Term Paper: Greek Artifacts the Civilization of Ancient Greece

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Greek Artifacts

The Civilization Of Ancient Greece

and its artifacts

Until about 1870, historians and scholars who specialized in the history and archeology of ancient Greece were, for the most part, quite ignorant about Greek culture and society and considered this area of study as being filled with myth and unrealities. However, when Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur archeologist and well-to-do German businessman, traveled to present-day Turkey in search of the legendary lost city of Troy which was allegedly located at Hissarlik, he uncovered via much digging a number of fortified cities built one on top of another and found evidence that some of these cities had been destroyed by fire.

Schliemann continued his excavations at Mycenae on the Greek mainland, where he believed Agamemnon and Achilles as portrayed in Homer's Iliad had once sailed to avenge the kidnapping of the beautiful Helen. To his and the world's amazement, Schliemann discovered some startling artifacts, such as gold jewelry and ornaments, gold cups, beautifully-inlaid daggers and knives, not to mention a stunning gold mask which Schliemann believed was a representation of King Agamemnon himself.

Similarly, British archeologist Arthur Evans had long considered Crete as a potentially excellent site for investigation. In 1900, Evans began digging on the island of Crete and soon uncovered extensive fortified palaces of the kings of ancient Crete, now known as the Minoans. From these excavations and many others conducted in the early years of the 20th century, the history of ancient Greece is now well-known and understood, especially through the magnificent artifacts that have been uncovered over the years.

Thus, in order to fully understand and appreciate the splendor and magnificence of ancient Greece, we must closely examine a number of artifacts that currently reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

In essence, many of these artifacts will enable us to reconstruct the development of the Greek style in art and to appreciate their uses and place in ancient Greek society. Imagine for a moment living in ancient Greece, perhaps somewhere amid the long and winding coastline of the Aegean Sea, or perhaps high up in the great mountain chains of the Peloponnesos or Thessaly, the home of Mount Olympus and the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses, such as all-powerful Zeus and his wife Hera, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, Apollo and Hermes, the messenger of the gods.

In this environment, common men and women worked in the cities as laborers, merchants and slaves and toiled in the fields in order to feed the hungry masses in places like Argos, Sparta, Thebes and especially mighty Athens, the home of Pericles and Greek democracy. Thus, in these and many other environments, the ancient Greeks fashioned a very wide spectrum of items, ranging from ordinary clay pots to outstanding examples of Greek art in the form of amphora, drinking vessels, armor, weapons, jewelry, bowls and statues.

Our first artifact is called the Loutrophoros Ceremonial Vase for Water with Male Deity Between Persephone and Aphrodite, made in the Late Classical period, circa 340 to 330 B.C.E. And attributed to the Darius Painter. This artifact is very similar to an object known as a hydria, from the Greek word for "water." Around 530 B.C.E., an unknown Greek artist introduced a new painting technique that reversed the black figure style by making the background black and leaving the figures reserved in red.

As illustrated by this beautiful vase, the figures of Persephone and Aphrodite were created by using relief lines applied with a syringe-like instrument that squeezed out the black glaze evenly and smoothly. Other markings were painted with a dilute glaze which was applied with a fine brush. It should be mentioned that the images of Persephone and Aphrodite are due to their importance in the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses, for Persephone was viewed as "the wife of Hades, the dreaded queen of the world below," while Aphrodite "shows her power as the golden, sweetly smiling goddess of beauty and love (and) outshines all of the goddesses in grace and loveliness" (Seyffert, 39).

The next artifacts are the Head of a Ptolemaic Queeb, possibly Arsinoe II, made circa 270 to 250 B.C.E. And Head of a Woman from the Hellenistic Age, circa the 3rd to 2nd centuries B.C.E. These artifacts show a depiction of much solemnity via the expressions on the faces with broad and strong features and eyes that seem to peer out as if belonging to a real person. Although these examples are made from stone, the artist was obviously very knowledgeable when it comes to human anatomy.

Culturally, these two artifacts reflect the commonality of Greek women, fair and beautiful, and the exquisite loveliness of the women of the upper classes and as representations of Hellenistic art depict human civility and regal bearing.

The fourth artifact is called the Calyx Krater Mixing Bowl with Scene from a Phlyax Play from the Late Classical period, circa 400 to 390 B.C.E., and attributed to the Tarporley Painter. This object is known as a krater which was used to store wine mixed with water for mealtimes. These vessels were "moderately large, with wide necks and bodies and two handles" and sometimes "were pointed or round beneath" and "required a support" (Seyffert, 685). The style of this object is a variation of the red figure technique, for it was first covered with a slip of very fine white clay that when burnished provided a glossy or matte white surface for drawing in black glaze or diluted brown wash.

The term "Phylax play" refers to plays performed by actors wearing costumes and masks which were generally based on Greek mythological stories. Thus, this beautiful artifact symbolizes the importance of the performing arts in ancient Greece and shows that the Greeks truly appreciated the expression of human emotions through acting out the legends of their mythological heroes and heroines.

Next comes two other important artifacts which represent the power and artistry of the Greek sculptor. These are the Statue of a Veiled and Masked Dancer from the 3rd to 2nd centuries B.C.E. And the Statue of Eros Sleeping from the Hellenistic or Augustan periods, circa the 3rd century B.C.E. To early 1st century a.D. Both of these objects, made from some type of volcanic black rock, possibly basalt, reflect the wide scope of themes and the visual curiosity of the Hellenic sculptor whose aim was to move the observer in terms of the theme of his work. Obviously, both of these exquisite statues were created with the observer in mind, for they remind us of reality in the way the figures are molded, i.e., "A large part of the response to these statues comes from the observer's familiarity with its model or type in the context of his own experience" (Seyffert, 456). Much like the Calyx Krater, the Statue of a Veiled and Masked Dancer symbolizes the cultural importance of the arts in ancient Greek society.

Since we are primarily dealing at this point with Greek entertainment, the next artifact symbolizes how much ancient Greek audiences appreciated the comedic arts. This artifact (actually fifteen items) is simply called Fifteen Comic Actors, created during the Late Classical period, circa the late 5th to early 4th centuries B.C.E. Exactly what kind of purpose these objects served is not clear, but it is possible that they were owned by a child as playthings or toys which provided hours of simple entertainment.

Another possibility is that these fifteen objects were part of a game of some sort, much like present-day chess. As comic figures, these objects demonstrate that ancient Greek society found not only tragedy but also comedy as a major source of pleasure and entertainment. According to Oskar Seyffert, these objects might have had as their origin "the festivals of Dionysus" which were marked by "unrestrained singing and jesting common in the komos or merry procession of Dionysus," the ancient Greek god of wine and merriment (151).

The next artifact is known as the Funerary Relief with Woman and Warrior from the Hellenistic period, circa 325 to300 B.C.E. As a funerary item, this artifact most probably was part of a wall or the decoration that lined the outside of a large sarcophagus or stone coffin, specially designed for a very wealthy and prominent Greek citizen. As was often the case with funerary reliefs of the Hellenistic period, the figures, being a man and a woman, are placed in an architectural framework via the step or riser to the left of the woman's feet and the stone floor on which they stand. The woman is draped in the traditional garb of Athena, while the naked man appears to be holding what remains of a sword in his right hand. The Greek amphora sitting on the floor between them may indicate that the figures are about to celebrate a great military victory by drinking wine.

Obviously, the sarcophagus or tomb from which this artifact originated indicates that the deceased possibly held a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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