Journal article Open Access
The article examines a group of images on Athenian ceramic vases in which pointed amphorae are depicted in various usages. This iconography appears primarily in the contexts of both the symposium and the komos, whose participants, along with members of the Dionysian thiasos, are shown sitting, leaning, playing, beating, and masturbating with this vessel. The utilization of this specific mundane object in such a manner is explored in light of psychologist James J. Gibson’s term ’affordance’, which refers to the potentialities held by an object for a particular set of actions, stemming from its material properties. Two additional terms, discussed by Beth Preston, that may help in analyzing the images are ‘proper function’ referring to the normative usage of objects, and ‘system function’, referring to the unorthodox usage of objects. The affordances of the amphora, stemming from its shape and material and the inherent potentialities for action, are perceived and exploited by the users. Though not from the outset designed as a chair, a toy, or a sexual device, in the hands of these figures and within the specific space of the symposium and the komos, the ordinary pointed amphora takes on those functions. Thanks to the Athenian vase painters, we are able to register and visualize latent affordances of the amphora that previously lay out of sight. It seems that in the context of the Athenian symposium and komos, what matters is the possibilities for action and that they be stretched to the maximum.