This hand-painted vase is a copy of an original within the British Museum collection, showing a scene from the Ancient Greek epic poem, the Odyssey.
Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, is the leading figure in the poem, which is thought to have been written by the blind poet, Homer. The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus and his men’s return home at the end of the Trojan War.
In the part of the Odyssey depicted here, Odysseus and twelve of his crew land on an island and stumble upon a huge cave filled with sheep and goats. The cave belongs to Polyphemus, a Cyclops meaning a mythical semi-human monster with a single eye at the centre of his forehead. The men enter the cave hoping to steal food while Polyphemus is away tending his flock. Being inquisitive, Odysseus wants to see what a Cyclops looked like, so they hide in the cave until Polyphemus returns. That evening, Polyphemus returns, not knowing the Greeks are inside. On seeing the one-eyed giant, Odysseus and his men gasp in disbelief, giving away their hiding place. Polyphemus rushes forward and kills two of the men, then devouring them both for his dinner, he falls fast asleep.
Eventually, the men create a stout pole and plunge it into Polyphemus' eye, rendering him totally blind, and the monster knocks out unconcious. At dawn the following day, Polyphemus rolls the great boulder from the mouth of the cave to let out his flock, but being totally blind, and knowing the Greeks would try to escape, he feels each animal as he lets it pass. Odysseus and his men hold on to the belly of a ram, and, one at a time escape from the cave.
The vase shows Odysseus escaping from Polyphemus' cave under a ram. It is an exact replica of a lekythos (a type of Greek pottery used for storing oil, especially olive oil) dated from around 480BC in the British Museum collection. It is made using the same traditional method called Six's technique, which involves laying figures in white or red on a black surface and incising the details to reveal the black base colour. A sign of craftsmanship, the artists' signature is handwritten on the base.
This finely crafted replica is a remarkable ornament or gift.