Greece: Bassae Frieze sculptures
420 - 400 BC
BM 520 Centauromachy
A centaur of Thessaly, Eurytion attemps to carry of Hippodamia, bride at the wedding of Pirithous. Pirithous attempts valiantly to protect against two centaurs, the only slab where a Lapith is outnumbered.
BM 521 Centauromachy
A Greek (presumed Heracles by his lion skin) distracts a centaur, allowing a Lapith to escape.
BM 522 Centauromachy
A woman is abducted by a centaur, who unknowingly is about to be a recipient of an arrow from Apollo on a following slab. She is the only woman unprotected directly by a Lapith.
BM 523 Centauromachy
Artemis and brother Apollo enter the scene. We know this is Artemis as she is known for hunting stags, who are seen here pulling the chariot. Apollo is seen aiming his bow at the centaur on 522.
BM 524 Centauromachy
We can tell this is a sanctuary of Artemis by the hanging skin of a lion or similar cat. The classic archetypal Greek hero Theseus is identified here (524.1) by the size of the hole where he would have held a club. He protects two women as they shield themselves against the statue of Artemis.
BM 525 Centauromachy
Scenes of chaos erupt with the Lapith's achieving little progress. As our Lapith hero retreats, he uses a stone in the absence of his weapon (525.3) against a centaur with a branch.
BM 526 Centauromachy
Two Lapith's in opposite states. One retreats (526.3) from a Centaur as it rears its legs. The other Lapith subdues his opponent by aggressively manhandling it (526.2). A typical slab where there are no clear victors.
BM 527 Centauromachy
Perhaps the most violently illustrated, as the body of a dead centaur rests, another is stabbed by the sword of a Lapith (527.1) as the centaur bucks at the Lapith holding the rear (527.4). The first Lapith has his neck bitten in retaliation.
BM 528 Centauromachy
As two Lapiths attempt to bring down a Centaur (528.3), another approaches from the left (528.1) and takes a Lapith (528.2) by total surprise, swinging the course of the battle. It has been suggested the brooch of 528.4 is actually that of Theseus. (Et in Arcadia, Casanova & Egea, P70).
BM 529 Centauromachy
Those with capes throughout this Centauromachy appear to be more victorious than their capeless cousins, who seem to be those taken by surprise by the Centaurs attack. By now, there appears to be order retained as the Lapiths maintain better control of the conflict. .
BM 530 Centauromachy
Caineus shown (530.4), defiant in defeat, as he is buried by two centaurs under rocks and logs. If they cannot kill what is immortal, then they will attempt to bury it. Caineus is assisted by another Lapith (530.2) who attempts to pull one of the centaurs off him as a Lapith woman champions them in the background (530.1).
BM 531 Heraklean Amazonomachy
An Amazon carries off a wounded comrade, but is also aware of the spear aimed at her from Telamon (BM533.2). 3D planes make this difficult to interpret without layout plans, given he's facing in the opposite direction. Notice the breast of the fallen (BM533.1) indicating the removal of the left breast.
BM 532 Trojan Amazonomachy
An Amazon protects a fellow warrior with a Greek shield (BM532.1 and BM532.2) as she fires an arrow. Meanwhile, to the left, a Greek soldier is wrestling an Amazon to the floor by her hair (BM532.3 and BM532.4)
BM 533 Heraklean Amazonomachy
Our first casualty, BM533.1. Her garments are different to the chitons worn by the other Amazons, leading us to assume she’s one of the three queen Melanippe, as she is the one here fighting Telamon (BM 533.2), who aims his spear at the Amazon on BM 531.2.
BM 534 Heraklean Amazonomachy
Another Greek (BM534.3) pulls an Amazon (BM534.2) off her horse by her hair. As the Greek is facing the right, we can assume that he is the victor in this scene.
BM 535 Heraklean Amazonomachy
The tides are finally turned and the Greek’s are proving victorious as an Amazon is prized off an altar, possibly Artemis\’.
BM 536 Heraklean Amazonomachy
Both Greek’s and Amazons in an equal state of conflict. Interesting to note that the Amazons frequently have their hair pulled, perhaps to further identify them as women.
BM 537 Trojan Amazonomachy
The Amazons were an all female race of warrior women and exist in that paradoxical plane where myth meets factual history. Although we find them placed within mythical scenes of refutable situations, they are mentioned historically by Homer and Herodotus.
Reproducing only by mating with captive men or men from neighbouring territories, they would discard or maim their male offspring and nurture the females into ferocious fighters, such was their hatred for men.
The queen of the Amazons, daughter of the god of war, Ares, Penthesilea, was so heartbroken by accidentally killing her sister, Hippolyta, with a spear whilst hunting dear, she wanted to kill herself, but wanted to do it with honour in battle.
With this in mind, she took her army to fight against the Greeks on the side of the Trojans, although the army appear to be no more than a dozen women according to Casanova .
Upon arriving at the battlefield, Penthesilea is unable to find an equal match and after having dispatched many men is suddenly faced with Achilles, who is summoned by Telamonian Ajax (greater) after mocking Penthesilea’s seemingly futile attempts at battle.
With a single strike, we see pictured on slab BM537, Achilles kills Penthesilea. However, to his horror, as her helmet falls from her head, he is startled by her beauty and falls in love with the dead woman by his feet.
Robert Graves went on to further interpret that Achilles was so wrought with love for the dead woman, he commits necrophilia on her corpse. However, that may well have been as a final insult to her, rather than consummation, but still remains contested as the source is independent.
BM 538 Trojan Amazonomachy
Neither Greeks nor Amazons appear to be in a favourable position, with both sides in equal stages of combat.
BM 539 Trojan Amazonomachy
This final block, BM 539, shows a truce, with Amazons carrying Greeks and vice versa and an Amazon carrying off a Greek shield, perhaps as even a trophy.
BM 540 Heraklean Amazonomachy
First in a trilogy of slabs that centre around Heracles. This slab begins the trilogy. Note the near identical poses of the three slabs, with the elbow protectively covering the face, or in preparation for a strike. As the Greeks take away their injured, another Greek turns aggressively to an Amazon.
BM 541 Heraklean Amazonomachy
Heracles, BM 541.2, is recognised by the skin of the Nemion Lion he slayed on his first labour. Also, we witness Hippolyte BM 541.3 as she displays contested girdle wrapped around her waist.