance of a swallow furnishes the audience with a broader hermeneutic template for viewing and decoding the pelike's two sides.
The Iliad and Odyssey contain no fewer than ten avian omens, (12) and the birds' appearances form part of a larger type-scene made up of a standard set of elements: (13) first a description of the portent, second the viewers' apprehension of and reaction to what they see (sometimes a bystander endorses the 'portentous' quality of the omen), (14) third an exegesis of the omen's meaning by an onlooker, and lastly the acceptance or rejection of that reading by the collective audience or one of its members. This maps very closely onto the sequence on the pelike. The swallow appears in the sky, the figures perceive it and react with gesture and word (the older man's "Yes, by Heracles" emphatically affirms what the youth's identification implies about the swallow's 'signifying' character), and the statement "It's already the spring" supplies the gloss. The seemingly missing fourth item--assent or dissent on the audience's part--is something to which I will return.
The convention-determined nature of the diction and structure of these scenes plays, however, against their actual contents, which call traditional practices and broadly accepted codes of meaning into question. (15) Almost without exception, and even when the exegete is a practicing mantis, Homeric bird omens not only require a keenly attentive audience, but present messages that are challenged or ambiguous. Opacity surrounds both elements in the interpretation of the signs, whether the initial recognition and acknowledgment of the 'meaning-bearing' quality of the phenomenon, or the subsequent decipherment of its message. On several occasions onlookers question whether the birds even carry the status of omens. In Iliad 12, Hector disputes Polydamas's reading of a bird and snake portent that features an eagle appearing on the left and releasing from its grip the viper it held in its claws (12.200-7). While Polydamas (prefacing his interpretation by observing "if the bird sign ... was a true one") reads the omen as forecasting the failure of the attack that the Trojans are currently mounting on the Achaean fortifications, (16) Hector will not be guided by his cautionary words. Instead he counters with a wholesale rejection of ornithomancy, first dismissing the traditional mode of deciphering bird signs and then replacing it, in an obvious piece of revisionism, with an oionos of an entirely novel, and patently non-ornithological kind (12.237-43): (17)
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] But you, you bid me trust in [the signs of] long-winged birds. I care nothing for these nor do I pay heed to them, whether they go to the right towards the dawn and the sun, or whether they go to the left toward the misty darkness. But let us put our trust in the council of great Zeus, who rules over all mortals and immortals. One bird sign is best, to ward off on behalf of our country.
Much the same scenario occurs in Iliad 13.810-37. When Ajax predicts Hectors ignominious flight from the field of battle (the Trojan praying all the while that his horses might be "swifter than hawks") and a bird sign appears to confirm his words, Hector again disregards the omen-laden quality of the eagle, substituting for it a threat that completely writes the avian apparition out of the scene and that proposes an alternate outcome to the encounter, when he envisages his challenger's death on the field of battle, the Trojan troops greet the declaration as though it had the force of a prediction. (18)
In the Odyssey it is the suitors who, to their lasting detriment, reject the signifying character of birds. So at 2.181-2, Eurymachus ignores the foreboding quality of two eagles that attack one another overhead, which the more skilled portent-reader Halisthernes interprets as an indicator of Odysseus's imminent return and defeat of his rivals; instead, the suitor declares, "Many are the birds who under the sun's rays wander the sky; not all of them are significant. Odysseus is dead, far away." For all her longing for Odysseus's advent, Penelope also notoriously dismisses an ornithological sign of the hero's presence: denying the significance of the predatory eagle that destroys her household geese in her dream, she brands the indicator, and the gloss that the bird itself uniquely supplies within the vision, delusions (19.560-9).
Since in epic tradition portents are infallible and invariably realized, the audience knows very well that the significance ascribed to the bird by the poet and/or authoritative internal exegete will prove correct. But even as the system remains in place, Homer supplies his characters with good grounds for questioning the meanings that individual sign-readers assign to them. If we can class the snake devouring the sparrow and its chicks that Odysseus recalls in Il. 2.300-32 as a bird portent, then the speaker begins his account of the episode and of Calchas's interpretation on a note of doubt: he advises his audience not to abandon the war "until we know whether Calchas's prophecy is true or not" (2.300). Context may also be important here: Book 2 opens with the fraudulent dream sent to Agamemnon by Zeus, who promises the Greeks victory if they launch an immediate attack on Troy. Since the snake and sparrow portent is also--and on no less than three occasions in Odysseus's words and his citation of Calchas's earlier prophecy--ascribed to Zeus's sending (2.309, 318-9, 324), an audience might wonder how truthful a sema this past message from the capricious divinity will prove to be. (19) In an incident in the Odyssey, which several commentators mistakenly regard as an instance of interpolation, the Odyssean prophet Theoclymenus alters an initial reading so as better to calibrate the message to his interlocutor's desires and preoccupations: earlier, when the mantis was addressing Telemachus, he interpreted an auspicious hawk flying overhead as a sign that the youth's lineage was the most kingly in Ithaca and would always be preeminent in power (15.531-4), but in the revised account presented to Penelope, the omen now portends Odysseus's return to his native land (17.157-61), his current audience's prime concern. If even in the hands of professional seers bird signs can be polysemous or shift their meanings, then the clashes between Polydamas and Halisthernes--laymen exceptionally skilled in deciphering avian indicators but not actual practitioners of the mantic techne--and their several challengers seem less surprising: as later sources confirm, portent-reading is an agonistic activity, where rival seers compete and nonprofessionals can successfully reject and revise an official account. (20)
Hesiodic and hymnal poetry confirm the Homeric pattern. Hesiod, supposedly the author of an Ornithomanteia, underscores the uncertainty surrounding the whole practice by prefacing a bird omen in the Works and Days with a caution about the source of all portentous oionoi: "The noos of aegis-bearing Zeus is different at different times and for mortal men is hard to recognize" (Op. 483-4). (21) The omen that follows (the cuckoo's call), with its riddling intricate double sign amply bears out the warning. Two other examples--the sound of the migrating crane (Op. 448-51), and the cry of the swallow that will appear on the pelike (Op. 568-70)--prove similarly hard to pin down. The first is bivalent--fortuitous for some, unlucky for others--and pity the poor farmer trying to regulate his activity by the swallow's call. Instead of telling him when to prune his vines, the bird's sound indicates only the point at which that pruning must already have been done. Indeed, as the Homeric Hymn to Hermes makes plain, gods are the only infallible bird readers, able instantly to perceive a bird's message-bearing nature and, in one and the same moment, correctly to determine what it communicates. So Apollo, seeking the cows that the infant Hermes has stolen from him, no sooner "noticed" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) the long-winged oionos flying by than "he instantly recognized [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] that the thief was the child of Zeus" (Horn. Hymn. Herm. 213-4); (22) for a god, apprehension and comprehension go hand-in-hand. But it is Apollo again, and in the same text, who indicates the pitfalls of the practice where mortal bird readers are concerned. It is futile, he remarks, to place one's trust in "idly-chattering birds" since only "oionoi who bring fulfillment" should be believed (Horn. Hymn. Herm. 543-7). Conspicuously missing here is the necessary criterion for distinguishing the efficacious kind from the rest. (23)
Further complicating correct understanding of these scenes is the way in which a final determination of meaning by the internal audience depends not on any inherent 'rightness' or 'wrongness' of the several readings on offer (as we have no way of establishing that), but on the status, perceived character, authority, and rhetorical competence of the decoder. In the incident in Iliad 12 earlier described, Hector's view, for all that it upends traditional ornithological lore, carries the day, both because Polydamas lacks the status of official diviner, and because Hector, improvising an innovative and rhetorically compelling counter-account, proves the better performer here. In the reverse scenario that the snake-and-sparrow episode at Aulis presents, it is Calchas's initial status as diviner, then reinforced by the rhetorical and performative authority enjoyed by Odysseus as he recalls the original interpretation (and we have only his word for what Calchas said, and Odysseus supplements that earlier account with fresh interpretative moves), which results in the Achaeans' willingness to accede to the patently constructed and arbitrary meaning (as noted by Cicero; see note 19) that both 'readers' have imposed on the portent.
Issues of status and authority are also integral to a scene that illustrates a final point of intersection between ornithomanteia in hexameter poetry and the Saint Petersburg pelike: the metonymic status of these episodes vis-a-vis the larger text and, as corollary to this, their role in supplying both a model for the stratagems necessary for reading that work, as well as a warning against an overly rigid interpretative framework that bucks indeterminacy and forecloses on the possibility of other narratives. As commentators note, the well-known Hesiodic hawk and nightingale ainos at Op. 202-11 closely resembles a bird portent and indeed functions as such, insofar as it contains a coded guide to its double addressees--the kings and Perses--which, read aright, should condition their future course of conduct. Here, much as in more standard cases of bird divination, two possible readings emerge. Following the Homeric pattern of portents featuring birds of prey, the superior strength of the hawk should presage the triumph of stronger party, namely the basileis, and vindicate the Iliadic notion that martial might makes right. But in the coda that Hesiod appends to the fable, where he instructs Perses to adhere to dike and avoid hubris, the poet prompts his internal and external audience to disregard the conventional account and follow a novel gloss that runs counter to the normative view. As Derek Collins (2002, 35) remarks, here the poet advocates "sympathy with the victim, and not with the more powerful bird of prey, and this invites his external audience to rethink the traditional paradigm." In setting himself up against the construction that, his needling incipit implies, the kings would naturally place on the fable, Hesiod challenges their status and verbal authority, inviting his auditors to follow his very different lead as a superior and divinely-appointed performer who, as a later passage in the poem states, is well versed in traditional lore and "works blamelessly in the eyes of the gods, interpreting the birds and avoiding transgressions" (Op. 826-8).
I have treated in detail these examples in the epic, didactic, and hymnal traditions because they supply one of the principal filters through which an ancient audience would view/read the pelike. As their scenarios demonstrate, for an artist who wishes to pose questions concerning relations between visible phenomena or self-styled semata and their referents and to compare and contrast different modes of signification or symbolization, which, following the poets, might introduce a breach between things seen and things 'figured' in speech, a scene that displays a potentially message-bearing oionos and its decipherment is about the most economical way to do this. The narratives found in the more demotic traditions not only affirm this, but throughout the archaic and classical periods privilege the swallow as the prime site of this mantic and hermeneutic uncertainty, making the bird the lynchpin for a variety of misreadings or competing constructions. (24)
While the proverbial tag that Neer cites, "a single swallow does not make a spring," is first attested in Cratinus, fr. 35 K.-A. and subsequently in Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 1098al8, the saying and sentiment most likely antedate these classical sources and may already be embedded in one of the fables later ascribed to Aesop and circulated from the seventh and sixth centuries on. (25) In the scenario that the Aesopic account (169 Perry) describes, a citified youth "eats up" his patrimony until he has only a cloak to call his own. Noticing a swallow, and believing it a harbinger of warm weather, he sells his sole remaining possession. The inevitable snowstorm follows, and seeing the same swallow lying dead, the youth ruefully reflects that the untimely bird has caused its own and his destruction. In Babrius's retelling at 131, the young man's words, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], exactly echo (or even model, if Babrius uses a traditional diction and scenario) those of the first figure on the vase. (Note, too, that on the pelike both the youth and his older companion wear their himatia so as to expose their upper bodies.)
The swallow/cloak association visible in the fable tradition must also have been very familiar to Aristophanes' audience. In the Birds, when the Sycophant dressed in a tattered cloak sings a ditty about a swallow, Peisetaerus remarks, "I think he is singing that skolion about his cloak; he looks as though he is need of quite a lot of swallows" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1416-7; translation by Sommerstein 1987). Peisetaerus is not the only one who suspects that the song has an underlying meaning and that there is embedded in the singer's choice of swallow for his subject a covert message that the audience should comprehend. In the scholia's paraphrase, which further spells out Peisetaerus's reading, the singer "wants spring to come, for he is wearing an old garment." Nan Dunbar's (1995 ad 1416-7) commentary supplies an additional gloss on Peisetaerus's words, suggesting implicit in it a play on the spring-swallow proverb cited above: "This man's cloak shows that he needs a whole crowd of swallows, which mark the onset of the time to dispense with a warm cloak." As these multiple interpretative efforts demonstrate, an allusion to a swallow carries in its wake a rich and proliferating set of meanings.
Before returning to the pelike, let me offer a suggestion as to why swallows--over and above their status as oionoi, but informing this too--seem so prime a site of poikilia and polysemy and so often come invested with a second- (and third-) order significance. Already in the archaic sources, and outside the immediately ornithomantic context, the birds regularly possess a twofold identity. At Od. 22.239-40, Athena takes on a swallow's guise in a transformation that can be described as both an epiphany and an omen. (26) Although Homeric gods regularly assume avian shape, the swallow is, in more archetypal fashion, implicated in such acts of metamorphosis. In his description of its portentous call, Hesiod labels the bird "Pandion's daughter, the early-lamenting swallow" (Op. 568), a reference to the already extant myth of Philomela, transformed into a swallow following her and her sister's murder of their nephew Itys. The metope from the temple at Thermon in Aetolia, dated to c. 630 (Athens, National Museum 13410), attests to the early diffusion of that myth; here two women flank a child lying between them, and the figure on the left is named Chelidon (Swallow), presaging her subsequent transformation.
Not just quick-change artists, swallows also display a plumage whose essence is variegation and mutability. Aristophanes' informer in the Birds could not be more emphatic on the point, three times calling the bird [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (many-hued, with parti-colored feathers: 1410, 1411, 1415), an adjective, as Dunbar (1995 ad 714) points out, which suits all five varieties of swallows extant in fifth-century Greece. Aristophanes' scene endlessly exploits the visual and corresponding hermeneutic slipperiness or heterogeneity that poikilia describes: the preternaturally shifty Sycophant has stolen the adjective and his ditty's larger phrasing from Alcaeus, fr. 345 L.-P., performing just such an act of bricolage that variegation involves as he grafts new onto old: now you hear Alcaeus, now you don't. The adjective then turns out to have a double referent. First used of the swallow, Peisetaerus freshly understands it as describing the patched-together cloak that the singer wears, perhaps with a further play on [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], both the swallow's wing and the flap on the piece of clothing. (27) This same wordplay, I would add, seems part of the pelike's visual design; echoing the shape of the bird's wings are the swallowtails in which the two seated figures' himatia fall.
This oscillating, unstable quality also characterizes the swallow's distinctive voice and the quality of its song. When Homer compares to the swallow's cry the note given out by the bowstring plucked by Odysseus (Od. 21.411), the sound carries diametrically opposed meanings for its several auditors: portending grief for the suitors, it is styled [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] for the archer and his allies, serving as the harbinger of (vernal) restoration and renewal for the hero and the poet's listeners. (28) Anacreon (fr. 453) is the earliest source for the familiar "twittering" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) swallow (and already in Hesiod, Op. 374, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] describes a woman deceiving with her words), Stesichorus imagines it "babbling" its spring songs (fr. 211), and Aristophanes, modifying a term earlier applied to the bird by Simonides (fr. 606), calls swallows [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], this a glance not just to the frequent fifth-century association between the gibberish spoken by barbarians and the sound made by the birds, but to the species' bivalent communiques. Again, double or indecipherable meanings (witness the Cassandra-swallow link exploited in Aeschylus's Agamemnon) (29) are associated with the swallow.
In choosing to paint a swallow and to give it the status of a portentous sign, the pelike's artist therefore presents a scene that is in and of itself a visualization of vacillating meaning and polymorphism, as well as a flashpoint for debate and antithetical views. (30) With this in mind, we might return to the lacuna noted earlier, the absence of the traditional verbal affirmation or rejection of the meaning that is assigned to the oionos and is a precondition for the omen's realization. As Jeffrey Hurwit observes, inscriptions on late archaic and early classical vessels aim to turn the works into "conversation pieces," prompting commentary and discussion among the gathered symposiasts. (31) On the pelike, the artist's omission invites his viewers to supply the missing element, as each diner endorses or denies the reading that the inscription offers. As I will demonstrate below, their assent or rejection forms part of the broader competition and jockeying for status at the sympotic occasion.
Integral to the agonistic element that unites the vase and its audience is the second difficulty or enigma presented by the components of the vase and the fresh visual/verbal apate embedded in the swallow scene. Discussions of the pelike routinely cite an exchange from Aristophanes' Knights (just as standard commentaries on the play refer us back to the vase), in which the Sausage-Seller describes the various shenanigans that he got up to as a boy, including one used on butchers in order to filch portions of meat from them (417-24):
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
Sausage-Seller: And, oh yeah, there are other pranks of mine when I was a boy. I used to trick the butchers by saying this sort of thing: "Look boys, don't you see? The new season, a swallow!" And they'd look up, and in the meantime I'd steal some of their meat.
Demosthenes: You clever bloke! That was a wise piece of planning: you stole, like people eat nettles, before the swallows came.
Sausage-Seller: And nobody noticed me doing it. But if anyone of them ever did, I'd hide the stuff up my crotch and swear by the gods that I was innocent. (Translation by Sommerstein 1981)
The passage illuminates the pelike on several counts, and not only because it echoes the scenario and language that the artist includes. First, the Sausage-Seller's choice to single out this particular ruse as emblematic of his boyhood pranks suggests that it carries paradigmatic status (albeit almost a century later than the vase), and that here Aristophanes draws on a traditional and familiar (mis)practice. In the gloss supplied by the Suda for [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the phrase is used "in reference to those deceiving people" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), confirming that the swallow stratagem is one that tricksters bent on mischief proverbially practice. A second passage from the comic repertoire further suggests the canonical' standing of just this type of ploy, its established place in a popular tradition of chicanery. A fragmentary scene from the fourth-century comic dramatist Euphron's Brothers (fr. 1 K.-A.) also features a rogue who takes advantage of the moment when his companions are examining the signs in a portentous object so as to steal sacrificial meat unobserved. As Framboise Lissarrague comments in passing, these scenarios featured in comedy--and the chronology fits too, since the late sixth/early fifth century is the moment when drama was being institutionalized in Athens--seem highly apposite to the pelike artist's composition: "While it is surely not a scene from comedy, the conditions of representation are ... of the same order." (32)
The scene in the Knights bears on the vase in two other respects. First, although commentators neglect the point, we should register the misleading nature of the Sausage-Seller's words. As Demosthenes' response at line 422 indicates, the bird that the trickster invites his audience to observe was purely Active, an illusion that he conjured up by way of decoy. If the viewers of the pelike were familiar with the dolos, this would further complicate the status of the painted bird: Is it likewise illusory, a piece of artistic fabrication (as mimetic images are) which matches the verbal apate, or does it faithfully stand in for and represent an actual swallow? Adding to the confusion is the visual illusion that the painter has contrived: the bird seems to fly up to the palmette, as though this decorative element were actual foliage in which a real-world swallow might nest. (The bird may also be the victim of a ruse, just like the birds in the famous anecdote, preserved in Pliny HN 35.65, about the contest between the artists Parrhasius and Zeuxis, in which the latter produced a picture of grapes so accurately represented that birds flew up to the stage-building on which it was hung.) And second, there is the motive for the Sausage-Sellers creation, its role as a means of diverting his companions' gaze. Following this, I suggest that for the viewers of the pelike the gesture and words assigned to the youth might likewise be read as a stratagem designed to distract his companions from what he aims to do.
If I am right in identifying the presence of this second-order deception on top of the likelihood that the single swallow does not betoken spring, then what might the youth be up to here? It is on this point that my account coincides with Immerwahr's. (33) As viewers would observe, the figures on the pelike present a group clearly stratified by age: an older man flanked by a beardless youth and a pais, an arrangement that precisely echoes the numerous images of erotic and not infrequently sexually competitive groupings on red-figure pottery. (34) The status of the boy, sharply differentiated from the rest, remains unclear. He stands, while the other two sit on identical folding stools, and uniquely lacks the himation folded at the waist and covering the lower body. While his posture and nudity may simply be a function of his age, the distinctions could also indicate his subordinate status, whether because (less likely, given his wreath and attractively molded physique) he is a slave, or because he is the type of boy who typically at this period existed as the object of aristocratic desire. (35) His nudity, delicacy, and location, with his body exposed to the two men, further support this second reading, as does the posture of the older man: in a configuration very unusual in Attic vase painting, his body is twisted all the way around, suggesting that he had turned not so much to gaze up at the bird as to peruse the boy, a scrutiny that the youth's interjection would then seek to interrupt. (36) At the risk of over-reading, and in a further piece of polysemy repeatedly sounded in sympotic discourse, the springtime announced by the inscription could also refer to the burgeoning pais-, as the common conceit first found in Mimnermus (cf. frr. 2 and 3) and then exploited by other poets affirms, he too is in his "springtime" (horn). (37)
If the boy presents a potential eromenos, then we witness a richly triangulated scene: two men in company with a single pais, the likely object of their mutual and necessarily clashing desires. As Alan Shapiro's discussion of courtship scenes on Attic pottery documents, beardless youths like the figure on the left do regularly court younger boys, and at exactly this period (see Fig. 3): "By the late sixth century, the erastes is often a beardless youth himself, and his eromenos also appears younger, sometimes barely pubescent." (38) Further suggestive of the fact that the youth has in some way generated or launched the bird, much as the Sausage-Seller would fabricate his winged omen, is the way in which his statement, alone of the several inscriptions, runs in a direct line from speaker to swallow. The artist is doubly complicit in the deception created by the youth. He has painted the swallow in accordance with what may be this individuals verbal invention and attempt to forestall his companions erotic solicitation of the boy, and, by inviting his viewers to follow the figures' pointing fingers and upturned heads, emulates that internal speaker by redirecting the external audience's gaze from the object of desire to the bird, while still further diverting them with the swallow spring griphos.
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
Just as Attic comedy supplies a gloss for the ruse perpetrated by the artist and painted youth, so too it might retrospectively illuminate just why, in the sympotic atmosphere surrounding viewers of the vase, and for the pelike's erotically-disposed internal audience too, the swallow trick is so finely calculated and likely to carry the day. For all its pederastic orientation (of which more in a moment), the vase also introduces a feminine element into the first of its two scenes: the swallow is, of course, female in gender, and the boy's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (There she is) underscores the point. The oracle that Aristophanes' Lysistrata produces from beneath her himation likewise features the swallow, not just (in an oblique reference to the Tereus and Philomela story) as the object of male pursuit, but also as the type of bird most likely to satisfy a would-be and overeager lover's desires, including those of that (homoerotically inclined) individual who prefers anal penetration (Lys. 770-7):
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
But when the swallows take refuge in one place fleeing the hoopoes' pursuit, and keep themselves far from phallicity, then there will be an end of troubles ... But if the swallows start to fight and fly up on wings/grab hold of cocks from the temple, no bird whatever will be thought such an utter nymphomaniac/liable to anal penetration. (Translation by Sommerstein 1990, with modifications)
As Jeffrey Henderson's (1991, 128-9, 147) discussion of the passage notes, we have not only a sounding of an equation confirmed by Pollux and the Suda--that [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was a slang term for the female genitals--but a play on an additional meaning to the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which could describe both a bird's wing or swallow tail and, in the lower registers of speech, the phallus. If these sexual innuendoes were already current at the sixth century's end (and extant iambic poetry suggests that many were), then the youth's gesture and words become more loaded still: not just an attempt to redirect a competitor's attention, his words propose a (willing) female partner in place of the boy. The presence of this alternate focus of desire nicely suits the sexually mixed milieu surrounding the pelike; within the space of the andron, adult symposiasts might satisfy a range of predilections, with flute girls and hetairai in attendance as well as youths and younger boys.
A very different element of the vase could further dispose audiences to read the scene through an erotic filter that implicates both the painted characters and the external viewers, uniting them in a common and preeminently sympotic preoccupation. Depending on their position in the room, some guests would already have observed the reverse of the vase, where two symmetrically posed wrestlers, both young, but one more pais than youth, (39) are locked in an agonistic encounter. There is no need to emphasize how frequently in Greek myth, poetry, and art wrestling serves as an image for erotic activity, whether between men and women, or between an erastes and his would-be eromenos. (40) So, for example, in his 'courtship' of Cassandra, Apollo takes on the form of the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Aeschylus, Ag. 1206), while the first stasimon of Sophocles' Trachiniae, this within an ode celebrating the invincible power of Aphrodite, imagines the wrestling bout between Heracles and Achelous, the rivals for possession of Deianeira who forms the third figure present at this freshly triangulated agon, in language clearly evocative of a homoerotic sexual encounter. (41) Particularly apposite to the conjunction of scenes visible on the pelike's two sides is Alcibiades' rueful recollection of his attempt to seduce Socrates: when his initial advance failed, the youth invited the object of his passion to exercise with him at the gymnasium. As he remarks, "I was sure this would achieve something. He exercized and wrestled with me many times ... but I got nowhere" (Plato, Symp. 217A). Indeed, for Plato, and the comic poets before him, the palaestra seems the 'pick-up' site par excellence; a milieu replete with good-looking boys, it is uniquely hospitable to the initiation and pursuit of homoerotic and pederastic relationships. (42)
The same setting in which Alcibiades stages his courtship manque coincides with many representations of homosexual courting scenes on Attic pottery, including a red-figure cup signed by Peithios showing youths soliciting younger boys cited earlier (Fig. 3). Visibly hanging between each of the couples are pieces of athletic equipment, strigils, and aryballoi, which succinctly identify the site where the encounters occur. In the tondo of the cup the painter has placed another episode where these same elements--love and the athletic agon--are still more closely conjoined, here with a parthenos as the object of desire: Peleus clasps the resistant Thetis in what plainly recalls a wrestling hold. Wrestlers and homosexual courtship scenes appear side-by-side on several other contemporary images. From the latter part of the sixth century, although a little earlier than the St. Petersburg pelike (c. 550-525), is a black-figure neck amphora in Munich (Antikensammlungen J1336); while the shoulders of the vase display two sets of wrestlers locked in combat pose, each flanked by two youths, one side of the main body of the vessel portrays a courting pair, a man and a boy. (43)
Reinforcing the erotic implications of the pelike wrestlers is the inscription accompanying the image. Running downwards from the point where the arms of the wrestlers cross is the name of that familiar presence on painted pottery and leading member of Athens' jeunesse doree, Leagrus, while placed horizontally above the pair is the no less commonplace acclamation ho pais kalos, a formula particularly associated with the Pioneer Group to which the artist of the object belongs. (44) As is so frequently the case, these elements function within the space of the vase not as labels but as metanarrative signs or directives designed to guide and condition a viewer's reception of the scene--'Read me thus'--and further serve to situate the pelike within the pederastic discourse native to the symposium. (45) In keeping with that mode of discourse, the presence of these inscriptions turns the vases exhibiting them into media of courtship and solicitation, whether on the part of their artists or, more likely, of their customers, a point to which I return. (46)
Prompting his audience to read the two sides of the vase as an ensemble are the several additional visual cues included by the artist, which signal repetition, reflexivity, and continuity between its different scenes. (47) In addition to the inscriptions that, in their different ways, decorate both faces, each image includes among its characters a young boy and older youth, while the wreaths worn by the three swallow watchers might link them to the athletic-cum-festival milieu on the other side. (48) An attentive viewer might also have registered how the position of the arms of the wrestler on the left resembles that of the boy on the obverse, and have further noted the identical framing ornaments on the two faces, palmettes on the neck, a trapezoid of simple meanders on top and sides, a ground line of upright lotus buds on the belly. When viewed in tandem, each scene serves to condition and model our reception of its counterpart: the two wrestlers supply either a proleptic or analeptic filter for interpreting the figures observing the swallow, its two inscriptions serving by way of commentary or subtext to the actions and verbal exchange on the other side. Those three individuals may be looking at and talking about a swallow, but it is pederasty (or, failing that, heterosexual eros) that is really in the air. A red-figure oinochoe in Munich (Fig. 4) illustrates how the visual and verbal elements that the pelike distributes to its separate sides can be united, and how birds can be not just implicated in the actual source of the mode of discourse that our Pioneer artist has assigned to the wrestling scene: on the shoulder of the jug runs an inscription that begins from the silhouette of a bird, the apparent initiator of the dialogue, with an unseen respondent, and which traces out a course of flight in and out of the fourteen palmettes arranged around the space: "Nicolas is handsome," "Dorotheus is handsome," "and so he seems to me, indeed." "The other boy is handsome, Memnon"; "he seems handsome to me too."
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
This does not exhaust the thematic interactions between the pelike's two sides. Not only do the overtly competing athletes plus inscriptions on the reverse alert us to the more insidious contest that eros has generated between the youth and older man on the obverse and place the vessel as a whole within the pederastic language and iconology of the symposium, but each image presents us with a message about how erotic victory can be achieved. Where the youth devises a gestural-cum-verbal ruse to distract his companion, a win in the wrestling match depends not on brute strength, but rather on the combatants' similar exercise of the faculty the Greeks styled [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. More than any other exercise in the gymnasium or the games, wrestling required the deployment of this cunning intelligence, the ability quite literally to trip up an opponent, to forestall his next move by pinioning him in an unexpected and inescapable hold. Pindar's Isthmian 4, which celebrates the triumph of Melissus in the pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling), conveys the skill and strategy requisite for the event. Describing his subject's victory in the wrestling portion of the contest, Pindar remarks: "For with regard to boldness, he has a spirit resembling that of loudly roaring lions, but in skill [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] he is a fox, which rolls over on its back to check the eagle's swoop" (Isthm. 4.45-7). A scholion to the lines spells out exactly what Melissus's move involves: "The fox appears to be teaching the feint used in wrestling [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] thanks to which the athlete lying on the ground is the winner through skill [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]], even when his opponent is the stronger man." (49) The deployment of this skill or [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is something, as the next section suggests, which must be practiced by the artist no less than by the lover or contestant in the games.
My third point turns from the sympotic audience to focus more narrowly on this unknown painter's role. As noted above, exegesis belongs among the standard elements in traditional ornithomantic type-scenes, and no archaic bird omen appears without its explanatory tag. On the pelike, the caption "It's already spring" duly completes the preceding exchange. Where many accounts assign the phrase to the older man (perhaps assuming that his age gives him authority) or to the three figures as an ensemble, (50) the remark more properly presents an independent element. Whereas the three preceding remarks all come from their speakers' mouths, this one starts from beneath the boy's armpit; also in contrast to the other inscriptions, its letters run in the reverse direction, from top to bottom. Albeit the capstone to the conversation, it actually breaks the illusion of a verbal exchange, reminding viewers that what they see is not a portico or colonnaded area where men converse, but simply a space on a vase, a flat surface that can be written on. (51)
So who then is the author of the phrase? It is tempting to follow Immerwahr and several others before him and to see the vase painter as the speaker; such 'painterly interjections' occur in inscriptions of the period and on objects produced by other members of the Pioneer Group with whom the artist worked. Relevant to this reading is Neer's exploration of how painters associated with the Pioneers liked to include 'portraits' of themselves or of their fellow artists in their scenes, where they could assume surprisingly lofty social identities. Thus, a psykter by Smicrus in the Getty (Fig. 5) shows Euphronius, the artist he most emulates, courting Leagrus, while the athlete and boy with lyre in the larger scene situate the encounter among the pastimes and at sites favored by the contemporary Athenian elite. Elsewhere, on a stamnos in Brussels (Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, A717), Smicrus portrays himself in the context of an upper-class symposium. (52) Although not physically present in the painted scene, the pelike artist has more discretely interjected himself within the clearly leisured milieu exhibited by the vase, (53) where he has assumed the role of interpreter of the sign for the individuals commenting on the bird. The move can be read as a bid for status, a claim to the authority that both an actual seer and the Hesiodic or Homeric [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] possessed--that of practicing ornithomanteia for internal and external audiences alike. Here Neer's account of painter-portraits bears on my argument in a second respect. Just as the personas that the artists assume in their self-images are mere fictions or constructs, so too their authorial voices belong not so much to an actual painter or potter as to what narratologists call the 'implied author' or constructed self. (54) The gloss that the vase's author-artist supplies is thus a projection of this more Active and authoritative 'second self,' more mantis than painter here.
[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]
But the status that the artist grants himself can actually cut both ways, as much an affirmation of his banausic status and marginality, his place as mere creator and executor of the pelike, as a statement of his authority. In the earliest extant account of the social position of the seer (Od. 17.383-5), the Odyssean Eumaeus already classes the prophet together with other so-called [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--doctors, carpenters, and singers, practitioners of specialized crafts/skills who are characterized by their itinerant existence and outsider status, their dependency on satisfying those who hired them out for pay. (55) By the fifth century at least, the status of individuals practicing bird divination was equivocal at best: not only do the sources classify ornithomancy as a techne, (56) but they further suggest that in the hierarchy of different forms of augury, reading the birds occupied the bottom rung. (57) Its low prestige stemmed both from the fact that, unlike the oracle-pronouncer at a major site or haruspex, any layman could play bird diviner, and from the ready accessibility of rules for decoding ornithological signs. An inscription from late sixth- or early fifth-century Ephesus (ISAM 30) puts these rules in the public domain, spelling out just how ornithomanteia should be done; avian interpretation was common, not restricted knowledge available only to a select group. (58)
The Ephesus inscription reminds us of an additional reason for questioning the artist's interpretation of the bird, and one that further undermines the authority that his self-construction as mantis could confer. Not only does the speaker of the gloss recall the fools in proverb, fable, and popular lore who forget that a single swallow does not betoken spring, but, as any individual would know, and as the inscription spells out at length, the meaning of bird omens most fundamentally depends on the direction in which the oionos flies. The swallow on the pelike goes from left to right, the unlucky direction. (59) If the voice of this patent dupe does belong to the artist, then he has positioned himself as 'fall-guy,' furnishing his upper-class viewers with a target for their collective mockery. This willing embrace of the buffoon's role fits neatly into the interpretative framework proposed by the most recent readings of the painter-'portraits' and names included on the pottery of turn-of-the-century Athens. (60) While Neer focuses attention on the impossible self-elevation of the low-status individual who situates himself in the elitist space of his vase, others suggest that the artist who portrays himself, or one of his kind, as an athlete, symposiast, or high-class pupil engages in a form of self-parody: much like the hired entertainers and parasites at the symposium, and the misshapen, fat dancers who 'perform themselves' by displaying their grotesque anatomies and flaunt upper-class decorum on contemporary komast vases, (61) the painter assumes a persona that offers symposiasts an object of derision from outside their exclusive company.
I would like to propose, however, another possible candidate for the speaker here, particularly in the light of the absence of any signature on the vase. Following my earlier focus on relations between the vase's two sides, the statement "It's already spring" corresponds in position and direction to the interjection 'Leagros' on the other face. Once viewed as utterances by the painter or potter, or by the commissioner and owner of the vase, these names are now interpreted as invitations to audiences more generally to speak the name so as to declare their interest and admiration of the designated youth and even to be seen engaged in erotic pursuit of the individual so acclaimed. The assumption that the declaration "It's already spring" likewise belongs to whoever in the company of drinkers articulates the phrase gives the situation a different cast, and, as I suggest below, aligns it with the vying for status at the symposium of which visual and verbal jokes, riddles, puns, and parodies formed so integral a part.
As already noted, the utterance does anything but bring prestige to its speaker; rather, it indicates his gullibility, his failure to read the bird or the larger scene aright. Other sources, where claims that a swallow's appearance equals spring is succinct proof of an individual's lack of mental acumen, demonstrate how exchanges sparked by the advent of the bird include just such a potential sting. In a fragment of Aristophanes (fr. 617 K.-A.), one interlocutor remarks to another, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Ask when the swallow is likely to appear), perhaps seeking an opportunity to show his cleverness, or to test whether his companion has his wits about him. According to the Suda, the swallow-spring proverb carries a secondary meaning, one that explicitly foregrounds the question of an individual's possession of wisdom: balancing the gloss "One swallow does not a springtime make" is a second matching proverbial phrase, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (One [good] day does not bring the wise person to perfection), which invests the swallow's appearance with this third-order significance. Other graphic notations on vases play this 'trip up' role, just to catch their readers out. Witness the nonsense inscriptions or deformations of proper speech that contemporary vase painters include and which cause those who spell them out to sound drunk or uncouth; the device seems designed to permit one symposiast to trick another into pronouncing the gibberish as he responds to the coherent utterance articulated by his companion from the other side. (62) In much this way, the patently misguided interpretation of the swallow omen reveals the current reader's befuddlement, attracting the laughter of his fellow symposiasts as the guest loses face. The artists active participation in these types of games, and contributions to the intra-elite competitions at the symposium, are, again, hallmarks of the Pioneer Group to which the pelike painter belongs.
But even if a symposiast articulates the words that the artist has (unkindly) scripted for him, more properly painterly techne should not be written wholesale out of the swallow scene. For all that he is the original source of a foolish and fallacious interpretation of a bird omen, as a technites this painter is a self-promoting master of his craft. The vase both demonstrates his originality--the subject matter seems unprecedented and unparalleled in the extant Attic repertoire (63)--and displays a striking technical innovation. The swallow vase belongs among the very earliest of extant red-figure one-piece pelikai, and Dietrich von Bothmer proposes that this particular vessel may have marked the transition from the so-called neck pelike (where the neck was fashioned separately from the body of the pot and attached with a clearly defined joint that formed a ridge) to the single piece variety. Von Bothmer (1951, 47) further comments:
At first glance one would take the vase for a neck-pelike with its rich palmette decoration above the panel, until one discovers that the neck of the vase is set off from the body only by the reserved line in the painted decoration and not by a ridge in the pot itself.... Perhaps the painter, accustomed as he may have been to neck-pelikai did not want to give up the neck patterns, even though the new shape was no longer in need of one.
Rather than reading the elaborate palmette ornamentation as evidence of the artist's reluctance to abandon a familiar practice, I suggest that he includes it as a means of underscoring the novelty of his object's design, and that the three figures' emphatically pointing fingers serve to draw a viewer's eye not just to the swallow, but to the site where the innovation occurs.
Absent the self-advertisement that our artist inserts into his composition, precisely this arrangement occurs on a second red-figure pelike in Boston (Fig. 6), whose two faces show jumpers executing their movements to the accompaniment of a piper. (64) The vessel is the product of another member of the workshop of Euphronius, contemporary with the swallow painter, and, together with the Saint Petersburg vase, this pelike stands as one of the very first examples of the single-piece variety; here, too, a palmette pattern in a running band marks off the neck as a distinct entity, for all the actual seamlessness of the join. By drawing viewers' attention to this area of the vase, the painters alert their audience to a remarkable feature of the object, creating the momentary impression that the pot is actually something other than it seems (an older-fashioned neck pelike)--another piece of visual apate or seeing two in one. (65)
[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]
This technical mastery and illusionary element that the Saint Petersburg vessel includes also informs the pelike's two scenes, turning them into self-reflexive images of the artist's activity and his capacity for confounding his audience with his innovatory technique and design. Like the youth practicing his [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] on the older man, and the wrestlers whose combat requires the analogous ability to contrive and deceive, late sixth-century painters prevail in a competitive marketplace through the exercise of their artistry and innovatory skill. (66) It is no wonder that, repeating terms already found in Homer's celebration of divine craftsmanship, which uses [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to transform the appearances of objects and to create illusions of size, beauty, and radiance, (67) Empedocles describes painters as "men through cunning well taught in craft" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] fr. 23.4 D-K). (68)
The sympotic context foregrounded in the reading presented so far proves central to my concluding point and to the questions of orality and visuality, and of words and images, which other scholars have raised in reference to the vase. At first glance, the pelike seems seamlessly to blend pictorial representations and speech. Creating the impression that the figures are in conversation with one another, it transcends the silence that, in Simonides' famous (if quite possibly apocryphal) near contemporary dictum, (69) painted objects must observe. The symposiasts would further promote the illusion, 'envoicing' the pelike as they articulated the phrases assigned to the different characters, with individual diners taking on the diverse speaking roles. The subject matter further unites vision and speech: mantike regularly involves an attempt to gloss a visual phenomenon with spoken words. (70)
On a second count, the combination of words and images allows the vase to bypass the limitations of the painted medium, endowing pictures with the temporality that they more conventionally lack. Whereas the poet can narrate a sequence of activities and follow his characters through the passage of time, the vase painter wishing to show the successive stages of an action or interaction must create a composite, combining or juxtaposing elements from different parts of a story within a single image or object. For all its seemingly static quality, the scene on the pelike introduces precisely that missing dimension by virtue of its conversational exchange: the youth speaks first, the older man replies, and the young boy then adds a corroborating remark. But even as time passes from one statement to the next, the accommodation of the spoken words within the painted scene weakens the temporal character that the conversation seemingly enjoys. While every discussion of the vase, my own included, positions the youth as initiator of the exchange, there is actually no reason to assume that he is the first speaker here, and we could just as easily vary the sequence of the several remarks. Indeed, the several ways in which the comments could be delivered coheres with the fluid and open-ended quality of the erotic situation depicted within the scene. Does the older man respond to the remark made by the boy, the focus of his earlier perusal, or should we assume that the verbal distraction devised by the youth has effectively commandeered his companion's attention as well as his gaze? A concern with times passage is, moreover, embedded in the subject matter of the vase: not just the transition from one season to the next that comes with the appearance of the swallow(s), but a man's necessary trajectory through the several life-stages displayed here, which, as earlier noted, is a commonplace topic in sympotic song.
Something, however, disturbs this otherwise neat amalgam of eye, ear, and voice--the silent swallow, whose silence becomes still more striking when we factor in the 'traditional referentiality' with which I began. In many of the sources already cited, and in several other references to the swallow in the archaic and classical poets as well, the bird's most salient feature is its distinctive call and the particular quality of its sound or song. Read against these literary accounts, and juxtaposed with the human participants in the scene whom the artist so effectively equips with voice, the singularly mute bird demonstrates the limits that the visual-cum-graphic medium cannot transcend: human speech yes, bird song no. The very choice of swallow may additionally be designed to underscore these questions of silence and of speech which the scene and its inscriptions pose: it is not just that the bird is associated with the unintelligible, indecipherable, and 'twittering' speech uttered by barbarians but that this particular avian species is, in and of itself, a way of figuring silence: Philomela becomes the swallow precisely because, with her tongue cut out, she is necessarily prohibited from generating not just coherent speech, but any sound at all; (71) only communication through graphic, pictorial media--the tapestry that she weaves--is left to her.
Silence also informs the question of the bird's signifying character and further calls the surface reading of the pelike into question by delivering another challenge to its too ready amalgam of swallow and spring. As Luis Losada's (1985, 33) review of the archaic sources demonstrates, "the swallow's annual return was perceived by the ear as much as by the eye," and poets were all but unanimous in linking the bird's role as vernal herald to its audible properties, to the voice that, in Aristophanes' Stesichorus-citing account, "babbles its spring songs" (Pax 800). Fresh grounds, then, for skepticism vis-a-vis the interpretation on the pot: a single necessarily silent swallow emphatically does not a spring time make.
But perhaps the viewers of the vase did not listen in vain for what the artist could not supply. Instead, to develop Hurwit's notion of inscribed vases as catalysts for sympotic speech and song, this lacuna becomes another point at which the audience comes in. Furnishing the voice denied the bird, they could sing one of the many lyric poems that featured the melodious and/or twittering swallow, or could perform the swallow ditty, whose opening is sung by the Sycophant in Aristophanes' Birds and which Peisetaerus styles a skolion in the line cited earlier (416). Skolia or drinking songs were a sympotic genre par excellence, and their heyday coincided precisely with the date of our vase. Many skolia also involve griphoi, and in several instances these verbal puzzles include both 'signifying' animals and issues of deception, (72) the precise concerns of the vase. Picking up on the visual and verbal cues that the pelike supplied, and promoting the likelihood of spring's advent, the diners might also perform a version of the well-known "Swallow Song," the Cheilidonismos, sung on the season's return in communities in different parts of archaic and classical Greece. These songs--some popular, others more refined--would combine with lively debate and riddle-posing (Can you trust a single swallow and, in Aristophanes' phrase, "Ask when the swallow's likely to appear"?), and with admiration of the charms of the pais on the pelike and also, perhaps, the charms of the female 'swallows' present at the sympotic occasion. In short, we have a realization of the milieu that Snodgrass (2000, 6-7) so well imagines in his reconstruction of how inscriptions on vases functioned at symposia: "The presence of writing would have its place in the atmosphere of convivial challenges, competitive recitation and singing, amorous discourse and table games which we know prevailed." (73)
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--. 1990. Aristophanes' Lysistrata. Warminster.
Steiner, A. 2007. Reading Greek Vases. Cambridge.
Steiner, D. 2009. "Pot Bellies. The Komast Vases and Contemporary Song." In D. Yatromanolakis, ed., An Archeology of Representations: Ancient Greek Vase-Painting and Contemporary Methodologies. Athens. 240-81.
Sutton, R. F. 1992. "Pornography and Persuasion on Attic Pottery." In A. Richlin, ed., Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome. New York and Oxford. 3-35.
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* This paper owes much to the comments of the two audiences to whom it was presented: those participating in the Cork conference, for which it was originally conceived, and the speakers and audience at a second conference on the symposium, held at Oxford in 2011. I am most grateful to the organizers of these events for their invitations to attend.
(1.) Hermitage 615; Beazley 1963, 1594.48; Beazley 1971, 507; Carpenter 1989, 389.
(2.) Lissarrague 1985, 85; see too his discussion in Lissarrague 1992, 200-1.
(3.) Neer 2002, 63-4. As will become clear, my discussion takes its impetus at many points from Neer's account of both the vase and Pioneer painters.
(4.) Neer 2002, 27-86.
(5.) Immerwahr 2010. This discussion appeared several years after the initial delivery and revisions of my account, and, as noted in [section] 2 below, overlaps closely with my reading on one very central point. While I have profited from Immerwahr's rich analysis and, as the footnotes reflect, have drawn on some of the material that he includes, our larger arguments and conclusions remain very different and I do not engage with his suggestion concerning the reference to a magical spell.
(6.) Here I apply to iconography the notion of 'traditional referentiality' developed for the reading of Homeric formulae; for a detailed account of this, see Foley 1991 and the definition that he offers on p. 7: "Traditional referentiality, then, entails the invoking of a context that is enormously larger and more echoic than the text or work itself, that brings the lifeblood of generations of poems and performances to the individual performance or text. Each element in the phraseology or narrative thematics stands not for the singular instance but for the plurality and multiformity that are beyond the reach of textualization."
(7.) See Neer 2002, esp. 13; as he notes, the word riddle that was a conspicuous feature of the symposium typically involved an expression or phrase with a double meaning. For a particular apposite example, see the griphos that Neer cites on p. 46.
(8.) Here I take my cue from the important recent work on the topic in A. Steiner 2007.
(9.) See the discussion in Robertson 1977, 79-80, with earlier bibliography in his note 13.1 have also drawn on Shapiro 1997, 63-4 and von Bothmer 1951.
(10.) For this term, see note 6 above.
(11.) So Collins 2002, 35. I also draw on Collins's acute discussion of the issues of contested power and authority implicit in these epic scenes.
(12.) The relevant passages are Il. 2.299-332, 8.242-52, 12.200-50, 13.817-32, 24.306-21 and Od. 2.146-93, 15.160-81, 15.535-8, 19.535-69, 20.242-7. There are a handful of non-avian portents, but birds make up the overwhelming majority of omens in the works.
(13.) My account follows that of de Jong 2001, 52.
(14.) For this, see Lateiner 2005.
(15.) See the excellent discussion in Bushnell 1982 for fuller analysis.
(16.) As Bushnell's (1982, 4-5) analysis shows, in this instance the interpretation depends on a 'supplementation of the actual sign. Polydamas begins his description of the omen by repeating the lines the poet had earlier used of it, but then adds an ending absent from the original; it is the added portion that serves as the basis for the analogy with the Trojan situation.
(17.) See Bushnell 1982, 6 for this counter omen.
(18.) Bushnell 1982, 6.
(19.) Bushnell (1982, 4) cites Ciceros comment on Calchas's reading: "But pray, by what principle of augury does he deduce years rather than months or days for the number of sparrows.... What is there about a sparrow to suggest a year?" (Div. 2.65). The very precision of the reading shows what Bushnell calls its "unsystematic" nature; the omen could have been interpreted any number of different ways.
(20.) Competitive encounters between rival interpreters, in this instance both professional prophets ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), are recorded in the sources: Strabo cites lines from Hesiod (fr. 278 M.-W.) describing one such competition between Calchas and Mopsus, in which Calchas sets a test for his rival. Famously, as Herodotus records, Themistocles sets himself up against the "professional interpreters" to offer his own exegesis of the Delphic oracle concerning the wooden walls (7.143).
(21.) Nagy (1990, 212) remarks on the significant placement of the lines just prior to the citation of the cuckoo's call.
(22.) Here I follow the discussion of the incident in Nagy 1990, 206.
(23.) In the subsequent passage, Apollo goes on to grant Hermes his own oracular site, where divination is practiced by the winged bee-maidens, prophetesses who utter both truth and falsehoods, depending on whether they have eaten honey (550-63).
(24.) For a very illuminating collection of material concerning Greek and Roman "swallow lore," see Thompson 1895, 186-92.
(25.) It proves impossible to establish when the fables that appear under the name of Aesop, a figure conventionally dated to the sixth century, first came into circulation in Greece; however, the close overlap between the stories found in the much later collection of the Aesopica and the fables incorporated into the iambic, elegiac, and lyric poetry of the seventh and sixth centuries suggests an early diffusion for many of the tales and their familiarity to audiences both popular and elite.
(26.) For relevant discussion of the incident, see Bushnell 1982, 9.
(27.) For this suggestion, see Sommerstein, 1987 ad 1416.
(28.) See Austin 1975, 247.
(29.) See particularly Ag. 1050-1 with Fraenkel's note ad loc.
(30.) See note 59, where I suggest yet another area where the swallow becomes a source of interpretative difficulty and doubleness.
(31.) Hurwit 1990, 194; a similar proposal is made in Snodgrass 2000, 26-8.
(32.) Lissarrague 1985, 85 and his note 42.
(33.) The interpretation proposed in Immerwahr 2010 develops a passing comment in a much earlier publication by the author; in his discussion of the vase in Immerwahr 1990, 70, he succinctly calls the composition "an erotic scene," but does not elaborate on the statement there.
(34.) Immerwahr (2010, 577) supplies several examples, with additional material in Lear and Cantarella 2008. Note how the three ages depicted here would echo the frequent ruminations in sixth-century sympotic poetry on the different ages of humankind, and the poets' rueful observations on the iniquities of old age and the erotic rejections it involves.
(35.) Neer (2002, 118) draws attention to this ambiguity in reference to other contemporary images featuring young boys.
(36.) Should we also, as a participant in the Oxford conference proposed, ascribe significance to the position of the youths left hand, pointing towards the region of his companion's genitalia?
(37.) Immerwahr (2010, 580) also notes the association of springtime and youth, but as part of a different argument.
(38.) Shapiro 1981, 135. As he notes, both figures may be partly draped and/or naked, or one naked and the other draped.
(39.) I owe to Immerwahr (2010, 580) the observation concerning the slight differentiation in age between the contestants.
(40.) Immerwahr (2010, 578-9) would actually locate both scenes on the pelike in a palaestra setting. He too notes the tight association between that context and pederastic relations.
(41.) See particularly 520: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
(42.) See Plato, Charm. 154A-C, Euthd. 237A, Lysis 206E; Aristophanes, Vesp. 1023-5, Pax 762-3.
(43.) Recapitulating the four-figure arrangement twice shown on the amphora's shoulders are the four individuals included in this second scene: on either side of the lover and the object of his solicitation two bearded individuals dance, one carrying a fawn that is both a love token and a visual figure for the eventual capture of the youth. See too a red-figure cup in Rome with pancratists on one side, a man courting a youth on the other (Vatican City, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco Vaticano Ast 705; Beazley 1963, 1646.37 bis).
(44.) These inscriptions are of a wholly different order from at least three of the notations on the obverse; they are free-floating elements, whose author remains undefined, and that might be seen as replicating actual graffiti found at athletic sites.
(45.) Here I draw on the argument presented in A. Steiner 2007, 48. While for the most part kalos inscriptions bear scant relation to the scenes depicted on the pots, in some instances they do comment on the image and/or prompt the audience to respond in the appropriate fashion; see, e.g., the Attic red-figure kylix in Baltimore (Beazley 1963, 177, 3) of c. 500, possibly showing Leagrus as little more than a pais and acclaiming him as fair; so too the term kalos on the louterion used by another desirable youth on a pelike in Berlin (Beazley 1963, 246). For the first, see the discussion in Frel 1983, 147-50; for the second, see Lissarrague 1985, 87.
(46.) See the discussion in Sutton 1992, 15.
(47.) A. Steiner (2007) supplies an essential guide to these varieties of visual "clueing."
(48.) As suggested in Immerwahr 2011, 578.
(49.) For detailed treatment of the particular association in the Greek imaginary between wrestling and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], see Detienne and Vernant 1991, 35-7; as their discussion also documents, the fox is the quintessential embodiment of this "cunning intelligence."
(50.) Lissarrague (1985, 85) suggests that it is shared between the different characters, a piece of their collective wisdom. Hurwit (1990, 189) does not attribute the phrase to any of the three, but, without giving it an actual author, views it as extraneous to their exchange.
(51.) See Hurwit 1990, 192 for the relation of the writing to the pictorial space; here I somewhat modify his account, which reads all inscriptions as illusion-breaking.
(52.) See the discussion of this and other examples in Neer 2002, 87-117.
(53.) Immerwahr (2010, 574) describes the ornamented stools on which the youth and older man sit as indicators of "affluence and leisure."
(54.) Here I draw on the fine discussion in A. Steiner 2007, 66-7.
(55.) See Flower 2007, 5. As Flowers account documents, seers could nonetheless belong to elite families and regularly claimed high-class lineages. See also the important discussion in Burkert 1992, esp. 41-6.
(56.) For discussion of divination as a craft, see Flower 2007, 91.
(57.) Of possible relevance to this is the curious phenomenon identified in Shapiro 1997: archaic pelikai tend to display scenes featuring lower-class individuals and occupations.
(58.) For my larger point concerning the low status of bird divination, and citation and discussion of the inscription, see Collins 2002, 38.
(59.) This point should be qualified insofar as the direction of the swallows flight depends on the 'point of view' adopted here. If we observe the bird as spectators external to the vase, it does fly from left to right; but for the internal viewers, that direction is reversed. This confusion would perhaps promote the 'slipperiness' and oscillating quality of the scene as instantiated by the swallow.
(60.) See A. Steiner 2007, 202-3, 255-6, 259-60.
(61.) The citation comes from Fehr 1990. For additional discussion of the function of the "fat dancers," see D. Steiner 2009.
(62.) A. Steiner (2007) explores these nonsense inscriptions in detail, proposing the account followed here.
(63.) As far as I know, there are no analogous scenes in either the black- or red-figure repertoire. Nor do contemporary works show individuals, mythical or otherwise, practicing ornithomanteia, although artists of the period do regularly represent scenes of extispicy.
(64.) See the detailed account of the vase in Robertson 1977; he draws attention to the similarity to the swallow pelike on p. 80. This vase also acclaims Leagrus as kalos.
(65.) For this feature of the Pioneers, see Neer 2002, 73-4.
(66.) So the famous tag included on the belly amphora of c. 510 by Euthymides (Munich 2307; Beazley 1963, 26.1) "as never Euphronius [could do]."
(67.) See particularly Od. 6.229-37.
(68.) Also cited by Neer 2002, 99.
(69.) "Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks"; cited in Plutarch, Mor. 346F.
(70.) So Burkert 2005, 35.
(71.) With thanks to Andrew Ford for pointing this out.
(72.) Collins (2004, 111-34) provides a good account of these; for skolia involving animals, see PMG 892 and 903.
(73.) Snodgrass 2000, 26-7.
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|Title Annotation:||I. Art and Text|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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