Visualizing the Traumatized: Athenian Images of Philomela and Prokne

by Danielle Smotherman Bennett

Hesperia, Volume 91, Issue 1
Page(s): 63-88
Stable URL: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/850806
Year: 2022


The tale of Philomela and Prokne is a dramatic narrative involving betrayal, murder, and metamorphosis. This article reexamines Athenian vase paintings of the subject dating to ca. 525-420 B.C. through the lens of trauma, including both what constitutes trauma in antiquity and problems in portraying trauma in vase painting. In the images, artists use visual markers of gaze, gesture, body language, and sounds, possibly represented by nonsense inscriptions, to distinguish the two sisters from one another. Using visual markers, Philomela and Prokne are shown not only as unconventional and traumatized but also as strong women who break from female sociocultural boundaries to seek vengeance.