Ancient Greece  

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 This page Ancient Greece is part of the Ancient Greece series.   Photo: western face of the Parthenon
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This page Ancient Greece is part of the Ancient Greece series.
Photo: western face of the Parthenon
Illustration: Laocoön and His Sons ("Clamores horrendos" detail), photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
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Illustration: Laocoön and His Sons ("Clamores horrendos" detail), photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The term ancient Greece refers to the period of Greek history lasting from the Greek Dark Ages ca. 1100 BC and the Dorian invasion, to 146 BC and the Roman conquest of Greece after the battle of Corinth. It is generally considered to be the seminal culture which provided the foundation of Western civilization. Greek culture had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire, which carried a version of it to many parts of Europe. The civilization of the ancient Greeks has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and arts, giving rise to the Renaissance in Western Europe and again resurgent during various neo-Classical revivals in 18th and 19th century Europe and the Americas.

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Ancient Greek philosophy

Ancient Greek philosophy

Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BCE and continued through the Hellenistic period, at which point Ancient Greece was incorporated in the Roman Empire. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric, and aesthetics.

Many philosophers today concede that Greek philosophy has influenced much of Western thought since its inception. As Alfred Whitehead once noted, with some exaggeration, "Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato." Clear, unbroken lines of influence lead from ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers, to medieval Islamic philosophers, to the European Renaissance and Enlightenment.

Some claim that Greek philosophy, in turn, was influenced by the older wisdom literature and mythological cosmogonies of the ancient Near East. Martin Litchfield West gives qualified assent to this view, stating, "contact with oriental cosmology and theology helped to liberate the early Greek philosophers' imagination; it certainly gave them many suggestive ideas. But they taught themselves to reason. Philosophy as we understand it is a Greek creation."

Subsequent philosophic tradition was so influenced by Socrates as presented by Plato that it is conventional to refer to ancient Greek philosophy prior to Socrates as pre-Socratic philosophy. The period following this until the wars of Alexander the Great is referred to as classical Greek philosophy, followed by Hellenistic philosophy.

Ancient Greek religion

Ancient Greek religion

Greek religion encompasses the collection of beliefs and rituals practiced in ancient Greece in the form of both popular public religion and cult practices. These different groups varied enough so that one might speak of Greek religions or "cults", though most shared similarities such as a belief in polytheism.

Greek peoples all recognized the 13 major gods and goddesses: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Athena, Hermes, Demeter, and Hestia, though various lesser gods were also worshipped. Different cities worshipped different deities, sometimes with epithets that specified their local nature.

The religious practices of the Greeks extended beyond mainland Greece, to the islands and coasts of Ionia in Asia Minor, to Magna Graecia (Sicily and southern Italy), and to scattered Greek colonies in the Western Mediterranean, such as Massalia (Marseille). Greek religion tempered Etruscan cult and belief to form much of the later Roman religion.

Ancient Greek literature

Ancient Greek literature, Ancient Greek novel, True History by Lucian

The influence of Ancient Greek Literature on Western Literature has been enormous. In fact, the frame of Greek literary genres has been almost perfectly adopted by Latin literature, firstly, and then by the European literatures, until the 18th century. The Greek works were well known by Roman writers, as well as by European writers since Renaissance. So, these works, particularly the Homeric poems and the tragedies were the model for the successive writers of the same genres.

Art in ancient Greece

Art in ancient Greece

The art of ancient Greece has exercised an enormous influence on the culture of many countries from ancient times until the present, particularly in the areas of sculpture and architecture. In the West, the art of the Roman Empire was largely derived from Greek models. In the East, Alexander the Great's conquests initiated several centuries of exchange between Greek, Central Asian and Indian cultures, resulting in Greco-Buddhist art, with ramifications as far as Japan. Following the Renaissance in Europe, the humanist aesthetic and the high technical standards of Greek art inspired generations of European artists. Well into the 19th century, the classical tradition derived from Greece dominated the art of the western world.

Sexuality in ancient Greece

Sexuality in ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, the phallus, often in the form of a herma, was an object of worship as a symbol of fertility. This finds expression in Greek sculpture and other artworks. One ancient Greek male idea of female sexuality was that women envied penises of males. Wives were considered as commodity and instruments for bearing legitimate children. They had to compete sexually with eromenoi, hetaeras and slaves in their own homes.

Homosexuality, in the form of pederasty, was a social institution in ancient Greece, and was integral to education, art, religion, and politics. Relationships between adults were not unknown but they were disfavored. Lesbian relations were also of a pederastic nature.

Ancient Greek men believed that refined prostitution was necessary for pleasure and different classes of prostitutes were available. Hetaera, educated and intelligent companions, were for intellectual as well as physical pleasure, Peripatetic prostitutes solicited business on the streets, whereas temple or consecrated prostitutes charged a higher price. In Corinth, a port city, on the Aegean Sea, the temple held a thousand consecrated prostitutes.

Rape - usually in the context of warfare - was common and was seen by men as a “right of domination”. Rape in the sense of "abduction" followed by consensual lovemaking was represented even in religion: Zeus was said to have ravished many women: Leda in the form of a swan, Danaë disguised as a golden rain, Alkmene disguised as her own husband. Zeus also ravished a boy, Ganymede, a myth that paralleled Cretan custom.

Satire in ancient Greece

Satire in ancient Greece

The Greeks had no word for what later would be called "satire", although the terms cynicism and parody were used. In retrospect, the Greek playwright Aristophanes is one of the best known early satirists; his plays are known for their critical political and societal commentary, particularly for the political satire by which he criticized the powerful Cleon (as in The Knights) and for the persecution he underwent. The bawdy style of Aristophanes was adopted by Greek dramatist-comedian Menander in many of his plays, as his early play Drunkenness which contains an attack on the politician Callimedon.

The oldest form of satire still in use is the Menippean satire by Menippus of Gadara. His own writings are lost, but his admirers and imitators mix seriousness and mocking in dialogues, presenting parodies before a background of diatribe, meaning one should begin to question approved truths, in this case to form a didactic set of knowledge.

Lucian

Lucian of Samosata (Born 115 AD) a well-known Greek satirist and traveling lecturer. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature. His best-known work is True History (a romance, patently not "true" at all, with its trip to the moon). He also wrote mockingly of the followers of Jesus for their ignorance and credulity.

True History can be read as a form of literary criticism, a satire against contemporary and ancient sources which quote fantastic and mythical events as truth. He mentions the tales of Ctesias, Iambulus, and Homer and states that "what did surprise me was their supposition that nobody would notice they were lying." As noted by classicist B.P. Reardon, "above all, it is a parody of literary 'liars' like Homer and Herodotus". Consequently, Lucian goes on to state that the story recounted in True History is about "things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." He justifies the title by arguing that his is the only truthful mythological story ever written, inasmuch as it is the only one that admits that it is all lies. He also promises a sequel; later critics point out that this is the greatest lie of all.

Erotica in ancient Greece

Erotica in ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks often painted sexual scenes on their ceramics, many of them famous for being some of the earliest depictions of same-sex relations and pederasty. A famous heterosexual example is the orgy scene on the Kylix with Erotic Scenes, attributed to Skythes, housed at the Louvre.

Greek art often portrays sexual activity, but it is impossible to distinguish between what to them was illegal or immoral since the ancient Greeks did not have a concept of pornography. Their art simply reflects scenes from daily life, some more sexual than others. Carved phalli can be seen in places of worship such as the temple of Dionysus on Delos, while a common household item and protective charm was the herm, a statue consisting of a head on a square plinth with a prominent phallus on the front. The Greek male ideal had a small penis, an aesthetic the Romans later adopted. The Greeks also created the first well-known instance of lesbian eroticism in the West, with Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite and other homoerotic works.

Other notable visual example include the Venus Anadyomene and the Barberini Faun.

See also




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