Barnard College Spends An Eveningwith Heroes, Mortals and Myths
What defines a hero or heroine? Why do we need them? Barnard College President Debora L. Spar invited guests to tackle these questions while exploring the “Heroes, Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece” exhibit at the Onassis Cultural Center in Midtown Manhattan.
“Barnard likes goddesses, as you can see in our newest building, the Diana Center, and our one statue on campus, which is dedicated to the goddess Nike,” said Spar during a Barnard alumni event at the Onassis Center. The Amazons (female warriors) were not Greek and yet were admired by the Greeks for their strength and independence, as seen in their depictions in various painted vessels, said Professor Helene Foley, chair of the Barnard Classics and Ancient Studies Department.
“Intelligence, youth and strength were some of the characteristics that the Greeks valued in their heroines, which still resonates with us today,” Foley said. The exhibit featured about 90 objects from the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods, many of which come from major museums across North America and Europe. The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore organized the collection, and the Onassis Center is its final stop after having travelled to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville and the San Diego Museum of Art.
Barnard alumni and students made their way in a single file through the subterranean exhibit, which was located in the lower level of the Onassis Center. The exhibition began with four figures — Odysseus, Hercules, Achilles and Helen — as seen on painted vessels and in sculpture. Later sections included athletes, soldiers and other local heroes. The king of the island of Ithaca, Odysseus, is famous for defeating the Trojans with a wooden horse. Known for overcoming obstacles by relying on his wits, a krater attributed to the Sappho Painter showed Odysseus making his way to safety while strapped to the underbelly of a sheep. Hercules, the son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene, was strong enough to strangle snakes as an infant. A row of vessels showed him overpowering Cerberus, the Hydra and the Erymanthian Boar, among others. Achilles, the nearly invincible warrior, was admired for his military exploits. Many of the objects, however, portrayed him in a nonmilitary fashion: being tutored by the centaur Chiron, playing board games with Ajax, and releasing Hector’s brutalized body after pleas from Priam.
The woman whose face allegedly launched a thousand ships, Helen, was depicted on a red and black bell-krater with her husband, Menelos. A description of the vessel tells us Menelos was about to slay his wife, but dropped his sword upon gazing on her beauty.
Maryl Gensheimer, a Ph.D. candidate of Greek and Roman mythology at New York University and the guest of a Barnard alum, said she found the exhibit well-curated. “It’s a great excerpt of Greek mythology,” she noted. “I’m excited to see all of it.” #