This Ph.D. project offers a new, detailed analysis of the iconography of the so-called “phlyax”-vases from the 4th century BC. Due to an emphasis on pictorial elements of interaction and communication within the images – especially gesture and body language – the project moved away from static typologies of masks or role-types to an image-specific construction of human interactions and social hierarchies.


In addition, it enriches the mainly theatre-historical approach of current research with an iconographical perspective on comedy-related vase-paintings: the chronological development of pictorial elements, the combinations and connection between such elements as well as the conception of space within the images can be traced back to the stylistic and workshop-specific iconographic conventions in the 4th century BC.

First results

Within Topoi research group (C-1) Deixis and Frames of Reference, this fundamental analysis of comedy-related vases gives way to a new interpretation of the images on the semantic level of pictorial elements. Both, the pictorial elements and their spatial relation within the image contain information for the viewer/recipient: they activate frames of knowledge that the viewer has gained through experience, e.g. daily life, literature, cultural behaviour, other vase-paintings and/or visual media, theatre performances and so on. Erving Goffman and Dietrich Busse already described such frames in social sciences and linguistics, making this approach highly valuable for and applicable to the analysis of visual media. Using a modified frame-theory adapted to archaeological sources and methodology, the Ph.D. thesis shows that the interpretation of comedy-related vase-paintings is not only restricted to comedy plots, but that the images rather activate different, sometimes incongruent, frames to evoke a comic narrative, depending on different levels of perception by the viewers.

This stimulates further questions regarding the historical background of these, and other, vases. Thus, the frame-theory offers a broader view on the culture(s) in South-Italy and Sicily and is not restricted to a Greek-Italian dualism; rather it favours a differentiation of the cultural background of regions, cities and groups within a specific society. In addition, the dependence of pictorial elements on workshops and styles and their development shed light on the economic sphere and trade between the different regions of South-Italy and Sicily.

This Ph.D. thesis was written within the program “Ancient Languages and Texts” (ALT) of the Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies (BerGSAS) and successfully completed in 2018.