'Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece'

"Head of Polyphemos" is from the 1st or 2nd century. (Copyright Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston/the Walters Art Museum)
  Enlarge Photo    
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2009

Ancient warriors from another part of the world are the focus of the exhibition "Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece" at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Although there are few figures on view that rival the terra cotta soldiers -- a marvelous bust of Polyphemos the cyclops is a rare exception -- the plentiful images on amphorae and other clay vessels are gold mine for students of Greek mythology.

It's a show that any fan of the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" books will love.

"Heroes" focuses on four main characters: Odysseus, Helen, Achilles and Herakles (more commonly known as Hercules). He seems to get the spotlight here, with several illustrations of his famous labors. Mythology buffs will recall that these 12 heroic and/or disgusting tasks (mucking out years of filth in horse stables on a single day) were punishment from the gods for Herakles's murder of his wife and children.

Which might not sound like a great résumé for a hero. But that's the most interesting thing about "Heroes." It emphasizes the ancient Greek sense of the word, which doesn't place as much importance on having led the life of a goody-two-shoes.

It's an unexpected perspective. But the ultimate message of the show is this: Redemption is always possible, and anyone can become a hero.

Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece

Through Jan. 3 at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St., Baltimore.

Contact: 410-547-9000. http://www.thewalters.org.

Hours: Open Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Admission: Free.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

© 2009 The Washington Post Company