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Classical Journal On-Line <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 23 Aug 2009 13:51:19 -0500
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The Derveni Krater: Masterpiece of Classical Greek Metalwork. By BERYL 
BARR-SHARRAR. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 
2008. Pp. xvi + 239 + 32 plates. Cloth, $75.00. ISBN 0–876–61962–6.

Order this text for $75.00 from Amazon.com using this link and benefit 
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Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 

CJ Online 2009.08.08

The Derveni Krater Masterpiece of Classical Greek Metalwork is a rare 
publication with something to offer every reader, from the specialist 
scholar, to the undergraduate to the collector of beautiful coffee table 
books. It covers the topic thoroughly; the text is clearly written and 
accessible; and the images, including contextualized line drawings, black 
and white photographs and 32 color plates, are of exceptional quality and 

In her introduction, Barr-Sharrar (B.-S.) explains that she published her 
first article on the krater in 1979, and her ongoing devotion is obvious in 
the ways she contextualizes the monument within multiple disciplines. One 
need not be an art historian to find valuable information in this text, as 
B.-S. investigates the archaeological, regional, historical, technical, 
epigraphic, iconographic and stylistic importance of the krater. While the 
Derveni krater has been the object of numerous individual articles (several 
by B.-S. herself), it has never received thorough treatment in English. The 
value of such comprehensive treatment of a single object is apparent in 
every chapter. This book is not just about the Derveni krater, but about 
Macedonian burial practices, techniques of metalworking, neo-Attic reliefs 
and Dionysian iconography, among other matters.

The Derveni krater was part of a chance discovery in 1962 of seven tombs, 
several of them unlooted. Together the finds from these tombs make up the 
most extensive collection of Classical Greek bronze and silverware ever 
uncovered. Of the objects found, the Derveni krater is the most elaborate 
in terms of scale and decoration, and it has entered into most art history 
survey textbooks as an example of Greek workmanship and mythological themes 
expanding into border cultures such as Macedonia. Interesting questions 
about its life prior to burial are raised by the fact that the vessel dates 
to approximately 370 BC, while the burial belongs to the last quarter of 
the 4th century. B.-S.’s chapter on the Derveni Tombs not only makes 
accessible the details from the Greek excavation reports of the tombs, but 
helps contextualize the krater within the other high quality objects found 
in this tomb and others nearby.

The chapters on the major decorative elements of the krater are especially 
interesting (Chapter 7, The Major Repoussé Frieze; Chapter 8, Animal 
Friezes, Volute Masks and Cast Shoulder Figures; and Chapter 9, The Uses 
and Workshop Origins of the Derveni Krater). In these chapters B.-S. 
exhaustively describes each figure and introduces extensive stylistic and 
iconographic comparanda in a variety of media, often providing helpful 
illustrations of obscure pieces. There are ten figures on the main frieze: 
Dionysos, the mortal Ariadne, a panther, six maenads, a silenos and a 
hunter. Dionysos is without question the star: he is twice the size of the 
other figures and his bare leg rests over Ariadne’s thigh in a way that 
highlights the sexuality of their relationship, an unusual though not 
unique representation of the pair. B.-S. relates this to the reenactment of 
the marriage between Dionysos and Ariadne by a human representative of 
Dionysos and the basilinna or “queen archon” during the yearly Athenian 
festival of the Anthesteria, symbolizing the union of Dionysos, as the god 
of fruitfulness, with the community. The relative size of Dionysos to 
Ariadne indicates that the scene relates to the moment of the god’s 

Two other figures are also important for the iconographic program. The 
bearded hunter is sometimes identified as Lykourgos, but B.-S. argues that 
he is instead a pre-Euripidean Pentheus who goes to capture the Bacchae and 
Dionysos without disguise. In addition, a maenad to the left of Dionysos 
grasps a baby by the leg and flings it over her shoulder; this is perhaps a 
reference to either the Minyads or the Proetids, women who rejected 
Dionysos and as punishment were made to kill their offspring. The epiphany 
of Dionysos thus takes place within a world of celebrating bacchants and 
painful reminders of the horrors awaiting those who resist the god. The 
smaller animal frieze around the neck (felines, griffins and the aftermath 
of the hunt) echoes the message, while the solid cast-bronze figures 
resting on the shoulder—two maenads, a satyr, and Dionysos—enjoy the 
aftermath of the revelry. Finally, the masks in the volutes can all be 
related to the underworld in one way or another.

Five of the maenads are especially useful diagnostically, according to 
B.-S., because they echo canonical types known from neo-Attic reliefs. The 
neo-Attic maenads are a set of figure types thought to be adapted from a 
Hellenistic copy of a classical monument and adapted and imported into 
various contexts and media. While scholars have long debated the 
inspiration for these maenads (which appear together, alone or in groups, 
as early as the 2nd century BC), B.-S. argues that neo-Attic designers were 
inspired by an original, possibly Athenian late 5th-century monument and 
not by a Hellenistic copy, as has been argued. The Derveni krater maenads 
were adapted from the same piece, which must have been accessible to 
designers working in the 2nd century producing designs that appealed to a 
Roman clientele. The number of neo-Attic monuments on which maenads appear 
in groups suggests that the prototype for all of them was either a single 
monument or separate monuments close to one another. B.-S. also argues that 
Dionysos and Ariadne on the Derveni krater may have been part of the same 
original. Her careful reading of the evidence convincingly places the 
Derveni krater frieze figures as intermediaries between the original 
Athenian monument and the neo-Attic reliefs.

That the krater was made in the early 4th century but not buried until the 
late 4th century leaves open the possibility that it was not intended to be 
funerary. B.-S. suggests that its initial function may instead have been 
connected with initiation into the cult of Dionysos. The iconographic 
associations with the underworld (with the funerary masks in the volute 
eyes) would have referred to such activity, while being equally appropriate 
for its later funerary use.

B.-S.’s monograph on the Derveni krater brings together enormous amounts 
of information about this important vessel, including aspects of discovery 
and technique otherwise inaccessible to anyone lacking access to an 
excellent research library. Additionally, B.-S.’s provocative use of the 
Derveni Krater to reconstruct possible connections between Attic and 
neo-Attic maenads underscores the importance of this object well beyond the 
4th century and Macedonia.

Virginia Tech

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