Book

The Art of Libation in Classical Athens

Cover of the book titled "The Art of Libation in Classical Athens."

Milette Gaifman, associate professor in the history of art and of classics

(Yale University Press)

This book presents an innovative look at the imagery of libations, the most commonly depicted ritual in ancient Greece, and how it engaged viewers in religious performance.

In a libation, liquid — water, wine, milk, oil, or honey — was poured from a vessel such as a jug or a bowl onto the ground, an altar, or another surface. Libations were made on occasions like banquets, sacrifices, oath-taking, departures to war, and visitations to tombs, and their iconography provides insight into religious and social life in 5th-century B.C. Athens. Scenes depicting the ritual often involved beholders directly — a statue’s gaze might establish the onlooker as a fellow participant, or painted vases could draw parallels between human practices and acts of gods or heroes.

Illustrated with a broad range of examples, including the Caryatids at the Acropolis, the Parthenon Frieze, Attic red-figure pottery, and funerary sculpture, this book demonstrates the power of Greek art to transcend the boundaries between visual representation and everyday experience.

Arts & Humanities