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Audio guide: Lip cup depicting Odysseus under the Ram

Audio guide stop: 2104

Crowdsourced transcription of the audio file

Lip cup showing Odysseus under a ram (GR.45.1864)
Lip cup showing Odysseus under a ram (GR.45.1864)
Creative Commons Licence

This cup illustrates an episode from one of the most important and popular ancient Greek poems, Homer's Odyssey. In 24 books, this epic describes the adventures of the hero Odysseus as he sails home after the Trojan War.

One of the monsters that he encounters on his journey is the Cyclops, a giant one-eyed, man-eating shepherd who imprisons Odysseus and his crew, and begins eating his way through them.

The wily Greek however contrives an ingenious escape. While the Cyclops is collapsed in a drunken stupor, Odysseus and his men gouge out his one eye. Homer has Odysseus describe his escape from the cave:

'This was the scheme I eventually decided upon. There were in the Cyclops' flock some well-bred, thick-fleeced rams, fine big animals with coats of black wool. These I quietly lashed together in threes; the middle one in each case was to carry one of my followers; while its fellows went on either side to protect him.

For myself I chose a full-grown ram, the pick of the flock. Seizing him by the back, I curled up under his shaggy belly and lay there upside down, with a firm grip on his magnificent fleece, and with patience in my heart.

As soon as dawn arrived and flecked the East with red, the rams began to scramble out and make for the pastures. The Cyclops, though he was worn out by the agonies of the night before, passed his hands along the backs of all the animals as they came to a stand before him, but the fool never noticed that my men were tied up under the breasts of his own woolly sheep.'

On both sides of this cup, two figures are shown flanking a ram, with another figure clinging to the bottom. One can imagine how, at a drinking party, an image like this might have prompted a recitation or a song about Odysseus' exploit.

Cups shaped and decorated like this are called 'Little-master cups' after their painters, who specialised in miniature figures liked these.

Co-production of this resource

The MicroPasts logo

The transcription of the audio file for this stop was enabled by the AHRC funded crowd-sourcing platform MicroPasts. The below generously gave their time to transcribe the file.

Michael Adams, Kathryn Giffin, Athena, Adi Levin and Michael Norman

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