In terms of the event described by Hesiod in which the gods and giants battle, the Gigantomachy, there are a number of different almost narrative representations through art as well as variations in the more general depictions, and placements of emphasis. Before actually delving into the finer points as they relate to the tale of the Gigantomachy in Hesiod’s telling, it is useful to examine how these representations of the event differ and are alike, both from a formalistic and symbolic viewpoint. After these details are discussed, then it is possible to make some assumptions about the battle between Zeus and Typhoeus and what these various forms of telling the story again mean.

The North frieze at the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi offers an unique focus, particularly in terms of Hesiod’s poetic description. Although the disclaimer must be made that this is a work of art, and thus more reliant on setting and images, it is nonetheless striking that the emphasis of this frieze is on the actual scene. While Hesiod chose in his poem to focus more on a general description of character events, this work focuses on the setting and uses this to present the dramatic struggle. By presenting the viewer with a direct opposition (i.e. opposing figures facing one another directly and engaged in the beginning of combat) the viewer cannot help but notice the vast divide between the two sides. Given the large scope of the actual frieze, this is far more possible than with the images painted on a vase such as the one discussed below (the vase uses detail and intricate symbols rather than wide-scale and grandiose oppositions, for example). While the gods and goddesses are labeled, just as they are in the vase paintings, this matter almost seems to lose its importance, particularly if one is familiar with the details of Hesiod’s poem. What is most striking, and what seems to be the point of this particular representation of the Gigantomachy, is the division between the two sides and the sense of malice conveyed through the large scope of the actual background and setting. Here, the epic struggle is not confined to two gods/goddesses, but there are many and this is presented as very much a full-scale war rather than more intimate settings presented on other materials.

A particular vase painting depicting the Gigantomachy (Harvard 1920.44.54) presents a somewhat altered understanding of the battle of the giants and gods than the one seen at the North frieze at the Siphnian Treasury of Delphi. First of all, by matter of its much smaller size, the vase is predictably able to provide a sense of detail yet more limited scope and range that the frieze offers. Accordingly, the number of gods and goddesses presented is less as well and it is somewhat easier to focus in on what is taking place on a more minute level. This vase uses more intimate portrayals of the gods and goddesses engaged in combat and as a result, the opposition is more focused yet is even more fierce because of the smaller amount of space. Also of note, while the North frieze does not emphasize active combat, this vase does, and it actively engages the viewer, making one aware of who was fighting who.

It should be noted that while the North frieze does not specifically feature or even really show Zeus, this is not necessarily important when considering it in the context of Hesiod’s Gigantomachy. The more symbolic importance is that the fierceness of the battle is presented and the malice between god and giant is quite apparent. Furthermore, the mere scope and size of this particular frieze is important because it reflects the epic nature of the battle between two forces, giants and deities, all taking place on an grand scale. While the vase does not have the same scale, the more detailed representations offer the viewer a more complex and active understanding of the way battle was represented and perceived by ancient artists.

In Hesiod’s work, the battle between Zeus and the giant is one that matches the two paramount features of both of the works discussed here. On the one hand, the reader of the poem is acutely aware of the vast importance of the battle itself and the fact that so many important deities were involved matches with the grand size and scale of the North Frieze. On the other hand, the vase also is also an excellent symbolic and even metaphorical understanding of Hesiod’s treatment of the battle. While he presents it to his readers as a monumental and epic event, it is nonetheless told in almost “list" fashion and while there is some detail on some bit of minutia (as with detail on a vase since it is presented in a smaller and more confined space). In other words, much like the vase, the story of the battle between Zeus and the giant is only a very small part of something incredibly vast—more so than the North frieze could ever portray, certainly. Interestingly, although it is an important event in Hediod’s tale, there are so many events detailed that it almost becomes lost in the mire of legend and myth. In many ways, these works of art that seek to present a more detailed account or closer inspection of myth offer us a key to the grandiose vision of the poet Hesiod.

Link to image of the North Freize:

Image of Vase: