Archaeology Odyssey 5:2, March/April 2002

Sea Monsters and Other Ancient Beasts

A tale from a Grecian urn

By Adrienne Mayor

A strange, grim, menacing creature lurks on one of the ancient Greek vases in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The scene painted on this vase—a Corinthian black-figure krater dating to between 560 and 540 B.C.—is known to art historians as the oldest illustration of the ancient legend of the Monster of Troy.

In Greek myth, a terrible monster suddenly appears on the Trojan coast, where it causes great destruction. To appease the beast, the king of Troy, Laomedon, sends his daughter Hesione as a sacrifice, but Hercules arrives just in time to slay the monster and rescue the princess.1

The vase shows Hesione and Hercules fighting the monster. Hesione defends herself by hurling rocks from a pile at her feet. Two black rocks have hit the monster, one piercing its muzzle just below its left eye, and the other lodging itself in the creature’s jaws. Hercules shoots a volley of arrows, one of which has hit the monster’s chin.

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