Attributed to the Achilles Painter
Terracotta; H. 13 5/8 in. (34.6 cm)
Purchase, The Cesnola Collection, by exchange, 1925 (25.189.2)
The scene on this vase depicts Eos, the goddess of dawn, in pursuit of the young Trojan prince Tithonos, as he goes to school at sunrise. The story of the chase and ultimate abduction of the boy is preserved in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (21823). According to the hymn, Eos captured Tithonos and took him to live with her among the gods. Although she convinced Zeus to grant her young consort immortality, she failed to request eternal youth for him, an oversight with tragic consequences for Tithonos; for, unable to die, he merely grew older and more frail. When he became too weak to move, Eos locked him in a room, where, left alone, he "babbled" incoherently. Later sources tell us that his shriveled body turned into a grasshopper.
An underlying feature of this myth is the paradoxical nature of time (what happens when it stands still and when it marches forward); on the one hand, Eos, "the young dawn" (as she is known in the Odyssey and Iliad), is by necessity eternally youthful, while Tithonos becomes symbolic of the ravages of time. On the surface, however, the story of Eos and Tithonos is an example of the close correspondence between myth and daily life, since Eos notices the young Tithonos as he goes to school at daybreak, her temporal domain. Moreover, in vase painting, Tithonos functions as a visual attribute of Eos that further defines her role as the goddess of dawn in Greek mythology, and sets her apart from the other winged female deities, Nike (the personification of Victory) and Iris (messenger to the gods).