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

Wedgwood and The Iliad

  • by Lauren Grattage

Minervan helmet

Theme

The Power of The Gods

"We everlasting gods . . . Ah what chilling blows we suffer—thanks to our own conflicting wills— 
whenever we show these mortal men some kindness."

 


The Gods continue to have a profound effect on events in The Iliad whether it is to save one, or doom another to dark death. They cause both conflicts in the mortal sphere and between themselves also, as they each favour a different hero. Athene, Goddess of war and strategy, has a key role in dictating certain events in battle. After the argument between Achilles and Agamemnon has ended , some sort of an agreement was found between the Trojan forces and the Greeks. After being rebuked by his brother Hector for being a woman-crzed coward, Paris agrees to a single fight with Menelaus, a fair one to one challenge with Helen's former husband. The winner of the fight would be able to claim Helen as his own and the war itself would be over. Knowing the burnden is his to bear, Menelaus agrees to Hectors' terms and agrees to fight Paris. The terms state that whilst the two men fight it out between themselves the armies must not fight eachother, go on raids or plan secret attacks. 

Not surprisingly, cowardly Paris is no match for the King of Sparta and just as he is about to lose the fight and his life, he is saved by Aphrodite who flies him back into Troy. Athene, angry that the prince has escaped is eager to start the war again. While Menelaus sits screaming of dishonour and trickery the ranks of soldiers wait anxiously, Athene convinces a young Pandarus, an archer, to shoot Menelaus. Succumbed to the powers of the Goddess Pandarus shoots and the single arrow hits Menelaus and injures him, breaking the oath and restarting the vicious cycle once again.

“He’s in a mood to fight Father Zeus himself. He began by closing with Aphrodite and stabbing her in the wrist and then he flung himself, like something superhuman, at me”

 

She has great influence over other soldiers later in The Iliad. A favourite warrior of hers is Diomedes, a talented young warrior from Argos and a popular fighter amongst the Greeks. In book 5 of the epic, after he is injured by Pandarus, the archer, Athene comes down from Olympus to help him. She gave him the power to see the Gods at work on the battlefield, something no other mortal can see. With his new found strength and gift from Athene he fought like a man possessed, slaughtering any Trojans he came within range of. This is famously called an “aristeia” or simply a warrior’s most glorious moment in war The Iliad is full of various soldier’s aristeia and it proves to be a popular subject in neoclassic art. In the panic of battle he meets Pandarus, bloody thirst and eager for revenge he slaughters Pandarus in a gruesome fashion. Surging with energy and heroism Diomedes even started fighting the Gods themselves. He stabbed Aphrodite through the wrist forcing her back to Olympus weeping. Apollo seeing that she had been injured tried to take over from her, but Diomedes attacked and injured him as well. Even when rebuked by Athena, he only retreated for a short while before bursting back into action, injuring Ares in the process. 

Because Wedgwood took myth from both Roman and Greek myth it is often hard to determine which culture inspired his work. An example of this is an ornately decorated helmet (vase) labelled “The Minervan Helmet.” Although Minerva was an Etruscan Goddess, parts of her mythology are the same as Athena’s.  They both were birthed from the forehead of their father, and they both won challenges set to them by Poseidon/Neptune. However, Minerva was the Goddess of medicine and healing and although she was seen wearing armour, had very little to do with war. It could be argued then that the helmet relates more to Athena and her involvement with wars and battles. The helmet also bears some symbols related to the Greek Goddess. On the hood of the helmet there are two olive branches entwined with one another. Olive trees were a symbol sacred to Athena, in mythology she famously saved Athens from Poseidon and planted the fist olive tree on dry ground. It was considered a great gift, and thus is the reason the great city was called “Athens.” The helmet has no crest but is decorated with a strange hybrid creature with the head of a lion, body and wings of an eagle and a long reptilian tail. It provides for a beautiful handle when used as a vase/jug.

 

As well as representing the Gods the helmet represents a theme famous in not just The Iliad but Greek war itself. The need to win at any cost, the abandonment of rationality and ethical principles to proves ones supremacy. War is a key component in The Iliad and it is often graphic and brutal. The men who fight for either side have been trained from birth to kill and they fight for something they believe is greater than mortal men. The intricacy yet boldness of the helmet shows the pride involved with ancient art and its relationship to war. To have been involved in the historic battle of Troy would have been seen as an honour, to die amongst legends would have been a privilege. Indeed the Greeks did not view war as we do today; it was seen as something glorious and meaningful and above mortal life itself.

 

 

Catalogue

This ornately decorated centre piece is in the form of a helmet, the shape of which is inspired by interpretations of the Roman goddess Minerva. This piece was made between 1885-90.