The Underworld

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Pictures of Hades and the torments of sinners were common in antiquity. (The most famous was a fresco by Polygnotos in the Lesche (pavilion) at Delphi.)
This large vase is typical of a number of South Italian style vases:in the centre is a small temple, with an architrave and gable supported by six Ionic columns, and raised on two steps.
Inside is a richly decorated throne with a footstool, on which Hades is seated with royal diadem and sceptre, clad in embroidered robes. His hand is outstretched as he engages his queen Persephone in conversation.She stands on his right, with diadem and veil and holding a cross-torch.Behind, hanging on the wall are two wheels from Hades' chariot.

Outside the temple, on the left is Orpheus, playing a lyre and dancing. His costume is long-flowing and highly embroidered, he wears an oriental tiara, showing him to be a barbarian. He has come to Hades to seek his wife, Eurydice.

Hades, a red figure painting on a large south Italian amphora of 3rd or 4th century BC

Behind Orpheus is a man crowning himself with a myrtle wreath, a woman and a little boy dragging a toy cart. None of these figures can be identified.

Above, in the top left hand corner, a woman sits on a bank in front of a fountain, facing two youths, one with two spears, the other with bathing utensils (oil flask and strigils). Both have bleeding wounds from unhealed wounds around their waists. These are the two sons of Heracles whom he slew in a frenzy. The woman is their mother Megara.

In the top right hand corner are Theseus and Peirithous, with the goddess of Justice, Dike, sitting beside them with drawn sword

Below them are the three judges of the souls of the dead: Triptolemus (standing), Aeacus in the centre and Rhadamanthus to the right. All three have sceptres.

In the lowest row of figures you an see:

  • Heracles, conducted by Hermes, dragging Cerberus to the light above, with a Fury on the right dressed as a huntress waving a pair of torches to make him desist.
  • Tantalus, dressed as aOriental king, starting back in terror from a rock which threatens to bury him
  • Sisyphus to the left, hounded by a Fury with snakes in her hair, lashing him with a scourge, as he strives with all his might to push up a falling rock.

The presence of Heracles explains the group of Theseus and Peirithous, for Heracles brought Theseus back with him to the world above. The artist has suggested this by showing Theseus as taking his farewell of Peirithous, who is guarded by Justice and cannot escape.