A Campanian phlyax vase


The National Gallery of Victoria was very fortunate to be able to acquire in 1973, thanks to the generosity of the Felton Bequest, one of the finest extant Campanian phlyax vases1Accession number D14-1973. Ht. 37 cm, diam. of mouth 33.3 cm. Felton Bequest. A. D. Trendall, The Red-figured Vases of Lucania, Campania and Sicily (= LCS), Supplement II (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, London, Supplement no. 31. 1973), p. 222, no. 337b. For phlyax vases see in particular: M. Bieber, The History of the Greek and Roman Theatre (Princeton, ed. 2, 1961), pp. 129–146, with relevant bibliography on p. 329; A. D. Trendall, Phlyax Vases (ed. 2, BICS, Supplement no. 19, 1967 = PhV2), where an extensive bibliography will be found on pp. 1–7; I. D. and T. B. L. Webster, Illustrations of Greek Drama (Phaldon, 1971), pp. 11–13 and 137 ff. (figs 1 and 2). The so-called phlyax vases are among the liveliest products of South Italian vase-painting in the fourth century B.C. and derive their name from the representations upon them of phlyakes, a word which was regularly used in classical Greek to designate both the actors in a certain type of rustic comedy and the actual performances, which seem to have been the South Italian equivalent of a type of farce originally performed in Sparta.2Athenaeus xiv, 621. Phlyax was at first thought to be connected with phlyarein (= to talk nonsense), but it should more probably be associated with phlein (= to swell), and this would be particularly appropriate for the phlyax actors with their well-padded costumes, which recall those of the padded dancers who figure frequently upon Corinthian vases3See Axel Seeberg, Corinthian Komos Vases (BICS, Supplement no. 27, 1971). of the later seventh and first half of the sixth century B.C.; further, phleos (= tumid) is often used as an epithet of Dionysos as a vegetation god, in whose honour such performances were probably first given and with whom the phlyakes are often associated. 

The representations on a large number of fourth-century vases from South Italy and Sicily testify to the popularity there at that time of comic performances which parodied tragedies, burlesqued gods and heroes, or dealt in a farcical way with scenes from daily life. This sort of comedy reached its highest level in the work of the Syracusan poet Rhinthon, who was famous as a writer of phlyax plays for his comic treatment of tragic themes. He flourished in the reign of Ptolemy I (early third century B.C.), and, as this is at least a generation after the latest of the phlyax vases upon which such representations are shown, he must therefore be regarded as having given literary form to an existing type of comedy rather than as being its originator. The late Professor Webster has also shown,4Classical Quarterly 42, 1948, pp. 15–27; Greek Theatre Production, pp. 98 ff. from the evidence afforded by a number of comic vases found in Athens, that some at least of the scenes on South Italian vases are direct reflections of Attic comedies of the fourth century, which were presumably also performed in Magna Graecia in the same way as Attic tragedies. 

The original list of phlyax vases, published in 1886 by Hans Heydemann, contained 53 items; today the total has risen to just over 200, of which some two-thirds are Apulian. The remainder may be divided among the other four fabrics, about 30 to Paestum, 15 each to Campania and Sicily, but only a small minority coming from Lucania, and those almost exclusively from its earlier painters, since the subsequent isolation of that fabric was obviously not conducive to theatrical scenes being represented upon its pottery. Phlyax vases make their first appearance in South Italy not long before 400 B.C.; most were painted during the second and third quarters of the fourth century, and they are very rarely found after c.330, when themes associated with Greek drama lose a substantial measure of their earlier popularity. 

The uniform treatment of masks and costumes on the vases of all the different fabrics suggests that the performances of phlyax plays maintained a standard level throughout South Italy. The typical costume of a phlyax consists of close-fitting tights, intended to simulate nudity, often padded in front and behind to emphasise the belly and the rump, with a large phallus attached; over the tights, garments such as a tunic or a cloak may be worn as required, and these are often painted in added colours (white, yellow, red). The actor also wears a mask5For a list of phlyax masks see Illustrations of Greek Drama, p. 13. appropriate to the role being performed; for women these are often painted white. 

One of the most valuable contributions made by the phlyax vases to our fuller understanding of the Greek theatre lies in their comparatively frequent representation of the stage upon which the performance took place. The various types of stage depicted suggest that this was of an impromptu nature, making use of light, movable sets to indicate the typical background of temple, house or street. That such performances took place in the open rather than in a formal theatre seems likely in view of the representation on a calyx-krater in a private collection in Bari, where a stage is shown set up beside a growing tree, behind which kneels a flute-player who is providing the real music which two phlyakes are pretending to play as they dance around an altar. On some vases there is only a suggestion of the stage in the form of a low platform, in one instance apparently built of logs;6PhV2, no. 41, pl. Ic. on others a simple stage is shown supported by posts or columns, and of this a rather more elaborate version may be seen on the Melbourne krater, where curtains have been draped between the posts and a small flight of steps added, to give access to the stage from the ground level. To left is a doorway, indicating that the scene is taking place outside the house. 

The subjects depicted upon phlyax vases range from a simple mask to an elaborate representation of a comic scene, a burlesque version of some well-known Greek tragedy (e.g. Oedipus, Antigone) or myth (Herakles, Helen of Troy) or of an episode from everyday life – wife upbraiding husband, punishment of a thief, master and servant, the finding of an exposed child and similar themes, to most of which parallels can readily be found in later Attic comedy. 

The new Melbourne vase is of considerable interest for both style and subject. It is in an unusually good state of preservation, the added colours (white, yellow and bright red) still looking remarkably fresh and contributing to the lively aspect of the scene on the obverse (fig. 1), which shows two phlyakes upon a stage, beside which is a flute-player. The first phlyax, who wears over his tights a short tunic in added white with touches of red and the typical mask of the astute slave, holds in his left hand a lighted torch and with his right gestures to the flute-player, who is passing by on the ground below, towards whom he bends slightly forward to be in a better position to speak to him. The sex of the flute-player is not very easy to determine; the accompanists of theatrical performances are usually youths or men, and they wear the traditional long robe of the musician. Here it is worn over another garment, close-fitting with long sleeves, which, like the robe itself, is decorated with white dots. The robe may be compared with that worn by Apollo on the oenochoe 90-D5 by the Felton Painter7PhV2, p. 86, no. 195, pl. XIIIa; In Honour of Daryl Lindsay, pp. 45 ff., pl. 27; Schauenburg, Röm. Mitteilungen 79, 1972, pl. 130. On flute-players in contexts like ours see J. D. Beazley, Hesperia 24, 1955, pp. 309 ff. or by the woman on the Gnathia squat lekythos D17-1972;8Art Bulletin of Victoria, 1973, fig. 6, p. 11. female flute-players are sometimes found in the company of phlyakes, though more usually in komos or similar scenes.9Cf. PhV2, nos 26, 34, 56. For a moment the music is interrupted, as the player, in order to answer the question put by the phlyax actor, lowers the two-reeded flute from his mouth, across which in added white may be seen the phorbeia, or leather mouth-band, worn like a halter round the lips to assist in regulating the sound. The second phlyax, an older man with white hair, wears a white, fringed cloak draped shawl-wise across his body and over his left shoulder; his right hand is upraised, and in his left, concealed beneath the white cloak, he holds a long-handled sickle or reaping-hook, which suggests that he is a rustic. The play may well have been based upon the common theme of the country bumpkin who comes to town and falls a victim to the city slicker. 

Above the stage hangs a dotted fillet, looped beneath a phiale: beside the first phlyax is a kalathos (basket). 

On the reverse (fig. 2) are depicted, as commonly on bell-kraters, two youths; both have white head-bands and wear himatia (cloaks) so draped as to leave one shoulder and part of the chest bare. One holds a bunch of grapes, the other a spear; in the field above, between two stylised windows, are a pair of halteres (jumping-weights) and a phiale. A laurel-wreath encircles the rim of the vase, below the handles are fan-palmettes with side-scrolls edged in white, and beneath the pictures runs a band of wave-pattern. 

 

The vase is Campanian and belongs broadly to the AV Group, so named by Beazley ‘because many of the vases in it have been attributed to a fabric of Avella’, though the probable place of their manufacture is more likely to have been Capua. Within this general group it may be attributed to the Libation Painter, who also decorated the hydria D119-196910Art Bulletin of Victoria, 1970–71, pp. 6–7, fig. 9; see also LCS, pp. 404 ff. and must be regarded as the principal artist of the AV Group. He takes his name from the scenes of libation, either with departing warriors or at grave monuments, which appear so frequently upon his vases, but he is also fond of subjects associated with Dionysos and with drama. Among these are three other vases11Bell-kraters – Princeton 50–64 (PhV2, p. 42, no. 55; LCS, p. 410, no. 336, pl. 164, 3–4; F. F. Jones, Record of the Art Museum 11, 1952, pp. 29–33, figs 1–2); Frankfurt 2562 (PhV2, p. 31, no. 26; LCS, p. 410, no. 337); Cambridge GR 29/1952 (PhV2, p. 76, no. 169; LCS, p. 410, no. 334, pl. 163, 3). depicting phlyax actors or masks, of which the bell-krater in Princeton (fig. 3), here reproduced through the courtesy of Miss Frances Follin Jones of the University Art Museum, provides the best parallel to the Melbourne vase. In shape and ornamentation the two are remarkably alike, and the youths on their reverses (figs 2 and 4) also correspond very closely. The scene on the obverse (fig. 3) shows two of the same characters as ours, but in a different and simpler setting, and it might almost be taken as depicting the preliminaries to our play. It represents, as it were, the moment of dedication before the actual opening of the play, when the flute-player is on the point of starting up the musical accompaniment and the phlyax holds a torch to light the sacred fire upon the altar, his right hand raised in a gesture of invocation and his eye gazing steadily upward. Here, as Miss Jones has suggested in her original publication of the Princeton vase, ‘the painter has seated us in the theatre, prepared us for the entertainment – and left us’; our vase perhaps illustrates a scene from the performance which followed. 

The Melbourne krater is the only extant Campanian phlyax vase to give a representation of the stage; it is, therefore, not only a most welcome addition to the Gallery’s vase collection, but an important document for the history of the comic theatre in South Italy in the third quarter of the fourth century B.C. 

A. D. Trendall 

Notes

1              Accession number D14-1973. Ht. 37 cm, diam. of mouth 33.3 cm. Felton Bequest. A. D. Trendall, The Red-figured Vases of Lucania, Campania and Sicily (= LCS), Supplement II (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, London, Supplement no. 31. 1973), p. 222, no. 337b. For phlyax vases see in particular: M. Bieber, The History of the Greek and Roman Theatre (Princeton, ed. 2, 1961), pp. 129–146, with relevant bibliography on p. 329; A. D. Trendall, Phlyax Vases (ed. 2, BICS, Supplement no. 19, 1967 = PhV2), where an extensive bibliography will be found on pp. 1–7; I. D. and T. B. L. Webster, Illustrations of Greek Drama (Phaldon, 1971), pp. 11–13 and 137 ff.

2              Athenaeus xiv, 621.

3              See Axel Seeberg, Corinthian Komos Vases (BICS, Supplement no. 27, 1971).

4              Classical Quarterly 42, 1948, pp. 15–27; Greek Theatre Production, pp. 98 ff.

5              For a list of phlyax masks see Illustrations of Greek Drama, p. 13.

6              PhV2, no. 41, pl. Ic.

7              PhV2, p. 86, no. 195, pl. XIIIa; In Honour of Daryl Lindsay, pp. 45 ff., pl. 27; Schauenburg, Röm. Mitteilungen 79, 1972, pl. 130. On flute-players in contexts like ours see J. D. Beazley, Hesperia 24, 1955, pp. 309 ff.

8              Art Bulletin of Victoria, 1973, fig. 6, p. 11.

9              Cf. PhV2, nos 26, 34, 56.

10           Art Bulletin of Victoria, 1970–71, pp. 6–7, fig. 9; see also LCS, pp. 404 ff.

11           Bell-kraters – Princeton 50–64 (PhV2, p. 42, no. 55; LCS, p. 410, no. 336, pl. 164, 3–4; F. F. Jones, Record of the Art Museum 11, 1952, pp. 29–33, figs 1–2); Frankfurt 2562 (PhV2, p. 31, no. 26; LCS, p. 410, no. 337); Cambridge GR 29/1952 (PhV2, p. 76, no. 169; LCS, p. 410, no. 334, pl. 163, 3).