By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
This article is the first in a series exploring the links between art and classical studies. The goal is to help teachers show their students how to use works of art to develop a taste for the classical world. After all, we know that “a picture says a thousand words”, and the visual arts can be a great way to introduce students to classical mythology and history.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: a Master of his Period
Giambattista Tiepolo was a well-known painter from the Republic of Venice. He was one of the most talented Italian artists of the 18th Century, along with Giambattista Pittoni, Canaletto, Giovan Battista Piazzetta, and Giuseppe Maria Crespi.
Successful from the beginning of his career, he has been described by Michael Levey as “the greatest decorative painter of eighteenth-century Europe, as well as its most able craftsman”. Among his best-known works are mythology-themed paintings like “The Rage of Achilles”, “Apollo Pursuing Daphne”, “Perseus and Andromeda”, and “Jupiter and Danae”.
The Rage of Achilles
The scene the artist portrays takes place in Book I of Homer’s Iliad. Outraged by Agamemnon’s insult in taking away his slave-girl Briseis, Achilles draws his sword to kill him. The goddess Athena appears suddenly (though no one else can see her) and grabs Achilles by the hair, preventing the hero from killing the commander-in-chief of the Greek expedition. We see Agamemnon on the left, trying to protect himself with his cloak, while in the background several Greek soldiers observe the scene. Notice how Tiepolo captures Achilles’ enraged expression.
Now let’s see how Homer himself describes this episode in the Iliad. The translation is by A.T. Murray:
ἦλθον ἐγὼ παύσουσα τὸ σὸν μένος, αἴ κε
πίθηαι,οὐρανόθεν: πρὸ δέ μ᾽ ἧκε θεὰ
λευκώλενος Ἥρη ἄμφω ὁμῶς θυμῷ
φιλέουσά τε κηδομένη τε:
ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε λῆγ᾽ ἔριδος, μηδὲ ξίφος ἕλκεο
χειρί: ἀλλ᾽ ἤτοι ἔπεσιν μὲν ὀνείδισον ὡς
ἔσεταί περ: ὧδε γὰρ ἐξερέω, τὸ δὲ καὶ
τετελεσμένον ἔσται: καί ποτέ τοι τρὶς τόσσα
παρέσσεται ἀγλαὰ δῶρα
ὕβριος εἵνεκα τῆσδε: σὺ δ᾽ ἴσχεο, πείθεο δ᾽
I have come from heaven to stay your anger, if you will obey, The goddess white-armed Hera sent me forth, for in her heart she loves and cares for both of you. But come, cease from strife, and do not grasp the sword with your hand.  With words indeed taunt him, telling him how it shall be.1 For thus will I speak, and this thing shall truly be brought to pass. Hereafter three times as many glorious gifts shall be yours on account of this arrogance. But refrain, and obey us.
I hope more teachers will start using classically-themed art to educate and inspire a new generation of classicists.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.