Scenes of a school

„Wer könnte den in den Wirrnissen der antiken Türschlösser-Problematik verloren gegangenen Plato wieder auffinden?”
Ludwig Hatvany: Die Wissenschaft des nicht Wissenswerten

For Terka Kocsis


Next up in our birthday series, we focus on a red-figure drinking cup (kylix) now in Berlin. It was made around 480 BC in Athens by the vase painter Duris (who even signed his name), and found in Caere (now Cerveteri) in Italy. The inside of the bowl shows a young man untying his sandals, while the outside is decorated with scenes of a school.

There are five figures – teachers and students – on each side of the kylix between the handles. Their age and status is clearly indicated by their difference in size. Both scenes depict a music lesson on the left: at the top, it is a wind instrument, the aulos being taught, at the bottom, it is a string instrument, the lyre. A bearded man sits on the left, leaning on a staff. In the centre of the former scene, a younger man leans forward, holding a writing tablet and a stylus; his pupil stands before him casually, with legs slightly bent.

Attic red-figure kylix (Duris, ca. 480 BC) © Foto: Antikensammlung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz / CC BY-NC-SA

On the opposite side, a shyer student is faced by a more elderly and respectable teacher, who holds an inscribed scroll in his hand. The vase painter took pains to make the Greek words legible even on this tiny surface: the text seems to recall the opening lines of the Homeric epics.

Could these be the first lines of a lost masterpiece? What do the metrical “errors” suggest? Why do the words sound strange when read together? How familiar was Duris with literature? And how does all this relate to the representation of the classroom? Perhaps what we see is the teacher checking some homework, or the student being tested?

Answers to these questions can only be formulated after lengthy and thorough research, and even these answers will be tentative (for a possible “key”, see a recent interpretation of the scene HERE).

But to complete the quiz below, you will only need the help of the internet (or maybe not even that!) – and some knowledge about pop culture.



For more information on each question, check the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

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