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12 Ancient Greek Terms that Should Totally Make a Comeback

by May 14, 2019

Learning Ancient Greek can be… challenging.
For one thing, there are competing dialects (as was discussed in our Podcasts with Professors Episode with the Professor of Linguistics at the University of Cyprus.) As such, there are times when we aren’t even sure how the word is pronounced.
There are also like 5 different translations for every word, which gives translators a huge artistic license, truth be told. It can be difficult to figure out which version of the word the author intended because we just don’t think like ancient Greeks. The huge differences in time and culture can make it tricky to figure out what they really meant.
So while actually dedicating years to learning this beautiful and complicated ancient language might not be the most practical use of your time, I do think you should at least learn a few of the most important concepts.
In fact, I reckon these 12 terms should definitely make a comeback in our current society… and that we might be a lot better for it.

1. Eudaimonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία)
Eudaimonia is regularly translated as happiness or welfare; however, “human flourishing or prosperity” and “blessedness” have been proposed as more accurate translations. In Aristotle’s works, eudaimonia was used as the term for the highest human good, and so it is the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider (and also experience) what it really is, and how it can be achieved.

2. Arete (Greek: ἀρετή)
Arete in its basic sense, means “excellence of any kind”. The term may also mean “moral virtue”. In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential.

In the Homeric poems, Arete is frequently associated with bravery, but more often with effectiveness. The person of Arete is of the highest effectiveness; they use all their faculties—strength, bravery, and wit—to achieve real results. In the Homeric world, then, Arete involves all of the abilities and potentialities available to humans.
In some contexts, Arete is explicitly linked with human knowledge, where the expressions “virtue is knowledge” and “Arete is knowledge” are used interchangeably. The highest human potential is knowledge and all other human abilities are derived from this central capacity.
Sculpture of Homer

Bust of Homer – A man who knew his Arete

3. Phronesis (Greek: φρόνησῐς)
Phronesis is a type of wisdom or intelligence. It is more specifically a type of wisdom relevant to practical action, implying both good judgement and excellence of character and habits, or practical virtue. As such, it is often translated as “practical wisdom”, and sometimes as “prudence.” Thomas McEvilley has proposed that the best translation is “mindfulness”

4. Kleos (Greek: κλέος)
Kleos is often translated to “renown”, or “glory”. It is related to the word “to hear” and carries the implied meaning of “what others hear about you”. A Greek hero earns kleos through accomplishing great deeds.

Kleos is invariably transferred from father to son; the son is responsible for carrying on and building upon the “glory” of the father. This is a reason for Penelope putting off her suitors for so long, and one justification for Medea’s murder of her own children was to cut short Jason’s kleos. Kleos is sometimes related to aidos — the sense of shame.
painting of Jason and Medea

Jason and Medea – as depicted by John William Waterhouse, 1907. Medea cut down Jason’s Kleos by murdering her own children

5. Xenia (Greek: ξενία)
Xenia means “guest-friendship” and is the concept of hospitality. It includes the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home and/or associates of the person bestowing guest-friendship. The rituals of hospitality created and expressed a reciprocal relationship between guest and host expressed in both material benefits (such as the giving of gifts to each party) as well as non-material ones (such as protection, shelter, favors, or certain normative rights).

6. Aidos (Greek: Αἰδώς)
Aidos was actually the Greek goddess of shame, modesty, respect, and humility. Aidos, as a quality, was that feeling of reverence or shame which restrains men and women from wrong. It also encompassed the emotion that a rich person might feel in the presence of the impoverished, that their disparity of wealth, whether a matter of luck or merit, was ultimately undeserved. Ancient and Christian humility have some common points, they are both the rejection of egotism and self-centeredness, arrogance and excessive pride, and is an recognition of human limitations. Aristotle defined it as a middle ground between vanity and cowardice.

7. Nostos (Greek: νόστος)
Nostos is a theme used in Ancient Greek literature which includes an epic hero returning home by sea. In Ancient Greek society, it was deemed a high level of heroism or greatness for those who managed to return. This journey is usually very extensive and includes being shipwrecked in an unknown location and going through certain trials that test the hero.The return isn’t just about returning home physically but also about retaining certain statuses and retaining your identity upon arrival. The theme of Nostos is brought to life in Homer’s The Odyssey, where the main hero Odysseus tries to return home after battling in the Trojan War.

Odysseus' journey home
Incidentally, the word nostalgia was first coined as a medical term in 1688 by Johannes Hofer (1669-1752), a Swiss medical student. It uses the word νόστος along with another Greek root, άλγος or algos, meaning pain, to describe the psychological condition of longing for the past.

8. Oikos (Greek: οἶκος)
Oikos refers to three related but distinct concepts: the family, the family’s property, and the house. Its meaning shifts even within texts, which can lead to confusion.

The oikos was the basic unit of society in most Greek city-states. In normal Attic usage the oikos, in the context of families, referred to a line of descent from father to son from generation to generation. Alternatively, as Aristotle used it in his Politics, the term was sometimes used to refer to everybody living in a given house. Thus, the head of the oikos, along with his immediate family and his slaves, would all be encompassed. Large oikoi also had farms that were usually tended by the slaves, which were also the basic agricultural unit of the ancient economy.

9. Apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια)
In Stoicism, Apatheia refers to a state of mind in which one is not disturbed by the passions. It is best translated by the word equanimity rather than indifference. The meaning of the word apatheia is quite different from that of the modern English apathy, which has a distinctly negative connotation. According to the Stoics, apatheia was the quality that characterized the sage.

10. Ataraxia (Greek: ἀταραξία)
Ataraxia literally translates as “unperturbedness”, but is generally considered as “imperturbability”, “equanimity”, or “tranquillity”. It was first used by Pyrrho and subsequently Epicurus and the Stoics for a lucid state of robust equanimity characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry. In non-philosophical usage, the term was used to describe the ideal mental state for soldiers entering battle.

Achieving ataraxia is a common goal for Pyrrhonism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism, but the role and value of ataraxia within each philosophy varies depending their philosophical theories. The mental disturbances that prevent one from achieving ataraxia vary among the philosophies, and each philosophy has a different understanding as to how to achieve ataraxia.

11. Doxa (Greek: δόξα)
Doxa means common belief or popular opinion and comes from verb δοκεῖν dokein, “to appear”, “to seem”, “to think” and “to accept”. Used by the Greek rhetoricians as a tool for the formation of argument by using common opinions, the doxa was often manipulated by sophists to persuade the people, leading to Plato’s condemnation of Athenian democracy. It is used in direct contrast to Episteme and Techne.

Illustration of Socrates and Gorgias

The Philosopher Socrates with the Sophist Gorgias. Who had Doxa and who had Episteme?

12. Episteme (Greek: ἐπιστήμη) and Techne (Greek: τέχνη)
Episteme can refer to knowledge, science or understanding, and which comes from the verb ἐπίστασθαι, meaning “to know, to understand, or to be acquainted with”. The word “epistemology” is derived from episteme.

Meanwhile Techne is often translated as “craftsmanship”, “craft”, or “art”. While it resembles epistēmē in the implication of knowledge of principles, techne differs in that its intent is making or doing as opposed to disinterested understanding. However, Plato regularly used the two terms interchangeably, and to the ancients, techne and episteme simply mean knowing and “both words are names for knowledge in the widest sense.”

The Colossus of Rhodes… Coming back to life?

by May 1, 2019

By Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes was a feat of ingenuity and engineering and served as a Rhodian symbol of victory.
The Colossus of Rhodes was erected in 280 BCE but was toppled by an earthquake in 226 BCE. The monumental statue remained fallen until 654 CE, before it was ultimately victim to destruction, fragmentation, and looting… and now, there is a chance it may be resurrected once more.
Colossus of Rhodes

Illustration of the Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus of Rhodes: A Victory Statue
Located off the modern day coast of southwestern Turkey in the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes has been a major commercial hub throughout its history. The Hellenistic Period on Rhodes, when the Colossus of Rhodes was built, witnessed a flourishing of its economy and maritime interactions. Philosophy, science, literature, and art all found homes in Rhodes.
Then, in 305 BCE Antigonus I Monophthalmus dedicated to attack. In a power struggle over who should get to rule Rhodes after Alexander’s death, Antigonus sent his son Demetrius to capture Rhodes and secure it against the opposing Ptolemy and Seleucus factions. The capital of Rhodes was fortunately protected by a wall and required Demetrius to construct two separate siege towers to overcome it. Ultimately, both sieges were unsuccessful and a fleet from Egypt arrived to help defend Rhodes from Demetrius.
The conflict ended with a peace treaty and the people of Rhodes viewed it as a personal victory.
The Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus of Rhodes

To commemorate their successful stronghold against Demetrius, Rhodes decided to erect a statue in honor of their patron god, Helios. According to Pliny, the Colossus took 12 years to build and was started in 292 BCE. Sculptor Charles of Lyndus was the artist behind the statue, but legend holds that he didn’t live to see its completion.
Construction of the Colossus of Rhodes
The Colossus of Rhodes was said to be 105 feet tall, made of Bronze paneling, and internally supported by columns and iron. Construction of such a statue was of course a feat in itself and several theories have been presented as to how such a work was completed. Scaffolding and earthen ramps have been used to complete the Colossus, but it is pure speculation.
Some scholars, both ancient and modern, postulate that the statue was cast in situ. They suggest that an earthen mound was built up around it as the workers went in order to reach the height of the Colossus as it is described by Philo of Byzantium.
Painting of the Statue in Rhodes

An oil painting representing the ancient city of Rhodes by Frantisek Kupka (1906 CE).

Additionally, the positioning of the statue itself is unclear. We like to imagine that the Colossus straddled the harbor entrance, acting as a guard and port of welcome to visitors, inciting both respect and a bit of fear. However, this is not certain.
The Fall of The Colossus of Rhodes
As impressive as the statue was sure to have been, it only stood for around 54 years. In 226 BCE an earthquake rocked the region and the statue toppled to the ground. Strabo saw the fallen statue in his travels and wrote that, “he broke down by the falling from the knees,” and noted the Rhodian people did not restore it because an oracle instructed them not to do so. The colossus remained in this downtrodden position for nearly 800 years, when, according to Theophanes the Confessor, the statue was melted down and sold for its metal parts to merchants.

Potential construction for a replica

The Resurrection of the Colossus of Rhodes?
In the last few decades there has been a debate on whether or not to rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes. The project’s proposal states that the rebuilding of the Colossus would, “draw the attention of all humanity to our island [Rhodes], not purely motivated by a feeling of irredentism, but by creating a memorable cultural contribution of Rhodes.” The 2015 collective of architects, archaeologists, and civil engineers proposed to reconstruct a statue that would not only be much larger than the original, but would serve as a cultural center and lighthouse.
While we don’t know if this will happen or not, it would definitely be an astonishing feat… and a fantastic opportunity to see one of the seven wonders of world come to life again.

The Oracle of Delphi: More than a legend

by April 17, 2019

By Mónica Correa, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Centuries ago, from every corner of the Mediterranean, people traveled to Greece to get answers about their life and future by the Oracle of Delphi. It was there that the god Apollo, through different women named Pythia chosen by local priests, sent his messages to those who needed them… as well as to those who could afford them. This was how it happened for the 12 centuries the oracle was active.


How was life at Delphi?
Delphi, along with Olympia and Nemea, was considered an inter-urban sanctuary but also a pan-Hellenic sanctuary: “they were located away from major cities, although they were under the administrative control of their nearby city-states or amphictyonies, they had an aura of neutrality”.
While at least four temples were built for Apollo at Delphi, there were many more around the ancient Mediterranean world. In fact, Delphi was not even the only ancient city with an oracle, however it was one of the most significant.

Delphi by Christian Hardi –

While the oracle was active, wealthy people and leaders from different territories occasionally paid to get to the front of the line to see the oracle. Indeed, there are records that state that the Pythia was sometimes forced to take her position on the tripod by the temple priests in order to satisfy rich clients.
At Delphi, there were always a lot of people waiting in line to see it. We know about them because the ones who paid a lot of money are immortalized in stone inscriptions.
Interestingly, these aren’t the only stone inscriptions… Despite wars, the rise and fall of different empires, two messages still survive to this day on the entrance of the temple: “Know thyself” and “Nothing too much”.
Inscriptions at Delphi

Ancient Greek inscription on stone, near the Archaeological Museum. Main archaeological site of Delphi.

The Oracle and its messages
According to some records, the oracle delivered its pronouncements on an annual basis; the day chosen for the event was the seventh day of Bysios, Apollo’s birthday.
Other records state that nine times each year the woman went to the tripod, initiated the trance state, and gave Apollo a voice to deliver his messages. These sessions were held on the seventh day after each new moon in spring, summer, and fall. It did not occur during winter because Apollo was believed to have gone north to the land of the Hyperboreans (giants who lived “beyond the North Wind”).
Sculpture of Apollo

Apollo Belvedere, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original of 330–320 BC. attributed to Leochares. Found in the late 15th century.

The Pythia was always a woman from Delphi, regardless of her age or social class. While she was serving as oracle, she lived in the sanctuary, abstained from sexual activity, and fasted on or before the days scheduled for oracular sessions.
During days of oracle activity, the Pythia would initially be brought by priests of the temple from a private residence and led through a series of purification and religious rituals before her performance. Eventually she was led down into the inner sanctum of the temple (the adyton).
Painting of the Pythia

Priestess of Delphi, John Collier, 1891

Rulers and wealthy citizens of the known world (as well as famous philosophers) made the journey to this mountainous site to make the most important decisions of their lives… and the lives of those around them. Indeed, war and peace were determined by these messages.
The Vapors of Delphi
The Pythia delivered their oracles on a tripod over the cleft in the ground of Apollo’s temple, which was constructed around 800 BCE on Mount Parnassus. Over the years different women would take on the sacred role and pronounce their prophecies, but they were always inspired by the same vapors.
Delphi with vapors

Detail from Archaeological Site of Delphi, Greece

For centuries, different researchers underestimated the theory of the cleft and vapors because they couldn’t find any geological indicators that led them to their location. However, ancient writers such as Plutarch, Homer or Euripides described the vapors and modern studies are finally validating their reports. Evidence from a chemical analyses of water samples and travertine deposits in the adyton have shown that the springs on site have in the past and continue at present to emit small volumes of hydrocarbon gases.
Fall of Delphi and its Oracle
Painting of the Pythia at the Oracle of Delphi

Lycurgus Consulting the Pythia (1835/1845), as imagined by Eugène Delacroix

The Oracle started its decline in late Hellenistic and early Roman times. In 389 CE, Theodosius I started persecutions against Old Religion and prohibited the cult of Apollo and the celebration of the Pythian games in honor of Apollo. In 391 CE, Christianity was the exclusive state religion and older temples were closed.
Even though temples were shut down and the oracle was “silenced”, splendid structures still stand today, preserving the magnificent, if not fantastic, history of the Pythia and the Oracle of Delphi.

Walk Like an Egyptian: Early Greek Art

by April 15, 2019

It easily falls into the ‘conspiracy’ category – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun story to tell.
We are all taught that empires rise and fall and that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt were no exception. The year was 1336 BC and the Egyptian Pharaoh, Akhenaten, had just died.
Akhenaten was a strange Pharaoh who shook many of the essential foundations of Ancient Egyptian culture. For one thing, Akhenaten was a monotheist. He only believed in Aten, a Ra-like sun God, a fact that drives some scholars to debate whether he is a founding father of judaism.

His wife, Nefertiti

Akhenaten was also a romantic, conferring unusual, elevated status to his wife, the famed beauty Nefertiti. He also may have had a strange syndrome or disability which he passed on to his children… something that may have resulted in the early death of his son, Tutankhamun or King Tut.
One the strangest things about Akhenaten though, was that he changed the way art was done in those ancient days. He shunned the rigid rules that maintained 3000 years of artistic stability. Depictions became more naturalistic, especially of plants, animals and commoners. They showed a sense of movement and action.
Akhenaten with his children

Akhenaten with his wife and children

The royals too were depicted differently. Instead of showing the Pharaoh as god-like, immobile and eternal, the artists began producing tender images of him. He is drawn playing with his daughters beneath the rays of the Aten, while showing his wife affection. The lines surrounding the king are soft and curved. The hard straight features of the previous pharaohs are banished.
But then Akhenaten, the man who is considered “the first individual in history”, died.
Change at first was gradual, but eventually all the reformations faded away and returned to the previous, traditional way of doing things. The time referred to as the ‘Amarna period’ came to an end.
But what happened to all those artists who had just tasted creative freedom? The return to regulation meant the end of artistic liberalism. Did they stay in Egypt after the reversion to the mean? Or did they, perhaps, make their way up north, across the mediterranean?
Around this time, we start to see, for instance, the emergence of Etruscan hieroglyphics, in the land of the Minoans, a pre-Greek civilization.
Eventually, around 750 BC, we come to ‘Archaic’ Early Greek Art.
This time period is characterized by statues that are free standing, frontal and solid. They wear the strange, so-called archaic smile. One foot is placed forward, the fists are clenched. There are three types of figures, the standing nude youth (kouros), the standing draped girl (kore), and the seated woman. All of the different types of sculptures emphasize and generalize the essential features of the human figure.
Now these Greek statues look a lot like the Ancient Egyptian statues.
A comparison of Early Greek Art to Ancient Egyptian Statues

Ancient Egyptian on the Left, Ancient Greek on the Right

Of course this story of runaway sculptors, bringing an artistic renaissance and revolution to Ancient Greece, has a lot of holes. The time periods, for instance, are vastly contradictory. It is difficult to imagine keeping this new artistic approach alive for 500 years. The Ancient Greek Kouros also look more like the traditional Ancient Egyptian art, rather than the unique Akhenaten style.
So why did Ancient Egyptian-like statues start emerging in Ancient Greece? Could this just be a coincidence?
We, unfortunately, do not know. They are many other potential explanations, such as the Achaemenid Persian Empire, which was founded in the 6th century BC by Cyrus the Great. This huge empire, which encompassed approximately 8 million km and spanned three continents, would have brought Egypt and northern Greece, Macedonia, under the same umbrella.
The Achaemenid Persian empire also instituted infrastructures, such as road networks, a postal system, and an official language throughout its territories. It even had a bureaucratic administration which was centralized under the Emperor, as well as a large, professional army and civil services.
Maybe the famous Egyptian memorials made their way on these new found roads to Greece’s fledging shores. It is, after all, in this time period when the first Archaic sculptures start to appear.
Or maybe not. History is not an exact science. Dots that seem important might only stick out with hindsight, and connections between them weakened by improbabilities. All we do know, is that Early Greek art starts getting even more interesting from here on out.
“Walk Like an Egyptian: Early Greek Art” was written by Anya Leonard

High Classical Greek Art: Political Patrons

by April 8, 2019

Few things impact a budding art scene like an empirical power showing off. The ruling class often invest heavily in propaganda and self grandeur, paid into the hands of the artistically gifted. They might even commission a few temples, as thanks to the gods for their new found positions. The artists, as long as they celebrate approved figures, are rewarded with extravagant commissions. Their patrons, in return, shower their favorite sculptors and painters with prestige and honor.
Bust of PericlesPericles, the Athenian Statesman, and Alexander the Great, the king of Macedon, were no exception. In fact, the Golden Age of Athenian art – the high Classical greek art period – is broadly defined by these exceptional gentlemen, book holders for fabricated historical boundaries.
Apparently it all started in 479 B.C. when Athens beat the Persians and founded a confederacy of allies to ensure the freedom of the Greek cities in the Aegean islands. Participants supplied either ships or funds in order to secure protection. This so-called “Delian League”, however, didn’t last long.
Athens wanted an empire, and that’s exactly what it got. First it moved the treasury closer to home – to the imperial city of Athens itself. Then the city-state put forth the Coinage Degree, which imposed Athenian silver coinage, weights and measures on all of the allies. Any left overs from the mint went straight to Athens, and any other use was punished by death.
Now the ordinary Greek members of the Delian league were, in fact, Athenian subjects.
This is where the man who was “surrounded by glory” comes into play. Pericles, who lived from ca. 461–429 B.C., was one of the masterminds behind Athens assuming full control over the league and a famous proponent for Athenian democracy. He then orchestrated one of the greatest human embezzlements of all time. He used the league’s treasury to build some of the most amazing artistic creations of the ancient world. He launched Greek Art into the “High Classical Greek Art”.
Pericles transformed the Acropolis (including the Parthenon) into a lasting monument of Athens’ political and cultural power. He worked tirelessly, with the likes of the Greek sculptor Phidias, to promote Athens as the artistic center of the Ancient World.
The red figured vase on the right allows for more detail

The red figured vase on the right allows for more detail

This catalyst propelled Athens further, innovating art on every level, from theatrical works to sculpture to vases. In regards to the last item, a major development occurred in this time period. The red-figure technique superseded the previously traditional black-figure technique. This change may not, at first, seem monumental, but it allowed a greater ability to portray the human body, clothed or naked, at rest or in motion.
Meanwhile, the solid, archaic figures of early Greek sculpture transitioned into more naturalistic statues, revealing movement, grace and the female form. The nude Aphrodite of Knidos, by the Athenian sculptor Praxiteles, was one of the first to break the convention of hiding female figures behind heavily draped attire. In addition to realistic bodies, statues began to depict real people. Democracy trickled down from politics to art.
Aphrodite of Knidos - example of High Classical Greek Art

Aphrodite of Knidos – example of High Classical Greek Art

Among these changing stylistic innovations, developed the art of studying art. For the first time, artistic schools were established, such as the school at Sicyon in the Peloponnese. There students learned the cumulative knowledge of art, the foundation of art history.
It would seem as if the creative boom of the Golden Age would never end. The artistic funds of Athens, however, eventually dwindled along with Athens’ defeat in the second Peloponnesian war.
Fortunately for art, another champion came forward, along with grand commissions and an immense bank account. Alexander the Great, known for his ruthless wars and expanding empire, became a patron of the arts as never before seen… loot from plundered lands will do that. Man is seldom shy of spending other people’s money and Alexander was no different.
It is here that the artificial boundaries of history are vaguely drawn. Alexander the Great, founding great cultural cities around his empire, brought together artistic ideals which had previously never been in contact. Styles and techniques drastically changed throughout the empire’s reach. Was this the peak of Classical art or the beginning of a new age of Art? No one knows precisely when the one period ends nor when the next begins…  What follows though, is the final stage of Ancient Greek art… the Hellenistic Period.
“High Classical Greek Art: Political Patrons” was written by Anya Leonard

Hellenistic Greek Art

by April 1, 2019

It is easy to have an ‘ideal’ when it is unchallenged. “This king is best”. How readily this bold statement rolls off the tongue, when there is no other king of which to speak. Likewise the phrase, “This God (or Gods) is right” offers no resistance if one’s own knowledge of divinities is severely limited. Similarly, “This is the perfection of beauty” can hold only sway in a small or isolated society.
Winged Victory of Samothrace

Winged Victory of Samothrace

It is often diversity, then, that invites people to examine their own unquestioned convictions in governance, religion or art. The complementary act of decentralisation, takes these norms and expectations away from one ruling group and puts independent thought and creation into a multitude of hands. There are now many competing ideas and concepts.
It is this diversity that characterizes the era of Hellenistic Greek art, the period of eclecticism.
This multeity was born out of the expansion of Alexander the Great’s empire, though its historical barriers aren’t clearly defined. The King of Macedonia brought extreme and remote regions under one vast umbrella. His kingdom, as well as the influencing Greek culture, stretched from Egypt to as far as India.
Within this thriving, expansive network new centers of “greek” art sprung up, questioning the previous dominance of Athens as the cultural epicenter of the ancient world. Now, cities like Alexandria, Antioch, and Pergamum began making a name for themselves in the artistic arena. They took the attic ways, but then added local flare or improved technical abilities. By the 2nd century BC, the rising power of Rome also absorbed much of the Greek tradition, all while supplying their own slant or engineering prowess.
So what did the local artists do to the Athenians’ dominant version of ‘ideal’?
Well, they destroyed it in the most magnificent of ways.
Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

The tall, proud statues found in high classical art were punched, twisted and tortured. They distorted the beautifully sculpted youths of Athens’ golden age into decrepit or dying individuals. Upstanding gods and men were depicted as inebriated, passed out with their legs spread wanton or clutching a bottle.
The artists picked up the old perfect bodies, wrapped gracefully and modestly in sculptured cloths and threw them into the water till they were drenched. The women became erotic, with shapely figures bravely carved through flimsy fabric. They perfected transparency portrayed in stone.
One only has to think of the “Venus de Milo” and the slinky s-like shape of her torso to grasp this new found sensuality. The “Winged Victory of Samothrace”, now atop a dramatic staircase in the Louvre, is breathtaking and triumphant in her clinging cloth.
The Hellenistic sculptures also broke out of their planes, becoming “in-the-round”, or something to be seen from every angle. True to the diversity from which the art was born, subjects reflected a medley of individuals. There were old men and children, africans, sentimental folks and the so called “grotesques”. Emotions, such as agony, kindness or wisdom, were revealed, etched into their faces.
dying gaulAmong the most famous pieces of this time period is the “Dying Gaul“. It portrays a soldier, crippled over in pain. His expressions show his anguish as well as his contorted body. The realism of this piece, which was commissioned some time between 230 BC and 220 BC by Attalus I of Pergamon to celebrate his victory over the Celtic Galatians in Anatolia, is overwhelming.
Another exemplary specimen is “Laocoon and his two sons.” The statue depicts a scene from Virgil’s Aeneid, when a priest tried to warn the Trojans against taking in that wooden horse. The Gods on the Greek side sent a snake to punish the prudent man and his sons, which is what we see in stone. These statues are a conglomeration of twisting nudity and pain. The elderly priest, while in excellent physical shape shows true torment on his face. He is a far cry from the noble Apollonian statues of the Classical period or the Kouros of the Anarchic era. This tormented figure is definitely Hellenistic Greek Art.
Laocoon and his two soon

Laocoon and his two soon

Eventually this style and period came to an end. The historians like to mark this moment with the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. It was when Octavian, who later became the emperor Augustus, defeated Marc Antony‘s fleet and, consequently, ended Ptolemaic rule. The Ptolemies were considered the last Hellenistic dynasty to fall to Rome.
It was time for another empire, with its own range of diversity, to take place.
This does not mean, however, that Greek art and its traditions completed disappeared. Indeed, they remained strong during the Roman Imperial period, and especially so during the reigns of the emperors Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–14 A.D.) and Hadrian (r. 117–138 A.D.).
This is a wonderful fact for the modern viewer, as many of the astounding works that exist for us today are not in fact, Greek originals. They are Roman. By improving the materials and support systems, the Latin conquerors helped preserve some of the greatest art of the Ancient Greek world.