Instructor: Mr. Thomas Marier
Of the over 100,000 decorated pots that have come down to us from ancient Greece, roughly one in ten features an inscription. The Greek letters painted, stamped, inked, or scratched on the pots often reveal myths, rituals, and aspects of daily life attested poorly or not at all in literary sources. Hence this double crash course, which offers both a basic toolkit for understanding Greek vases—their making, shapes, uses, decoration, and distribution—and a working knowledge of the scripts that unlock (or complicate) their meaning.
The goal of this course is to change the way you look at Greek vases—by reading them. The scripts are easy to learn. Many of the letters are already familiar, and since most of the inscriptions are names, there is little vocabulary and even less grammar to know. Plus, I supply a cheat sheet!
Session 1: The potters and the painters, their materials, methods, working conditions, and the market they served. The styles, shapes, uses, and decoration of the pots themselves. The techniques used by modern scholars to date and classify pottery. The big questions and controversies in vase studies today. The internet tools that have transformed the study of Greek vases. We play games to apply what we have learned.
Session 2: The story of the alphabet and its local variants. The uses of writing both before and after firing: signatures of potter and/or painter, identifications of objects and especially (mythological) characters, utterances, messages to the user (“Hello, buy me!”) or to others (“So-and-so is handsome!”), even taunts to other artists (“As never Euphronios!”). Finally, the curious pseudo-scripts found on about a third of extant inscribed pots. We learn the scripts by forming the letters, writing out actual inscriptions, and collaborating to solve the puzzles they pose.
Session 3: Vases as evidence of daily life: at home, school, work, the gymnasium, the sanctuary, drinking parties, and athletic contests. Rituals: weddings, funeral practices, religious festivals. Myths: vase depictions of the stories known to us from literature, especially Homer and the tragedians. Included here are several pots from the Carlos Museum at Emory. We discuss the relationship between picture and text: when we can say that a vase illustrates a particular literary work or dramatic performance as opposed to a story (myth).
Additional Notes: Proceeds from this course will go toward books, materials, and exams for students participating in the Mythopaloosa sponsored by Marist School. These students from PATH Academy and schools in the archdiocese with few resources commit to reading and studying for the National Mythology Exam in early March 2021.
*This class can be taken in-person or virtually. COVID-19 protocols will be followed for in-person.
Mr. Marier has taught modern and classical languages at Marist School since 1998. He has translated books on Greek mythology and Greek tragedy for the Johns Hopkins University Press. Since 2012 he has worked with students to produce the Classical Art Exam (supported by a blog) for the Georgia Junior Classical League. Since 2018 he has also taught an elective course on archaeology.