The Greek Underworld at the Getty Villa
|Underworld Krater from Altamura, made in Apulia, 360–340 BC. Attributed to the Circle of the Lycurgus Painter. National Archaeological Museum of Naples|
That is roughly the challenge the Getty Villa tackles in "Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife." With over thirty objects, it includes major loans from both sides of the Atlantic. Pre-eminent among them is the 5-foot-high Altamura Krater, owned by the National Archeological Museum of Naples and recently conserved at the Getty.
Discovered by 1848 and dated to about 350 BC, the Altamura Krater was found as a pile of fragments and restored long ago. Twenty-first-century science revealed that much of the painted surface is a modern restoration. Regarded as problematic despite its evident importance, the krater has long been off view.
|Persephone and Hades. By permission of the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Tourism. National Archaeological Museum of Naples – Conservation and Restoration Laboratory|
The possibility of achieving a more pleasant existence after death was the selling point of the Eleusinian mysteries, which indeed remain mysterious to us. ("The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.") Eleusis ultimately entered the Greco-Roman religious mainstream. Meanwhile smaller cults were built around Orpheus and Dionysus. According to Plato, the former was promoted by "begging priests and seers" who "go to rich men's doors," while the Dionysan cult pitched a hereafter in which "the highest reward for virtue is everlasting drunkenness."
The juxtaposition reveals that directions are alarmingly contradictory. Go until you see a spring near a white cypress…
Getty tablet: Then drink from me, the ever-flowing spring.
British Museum tablet: You should not even come near this spring!