• The 3000 year old story of The Iliad told through various Wedgwood wares.

Wedgwood and The Iliad

  • by Lauren Grattage

Jasper plaque depicting five muses

Theme

The Beginning of The Iliad

“Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans”

 

The Iliad famously starts with the invoking of the Muse. A tradition used by bards and storytellers to gain the help of the beautiful, nine goddesses to tell an epic that would pass down the generations.

There were nine muses combined, Greek Goddesses that were the embodiment and literal personifications of knowledge of the arts. Each Goddess had her own symbol, which was synonymous only to her and was drawn or sculptured with her whenever she was present. Collectively they were “the Muse” and would help those who were pursuing art, great literature or sciences.

 

The Nine Muses

  • Calliope personified Epic poetry and is depicted with a writing tablet or writing utensil
  • Clio personified the art of History and is depicted holding/reading a scroll
  • Euterpe personified Lyrical poetry and is depicted holding or playing a flute like instrument
  • Thalia personified the art of Comedy and is seen holding or wearing a comic mask from theatre
  • Melpomene personified Tragedy and is shown holding or wearing a tragic mask from theatre or is shown holding a dagger or other tragic instruments.
  • Terpsichore personified the art of Dance and is depicted playing or holding a lyre
  • Erato personified Love poetry and is shown holding or playing a kithara
  •  Polyhymnia personifies sacred poetry and is depicted wearing a religious veil over her head
  • Urania personifies the science of Astronomy and is depicted holding a globe or a compass in either hand  

 

Jasper Plaque Depicting Five Muses

 The muses are common pieces in Wedgwood wares. Their number, symbolism of the arts and beautiful features meant they could easily be applied to any type of ware from Bell Hookahs to Jasper Plaques. The most effective portrayal of The Muse, is seen is on flat surface wares like plaques as each detail of their personality is able to be shown in great detail on a flat surface. 

The plaque, made in 1778, has a design attributed to John Flaxman Jr. Josiah Wedgwood himself thought the Muse made for beautiful wares as he described them to Thomas Bentley as "delicate to a degree." The plaque only shows five of the original nine muses (from left to right): Erato, seen holding her kithara, next to Melpomene who is shown holding a dagger. Calliope is next to her and shown to be writing, Thalia holding her comic mask and Urania next to her famous globe. 

These five Goddesses are all central to the key plot of The Iliad. Love comes in its truest form between Andromache and Hector and their passionate, faithful but doomed marriage. Calliope herself is the Goddess of epic poetry and so the whole of the story can be related to her. Comedy, although rare, is brought in to give smalll interludes to the battle usually via the Gods and their petty or odd behaviour. It gives some relief from an otherwise tragic, formulaic plot. Astronomy was heavily linked in with fate, probably the most important theme in The Iliad, with every man destined for greatness or a bitter death. Melpomene can be linked the characters throughout the story, with man after man losing his friend or family. The Iliad never ceases to be a tragic piece of literature. 

Catalogue

This white jasper plaque has a design attributed to John Flaxman jnr. It features the muses Terpisichore, Melpomene, Calliope, Thalia and Urania.