Zeus on a See-Saw: Additional Remarks on Comic Themes


The Paestan vase-painting of Zeus on a see-saw (from an unidentified mythological comedy) represents a type of comic scene known in ancient Greek theatre: erotic flirtation between two personages (an aspiring lover and his ladylove) is theatrically rendered through an actual game played by those two characters on stage. Parallels include Platon Comicus fr. 46 and 47 (Heracles playing kottabos with a prostitute), Antiphanes fr. 57 (possibly an enamoured god teaching the kottabos to young Aphrodite), Diphilos fr. 74 and Plautus, Asinaria 904ff. (hetaira and lovers playing dice). The Paestan picture parodies the traditional mythical image of Zeus weighing the fates or souls of opposed warriors in his divine scales, to determine the outcome of a fight (see e.g. Iliad 8.69–74, 22.209–213, Aeschylus' Psychostasia). In comic reversal, Zeus himself is now put "in the balance", rising and falling on the see-saw like the heroes placed in the scales. Such laughable inversion of traditional mythical roles was a staple technique in ancient mythological comedies.