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A man with the body of a serpent holds a staff and a fish.

The vessel is black with a tall wide spout and two handles that connect the body of the vessel to the neck. In red, there is a figure with the upper body of a man, the lower half of his body appears to be a serpent. His tail ends in a U shaped prong, and there appear to be spikes along the spine. He wears pleated robes and holds a long staff and a fish, which looks like it may be a weapon made to look like a fish. He also wears a crown of laurels.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Attributed to The Berlin Painter, Greek (500 BCE - 470 BCE)
Neck Amphora (storage jar): Nereus (or Triton) with Scepter and Dolphin; Woman Running
Work Type
c. 490 BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Attica
Archaic period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

30.8 cm h x 18 cm diam. (12 1/8 x 7 1/16 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Edward Perry Warren, Esq., London, (by 1927-1928), gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1927.

State, Edition, Standard Reference Number

Standard Reference Number
Beazley Archive Database #201859

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Edward P. Warren, Esq.
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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On one side: a half-anthropomorphic, half-fish sea-god, Nereus, or perhaps Triton. He faces to the right and carries a scepter in his right hand with his little finger extended, and a dolphin in his left, which he holds by the tail. He has long curly hair tied into a bun and a beard. He wears a wreath in added red on his head, and a cloak (himation) decorated with triple dot motifs over a long-sleeved tunic (chiton). Instead of legs, he has a huge fish tail, which rises out of the bottom of his cloak (which conceals the junction between man and fish) and curves around before it ends in a stylised crescent-shaped tail fin, more like a dolphin’s tail than a fish’s. The tail is slightly tinted with dilute glaze and is decorated with single dots in a grid-like arrangement, with a reserved stripe marked out along its length. There are two pairs of fins coming out of the tail.

On the other side: presumably a Nereid. The Nereids were the sea-nymph daughters of Nereus, the most famous of whom is Thetis, the mother of Achilles. She walks to the left with a wide step, her arms extended in front of her. Her right hand is higher up and seems to point toward the left. She wears a long-sleeved tunic (chiton). This woman is not specifically identified by an inscription or by any iconographical detail, but we can be reasonably sure from the context – alongside the sea god – that she is a Nereid.

Strips of meander pattern act as ground line for the two figures, and are the only ornamental decoration. A small trident/psi has also been carved into the foot, apparently in modern times; the same mark is found on the foot of 1927.148, another amphora donated by Edward Perry Warren.
It is an open question whether the sea god depicted should be understood as Nereus, the “Old Man of the Sea”, or Triton, Poseidon’s messenger. In Athenian vase-painting, the iconography of these two figures regularly overlaps and it can be difficult to distinguish them. Broadly speaking, Triton is younger, and characterised by a more wild, animalistic nature by comparison with the old man Nereus who is more civilized, and is often even depicted in an entirely human form.

The most important story involving Nereus was an encounter with Herakles, who was supposed to have wrestled him in order to make him reveal the location of the garden of the Hesperides. This is the account given in literary versions of the myth, but depictions of the struggle in vase-painting often substitute Triton for Nereus.

A number of early vases (c. 590-570 B.C.E.) depict Heracles struggling with a fish-tailed Nereus, but by 560 B.C.E. painters begin to depict the subject in two distinct ways, with Heracles fighting either an anthropomorphic Nereus, or, much more commonly, a fish-tailed god who must usually be understood as Triton, and is explicitly identified as such by inscriptions on a handful of slightly later vases (London B223, BAPD 320266; Berlin F1906, BAPD 306469; Cambridge G54, BAPD 12709).

Particularly important is London B223 (BAPD 320266) which includes the figure of Nereus watching the fight between Triton and Herakles, with all the figures identified by inscriptions, confirming that the two sea-gods were conceived of as different deities (Paris F298, BAPD 302299 also includes Nereus as a spectator to the fight, identified by an inscription). Nonetheless, the iconography of both figures overlaps substantially, and it is often impossible to say for sure whether a given fish-tailed god is Nereus or Triton. The question of exactly why Triton supplanted Nereus as Herakles’ opponent is difficult to answer and has been attributed by different scholars to historical and political events, to art historical development, and to literary influence.

The figure on this vase has often been identified as Triton because of his half-man, half-fish nature, corresponding to the figure that is depicted fighting Herakles in vases of this period. However, comparison with other depictions of Nereus by the same painter suggest that he is probably better thought of as Nereus.

There is a particularly close resemblance to a figure who is undeniably Nereus on another vase by the Berlin Painter, the stamnos Munich 8738 (BAPD 201980). The stamnos also features a Nereid, with an almost identical pose to the Nereid on the Harvard vase, running towards him, supporting the notion that the Harvard vase depicts the same sea-god. One important difference, however, is that the Nereus on Munich vessel is depicted with lighter hair painted in dilute slip, suggestive of his old age, while the Harvard figure has his hair rendered in black and there are no obvious indications of his age.

Another Berlin Painter vase, the hydria London E162 (BAPD 202006), depicts the fight between Herakles and Nereus, and although Nereus is in human form, he, like the figure on the Harvard vase, wears a long cloak and holds both a scepter and a dolphin.

The way that the figure’s cloak masks the transition from human to animal also resembles the Berlin Painter’s depictions of another ‘civilized’ hybrid creature, the centaur Chiron who, unlike the other wild and savage centaurs, was tutor to a number of heroes (Paris G186, BAPD 201959; Munich 8738, BAPD 201980), another point in favour of its identification with the relatively ‘civilized’ Nereus rather than Triton.

See further:

Judith M. Barringer, Divine Escorts: Nereids in Archaic and Classical Greek Art, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, 1995), pp. 156-62.
John Boardman, “Herakles, Peisistratos and Eleusis” Journal of Hellenic Studies 95 (1975): pp. 1-12.
Philip Brize, Die Geryoneis des Stesichoros und die frühe grieschische Kunst, Konrad Triltsch (Wurzburg, 1980), pp. 66-103.
F. Brommer “Herakles und Nereus” in Image et céramique grecque: Actes du Colloque de Rouen, 25-26 novembre 1982, ed. F. Lissarague and F. Thelamon, (Rouen, 1983), pp. 103-9.
Ruth Glynn, “Herakles, Nereus and Triton: A Study of Iconography in Sixth Century Athens” American Journal of Archaeology 85.2 (1981): pp. 121–132.
J. M. Padgett, The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art, Yale University Press (New Haven, 2003), pp. 346-348.
Katherine Shephard, “The Fish-Tailed Monster in Greek and Etruscan Art” (1940), Bryn Mawr College, pp. 36-48.

Publication History

  • J. D. Beazley, Attic Red-figured Vases in American Museums, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1918), p. 39, fig. 22.
  • Joseph Clark Hoppin, A Handbook of Attic Red-Figured Vases, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1919), p. 59 no. 6
  • Jay Hambidge, Dynamic Symmetry: The Greek Vase, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT, 1920), pp. 44-7, pl. 1
  • J. D. Beazley, Der Berliner Maler, Henrich Keller (Berlin, 1930), p. 17, pl. 17,1
  • Katherine Shephard, "The Fish-Tailed Monster in Greek and Etruscan Art" (1940), Bryn Mawr College, p. 37
  • George H. Chase and Mary Zelia Pease, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, U.S.A.: volume 8, Fogg Museum and Gallatin Collections, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1942), pp. 33-34, pl. 16.3a-b.
  • George M. A. Hanfmann, Greek Art and Life, An Exhibition Catalogue, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1950), no. 139.
  • J. D. Beazley, Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters, The Clarendon Press (Oxford, England, 1963), 200,49
  • Ruth Glynn, Herakles, Nereus and Triton: A Study of Iconography in Sixth Century Athens, American Journal of Archaeology (1981), 85(2): pp. 121-132, p. 129 n. 78
  • Donna Carol Kurtz, The Berlin Painter, Oxford University Press (UK) (Oxford, 1983), p. 75, no. 17, plate XLIII c-d
  • Thomas Carpenter, Thomas Mannack, and Melanie Mendonca, ed., Beazley addenda : additional references to ABV, ARV² & Paralipomena, Oxford University Press (UK) (Oxford, 1989), p. 191
  • Aaron J. Paul, Fragments of Antiquity: Drawing Upon Greek Vases, Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin (Cambridge, MA, 1997), 5(2): pp. 1-87, pp. 8-9, front and back cover
  • Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Artemis (Zürich, Switzerland, 1999), Vol. 8, Triton 1.
  • J. M. Padgett, The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT, 2003), pp. 346-8, no. 97
  • E. Aston, Mixanthropoi: Animal-human hybrid deities in Greek religion, Centre International d’Étude de la Religion Greque Antique (Liege, 2011), p. 66, fig. 5
  • James Murley, "The Impact of Edward Perry Warren on the Study and Collections of Greek and Roman Antiquities in American Academia" (2012), University of Louisville, 212-3, 421 fig. 23

Exhibition History

  • Greek Art and Life: From the Collections of the Fogg Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Private Lenders, Fogg Art Museum, 03/07/1950 - 04/15/1950
  • Fragments of Antiquity: Drawing Upon Greek Vases, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/15/1997 - 12/28/1997
  • The Centaur’s Smile : the human animal in early Greek art, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, 10/11/2003 - 01/18/2004; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, 02/22/2004 - 05/16/2004
  • Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 3400 Greek, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 10/03/2023

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • Collection Highlights

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at