Ancient Greece Blog

Tomb of the Diver

The ceiling of the Tomb of the Diver, Paestum, Italy, c. 470 BC. Heinz-Josef Lücking

The Tomb of the Diver in Paestum was found in June 1968 in what used to be known as Magna Graecia, and today is a part of the province of Salerno, Italy.

The tomb dates to around 470 BC – the date can be fixed precisely by a Greek vase that was found in the tomb. The tomb is now displayed in the museum at Paestum. Although a number of other painted tombs are known from Paestum, they all date to the fourth and the third centuries. The tomb of the diver is unique in being dated to the fifth century, the best period of Greek art.

Tomb of the Diver

Tomb of the Diver – This is the fresco that gave the tomb its name: “a young man diving into the curving waves in the waters.” Photographer: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta via Wikimedia Commons.

The Diver’s Tomb consists of five limestone slabs, with four sides and a lid, each from a local source. The floor of the tomb was dug into the ground. The limestone slabs are neatly interconnected and form a room about the size of an adult male. All the plates are painted using the ‘fresco’ technique, and the fresco on the tomb’s cover is particularly fascinating. This is the fresco that gave the tomb its name: “a young man diving into the curving waves in the waters.”

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  • The Tomb of the Diver in Paestum was found in June 1968 in what used to be known as Magna Graecia, and today is part of the province of Salerno, Italy. The tomb dates to around 470 BC. 
  • This fresco gave the tomb its name: "a young man diving into the curving waves in the waters." ,
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The lateral frescoes surrounding the body depict the symposium scenes of a traditional Ancient Greek banquet: bare-chested young men wearing laurel wreaths lying on sofas, partying, dancing, drinking wine, playing lyre and games, and falling in love.

tomb of the diver

The two long sides of the tomb show scenes from a symposium, a drinking feast. We see homosexual lovers on the right. There are two more men on the sofa in the middle, looking at the couple on the right and the other playing the game called kottabos. To the left, another man is holding a wine glass, possibly preparing to play kottabos. Photographer: Prof. Mortel via Wikimedia Commons.

tomb of the diver italy

The scene on this long wall is again from a symposium where homosexuality stands out. The top right is a homosexual couple, the little one (without a beard) playing the flute. The couples in the middle are facing each other. The man on the left is holding a lyre. Photographer: Carole Raddato via Flickr / Wikimedia Commons.

The frescoes below are the small endplates. We see two men watching a woman playing the flute on one plate and a young figure depicted with a large wine bowl on the other.

Photographer: Carole Raddato via Wikimedia Commons / Flickr.

 

tomb of the diver

The Diver’s Tomb is the only surviving example of Greek painting with figurative scenes from the Orientalizing, Archaic, or Classical periods. This is the only tomb decorated with frescoes depicting humans among thousands of Greek tombs (700 – 400 BC) known today.

The diver depicted in this tomb, isolated against the sky, symbolizes the intensity of the moment of death. This man and his leap are the visual metaphor for the transition to eternity from earthly life.

tomb of the diver

Detail from the diver. The anatomy of the diver is very detailed and fully outlined in black. His genital organ was very carefully drawn and there is a small growth of hair added to his chin.

Featured Image Credit & Photographer: Heinz-Josef Lücking via Wikimedia Commons.

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