Theses Doctoral

Portraits of Grief: Death, Mourning and the Expression of Sorrow on White-Ground Lêkythoi

Allen, Molly Evangeline

In Athens in the early 5th century BCE, a new genre of funerary vase, the white-ground lêkythos, appeared and quickly grew to be the most popular grave gift for nearly a century. These particular vases, along with their relatively delicate style of painting, ushered in a new funerary scene par excellence, which highlighted the sorrow of the living and the merits of the deceased by focusing on personal moments of grief in the presence of a grave. Earlier Attic funerary imagery tended to focus on crowded prothesis scenes where mourners announced their grief and honored the dead through exaggerated, violent and frenzied gestures. The scenes on white-ground lêkythoi accomplished the same ends through new means, namely by focusing on individual mourners and the emotional ways that mourners privately nourished the deceased and their memory. Such scenes combine ritual activity (i.e. dedicating gifts, decorating the grave, pouring libations) with emotional expressions of sadness, which make them more vivid and relatable. The nuances in the characteristics of the mourners indicate a new interest in adding an individual touch to the expression, which might “speak” to a particular moment or variety of sadness that might relate to a potential consumer. To facilitate a meaningful discussion of the range of ways that white-ground painters articulated grief and lament in their vases, the dissertation is divided into six chapters, each of which concentrates on a particular type of mourner: women, men, elderly men, infants, vocal visitors and the deceased. Discussing the visual iconography across these different groups demonstrates that the shared and individual, public and private, intentional and candid aspects of grief and mourning can be shown simultaneously and that it was of interest to the Athenians to look at images that incorporated all of these aspects.


  • thumnail for Allen_columbia_0054D_14034.pdf Allen_columbia_0054D_14034.pdf application/pdf 2.07 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Classical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Mylonopoulos, Ioannis
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 29, 2017