A Crown of Sonnets on the Euphronios Krater
The Museum Visitors
The people hurry in and out of rooms
of the museum that hold the ancient arts
from Greek and Roman palaces and tombs,
some whole and perfect. Most are now just shards.
Their gift shop bags show what their first stop was:
to buy post cards of works they hadn't seen.
They pass by art to see what causes buzz—
the famous paintings anyone who's been
to the museum can say he's seen and knows,
forgoing all those pots and bowls from Greece
that illustrate the tales of old heroes
like Jason's quest to find the Golden Fleece.
Keats's Truth and Beauty on a Grecian urn—
a lesson they don't have the time to learn.
A lesson the Met did not have time to learn
was how the seller, Hecht, had come to own
the calyx krater he now hoped to turn
into a profit. Hoving should have known
in '72 there was a cloud around
its provenance, but at that time the Met
sought to acquire what surely would astound
the art world and to prove that they could get
a piece before the Getty or the Frick.
And so they paid the million dollar price,
the purchase of the krater quite a trick
about as risky as a roll of dice.
Not many stopped to see inside the case
the beauty of the scenes upon its face.
The beauty of the scenes upon its face
grew day by day as painter covered clay.
Euxitheos formed handles, lips, and base
as canvas for Euphronios to lay
down scenes of men at war in red on black.
The artist, seated at his backless chair,
envisioned how the Trojans planned attack,
and painted what he saw on earthenware.
The artists worked in 515 B.C.,
not ever dreaming that the bowl they made
would be admired, 2006 A. D.,
the freshness of its beauty having stayed
with its heroic scenes of myth and lore,
its stories of the gods and men at war.
Its stories of the gods and men at war,
incited by an apple "for the fair,"
were told in verse by Homer long before—
how Paris, struck by Helen's face so rare,
caused war between the Trojans and the Greeks.
As the Trojan War went on without a truce,
the gods watched battles from their lofty peaks
till Sarpedon, beloved son of Zeus
was killed. The father, cautioned not to mess
in the affairs of mortals down on Earth,
asked of Apollo just this one request:
that Sarpedon the son he'd loved since birth,
be anointed with ambrosia, cleansed and groomed,
and placed inside a proper hero's tomb.
Once placed inside a proper hero's tomb
the krater lay under Italian soil,
two thousand years. Its story then resumed.
Dug up in '71, by those who toil
at night. The tombaroli work in dark
and use a practiced sense to tell them where
they ought to probe with rods. They feel the mark
of bulging earth or grass that tells them—there!
There lies the treasure they can steal and sell.
And then they dig by hand to find a piece
and make a lie about it they can tell,
like how they "bought it from someone in Greece."
Collectors and museums will turn blind eyes,
so much they want to own the stolen prize.
So much he wanted to own the stolen prize,
that Hoving did not let the lies prohibit
him from making a deal that was unwise.
He put the krater in the Greek exhibit.
There Italian historians found the piece
and claimed the artifact was really theirs,
demanding that the Met's display should cease
and they should send back all the other wares
that came out of the Etruscan burial site
of Cerveteri north of Rome. Then there
began negotiations and a fight
that lasted years, more than the Met could bear.
The parties finally agreed, at last:
Italians will own their Etruscan past.
Italians will own their Etruscan past.
The krater will stay in New York till '08
when Montebello of the Met will pass
the krater on at the appointed date.
That storied vase once used for mixing wine
and water will sit again in a glass case
its only blemish, inside, one fine line,
epoxy glue, a seam that marks the place
where some restorer in the past repaired
the krater that was found only as shards,
someone who for a time owned it and cared.
For now the Met still has it watched by guards
(like those who should have stood around the tombs)
as people hurry in and out of rooms.