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Athenian Political Art from the Fifth and Fourth Centuries BCE: Images of Political Personifications 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 16 of 26

· Harmonia (Harmony) ·


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Hesiod (Hes. Theog.).
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Thebes (in text as “Theban”).
Attica (in text as “Attic”).

Discussion: The myth of Theban Harmonia, the wife of Kadmos, goes back to the epics: in Hesiod’s Theogony, she is the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite (Hes. Theog. 937). In this myth she is already a personification, as she represents the noun for which she is named, being the product of the union of antithetical forces (war and love, the respective spheres of her parents). It is likely, therefore, that the mythological heroine and personification are the same character, as Alan Shapiro has argued (Shapiro 1993, 95). The myth of Kadmos and Harmonia is illustrated in the Archaic period in Attic art, and on monuments from the Peloponnese. The scene of the meeting of Kadmos and Harmonia, at the spring guarded by the dragon, becomes more popular in the second half of the fifth century, with little variation. Harmonia is one of only three labelled personifications who appears as a participant in a traditional mythological story in the Archaic period (the other two are Peitho at the Judgment of Paris and and Themis at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis).

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Aeschylus (Aesch. Supp.).
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Harmonia retained her connection with Aphrodite at Athens, and was commonly shown in her circle, in illustrations on painted vases, seemingly as a personification of marital as well as civic Harmony. Already in the first half of the fifth century, Harmonia is revered as a marital virtue, perhaps an aspect of Aphrodite, by the chorus in AeschylusSuppliant Maidens (Aesch. Supp. 1039-43). When Harmonia is shown separately from Kadmos in fifth century Athens, she appears in bridal scenes, where her primary role must be as the personification of an idealized Marriage, a particular type of Harmony. Fifth century writers used the verb harmozein, ἁρμόζειν, to mean “to become engaged” or (in the middle voice) “to marry.” The bridal preparations of Harmonia constitute one of three bridal scenes shown on the epinetron of the Eretria Painter [1]. In the Harmonia scene on one of the long sides (A), the bride is attended by her mother, Aphrodite, who holds the fateful necklace created for the bride by Hephaistos, and by her attendants, Peitho, Eros (Love), and Himeros (Desire). Harmonia gazes at Kore (Maidenhood) and Hebe (Youth), the two qualities that she is about to abandon. The Eretria Painter has represented Harmonia’s many aspects in this composition. She is the heroine who was betrothed to Kadmos, and typifies the hesitant bride who is comforted by Aphrodite and Peitho. Simultaneously she is the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares, the personification of the harmonious union of antithetical forces, in a marriage that is influenced by Peitho. The relation of peitho to harmonia (and to eris [discord]) is expressed by Richard Buxton: “In the right place—marriage—Peitho brings men and women harmonious delight; in the wrong place—illicit sexual relationships—Peitho can be an agent of discord and catastrophe” (Buxton 1985, 37).

Read about the evidence
Aeschylus (Aesch. PB).

The role of the personification, Harmonia, was not limited to marriage in fifth century Athens. Like Peitho she bridges the private world of the bride and the public world of the polis. In the sixth century, the concept harmonia, whether or not personified, is considered by the presocratic philosophers as a force of union, close in meaning to philia (friendship). Herakleitos discusses her as a force of equilibrium between contrary tensions (DK, 22 B 51), while Empedokles discusses it as a force that coheres natural elements (DK, 31 B 27.3, 96.4, 122.2). In the fifth century harmonia, h( a(rmoni/a, pertained to order and stability in the polis. In Aischylos’ Prometheus Bound, for example, harmonia is a covenant set by Zeus (Aesch. PB 550-51). Here the meaning of harmonia is akin to eunomia (good laws): personifications of these two concepts are represented together on several late fifth century vases [3-4]. On these vases, and perhaps also on [5], Harmonia is joined by other political personifications; Peitho [5] and Eukleia [3], in non-narrative scenes that advertise virtues that may be useful to the polis. Harmonia is particularly suitable as an advertisement of civic virtues on vases that may have been used as wedding gifts, as she, like the gift itself, bridges the realms of public and private, and represents marriage as well as civic harmony.

Read about the evidence
Euripides (Eur. Med.).
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New York.
Attica (in text as “Attic”).
Eleusis (in text as “Eleusinian”).

Another mythological aspect of Harmonia, as the mother of the Muses, suits her third role as a personification of musical Harmony. In an ode in praise of Athens in Medea (produced in 431, just before the Peloponnesian War) Euripides calls Harmonia the mother of the Muses, and implies that their birth was an Athenian event (Eur. Med. 830-32). The association of Harmonia and the Muses is made slightly later (420-410) on the A side of a pelike in New York [2]. This illustration shows Harmonia and some of the Muses at a performance by the Attic (Eleusinian) singer Mousaios, as well as his wife, Deiope, his son, the hero Eumolpos (shown as a baby), Aphrodite, and Peitho. The inclusion of Mousaios and Eumolpos brings an element of Athenian civic pride to this scene, so that the personifications, Harmonia and Peitho, are understood here in their civic contexts, as the forces that bring about civic unity.

Examples (all examples are certain unless otherwise noted):

  1. Athens, NM 1629: a seated female figure, labelled ΑΡΜΟΝΙΑ, attended by Peitho and others, before her wedding, on the name vase (an epinetron) by the Eretria Painter, ca. 430-420.
  2. New York 37.11.23: a standing female figure, labelled ΑΡΜΟΝΙΑ, watching a performance of Mousaios, on a pelike attributed to the Meidias Painter, ca. 420-410, with a representation of Peitho (shown here).
  3. Naples SA 316: a seated female figure, labelled ΑΡΜΟΝΙΑ, holding a box, on a lekanis lid, in the manner of the Meidias Painter, ca. 410-400, with representations of Eukleia, Eunomia, and Pannychis (All-night Revel).
  4. London E 775: a seated female figure, labelled ΑΡΜΟΝΙΑ, on a lidded pyxis in the manner of the Meidias Painter, c. 410-400, with representations of Eudaimonia (Prosperity/Hapiness), Eunomia, Hygieia (Health), and Paidia (Play).
  5. [Possible example] Louvre MNB 1320: a standing female figure, perhaps Harmonia, on an acorn lekythos in the manner of the Meidias Painter, ca. 410-400, with possible representations of Hygieia (Health), Peitho, and Tyche.

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