Attic Red-Figure Hydria with the Abduction of Oreithyia by Boreas
ca. 460-450 BC
5th century BC
15 7/8 in. (40.4 cm.)
Ancient Mediterranean, Greek
Medium and Support
Gift of Edward Perry Warren, Esq., Honorary Degree, 1926
This hydria, a water-carrying vessel, depicts the myth recounting the abduction of princess Oreithyia, daughter of Erechtheus, king of Athens, by Boreas, the North Wind. The Niobid Painter and his associates, probably inspired by wall frescoes, excelled in composing scenes with large detailed figures that were painted around the curvilinear surface of the vase. The painter illustrates the moment of Oreithyia’s capture and the reactions of those in attendance. As the goddess Athena looks on, Boreas wings in and seizes the princess. Female attendants scatter in fright while an old man (King Erechtheus) frets the loss of his daughter.
The connection between this myth and history lies in a fortuitous turn for the Athenians in their war against the Persians. According to the historian Herodotus, a Persian fleet poised off Cape Artemisium in 480 BCE was destroyed by a northern gale, interpreted as an intervention of Boreas, the North Wind. For the Athenians the coincidence was clear. Boreas, who had married Oreithyia after the illustrated encounter, had also intervened on behalf of the Athenians in their most dire hour. As unexpected as was Oreithyia’s abduction, so was Boreas’ arrival and dispatch of the Persian fleet at Artemisium. This hydria’s incorporation of a myth to represent a moment in history reflects an artist’s pride in the accomplishments and fortune of his city.
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