Greek Art in Ancient Greece and Faraway Lands

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Greek Art in Ancient Greece and Faraway Lands

The classical period of Greece (490 – 323 B. C. ) saw the artists perfecting their style. Following Alexander’s conquests, ancient Greece entered the Hellenistic period (323 – 31 B. C. ) (“Timeline of Ancient Greece”). Of course, Alexander the Great was not the only god of the ancient Greek civilization. Ancient Greeks worshipped plenty of gods that were believed to have appeared to them in human form with extraordinary strength and beauty (“Culture”). Professor Harris describes Euhemerus as the philosopher responsible for presenting Greek myths as simple stories to his readers.

Euhemerus’ interpretation of Greek mythology was considered radical in his times. It was he who wrote that Greek gods and goddesses were human beings to begin with. Because of their extraordinary feats or the cultural and/or social value that they added to life in ancient Greece, their ordinary humanity was turned into godhood in the minds of ancient Greeks (Harris). Thus, ancient Greek gods and goddesses were portrayed in painted scenes on stone, vases, and also with bronze and terracotta sculptures for the sake of remembrance.

Although many of the ancient Greek temples honored multiple gods and goddesses, certain places showed greater reverence to a sole deity or a pair of gods, e. g. Olympia’s Zeus, and Eleusis’ Demeter and Persephone (“Culture”). For reasons described above, the ancient Greeks downplayed the divine aspects of their gods by giving them a typically human form, as the example of the Torso of Apollo reveals (See Appendix I). Made in 2nd century AD, the Torso of Apollo of marble shows young Apollo, “the Greek god of light, music, archery, healing, atonement, prophecy, and flocks and herds” (“Torso of Apollo”).

The figure was popular with both Greeks and ancient Romans. It is an unclothed manifestation of perfection, splendor and courage with Apollo wearing a belt over one of his shoulders to which a case for holding arrows was fastened at his back (“Torso of Apollo”). By showing the god as distinctly human, the artist inspires into viewers the spirit to take Apollo for a courageous model and turn into heroes themselves. After all, Apollo was not only a gentle lover of the arts but also domineering to the extent that he was cruel to those who challenged his supremacy among ordinary mortals (Ingfei, 2002, p.

9; “Apollo”). What is more, he was intelligent and handsome enough to be taken as a model by the ancient Greeks. With the sun as his special symbol, Apollo did not only show physical courage but was also a supporter of intellectual pursuits (Leadbetter, 2004; Regula, 2009). He was known as the god of poetry, medicine, and intellectually enquiry to boot (Leadbetter). In other words, he was next to perfect. Athena Parthenos, too, was considered immaculate in ancient Greece. The Parthenon is a classical temple dedicated to the woman, considered the goddess of wisdom (See Appendix II).

The temple was built between 447 – 432 B. C. on the Acropolis, which is in the capital city of ancient Greece, Athens. It has survived despite severe damage over the centuries (“Art,” 2008). Perikles, the famous politician of Athens, had championed the construction of the Parthenon (“The Parthenon”). Some of the architectural features of the temple have been described thus: …[R]ectangular floor plan with a series of low steps on every side, and a colonnade (8 x 17) of Doric columns extending around the periphery of the entire structure. Each entrance has an additional six columns in front of it.

The larger of the two interior rooms, the naos, housed the cult statue. The smaller room (the opisthodomos) was used as a treasury. (“The Parthenon”) The temple was constructed with marble, and mainly represented the Doric order with features of the Ionic order incorporated in its sculptural program (Kerr, 1995). The Doric order gave Parthenon its series of ninety two metopes (with panels of sculptured reliefs depicting law and order and struggle); and triglyphs on its entablature. Additionally, the Doric order made the temple a peripteral, simple-looking structure with short and thick columns (“The Parthenon”).

The “continuous sculpted frieze” of the Parthenon represents the Ionic order, however (“The Parthenon”). There are four tall and slim columns of the temple, too, that represent this architectural order which happens to support the opisthodomos’ roof at the Parthenon. The capitals or the columns’ tops that are built using the Ionic order have volutes, which are the names of the curlicues special to this order (“The Parthenon”). Above the metopes and triglyphs of the temple lie the pedimental sculptures, one of which shows the birth of Zeus – yet another god for the ancient Greeks (“The Parthenon”).

The frieze of the temple, running “around the upper edge of the temple wall” and inside from the metopes and the triglyphs shows day to day life in ancient Greece, the rituals of the Greeks, processions, musicians, gods and goddesses, and much more (“The Parthenon”). Indeed, the place of the frieze in the sculptural program of the temple is unique, seeing as it does not only portray real life and beliefs of the ancient Greeks, but also gives the Parthenon a central place in the life of Athens. The temple was, after all, a place where religious festivals as well as sacrifices were held.

Moreover, this temple gave Athena Parthenos a special place to stay for the protection and welfare of the Athenians (“The Parthenon: Religion, Art, and Politics”). Whether or not the ancient Greeks would consider it Athena Parthenos’ blessing that took ancient Greek art styles to faraway lands, the fact is that even the ancient art of the Nabataeans and the Arabs experienced the influence of Greek artists. Vries & Osinga (2005) state that “[t]he Nabataeans at their height spread as far north as Damascus, to the coast of the Mediterranean at Gaza in the east and to Madain Salih in the south.

” But, the Nabataean kingdom came under Roman rule in the year 106 A. D. It became an Arabian province at the time (Vries & Osinga). The Nabataeans were caravan drivers on a large scale. Roman traders visited Petra even before the Nabataean kingdom was taken over by the Romans. These traders came to conclude transportation agreements with the Nabataeans. The latter traveled around the world with merchandise – “between the Red Sea and the Nile, and sometimes as far away as the Delta” (Sartre, Porter, & Rawlings, 2005, p. 268).

Unsurprisingly, therefore, their temples expose a variety of influences on the hearts and minds of the Nabataeans (Vries & Osinga). Vries & Osinga write: The many structures are so diverse that it is difficult to categorize them, at least without oversimplifying or overlooking what may be important details. Philip Hammond, who excavated the Temple of the Winged Lions, concludes that it might be more faithful to the diversity of the temples to see them not as derivatives of Iranian temples, Roman temples or other, but to recognize the borrowing of constructional and decorative technique and to

concentrate on why each was unique. (Vries & Oringa) Sartre, Porter & Rawlings write that Nabataeans were so influenced by Greek art – following the Roman invasion – that they spread that influence in many parts of Arabia. Nude heroes of the Greeks have been found in Arabia and believed to have been conveyed there by the Nabataeans (Sartre, Porter & Rawlings, p. 269). However, Vries & Oringa have uncovered Egyptian influence in the temples of Nabataeans to boot. Describing one of the most significant temples left by the Nabataeans, the authors state:

[T]he Wadi Rum temple took its layout from Egyptian models, specifically the Egyptian Temple Dayr Chelouit. The only reference to the Roman world would be columns of the Wadi Rum Temple. Dharih might also be kin to the Egyptian Temple of Coptos, while the Qasr al-Bint and the Temple of the Winged Lions find construction parallels there also (Vries & Oringa). Then again, Greek and/or Roman influence seems to be most profound. Although temple plans of the Nabataeans do not appear typically Roman, decoration outside of the temples may be recognized as distinctly Roman and/or Hellenistic.

As an example, the external decoration of Khasneh makes it appear as though it was built in Alexandria (Vries & Oringa). Even so, Vries & Oringa believe that the Nabataeans did not simply copy the designs that were handed down to them by Romans. Instead, they took influence in their stride, sometimes appropriating “the general structure,” but modifying and adapting it as time went on (Vries & Oringa). In other words, they were open to influence, but also believed in maintaining their local traditions. Taylor (2001) agrees with this view.

In her book, Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabataeans, she explains that the Nabataeans did not make copies as slaves would. Rather, Greek ideas were amazingly transformed by the Nabataeans into works of art keeping “a distinctively Nabataean flavor” (Taylor, p. 92). No wonder, Petra remains as an incomparable feast for the eyes for all lovers of art. Vries & Oringa write that the art of Nabataeans, in particular the sculptures they made, also changed from era to era; that is, even before the Romans came to rule the Nabataean kingdom, the Nabataeans went on altering their artistic style (Vries & Oringa).

Perhaps their visits to foreign lands brought such changes to the art of the kingdom. But, once the Romans had arrived on the scene, the Nabataeans did not only borrow the artistic styles of the Greeks but also others’. The sculptures of deities in Tannur, for example, appear both Hellenistic and Oriental. The Nabataeans also seem to have been influenced by the Syrian artistic style, as revealed through sculptures at both Dharih and Tannur (Vries & Oringa).

Although Hellenistic artistic style “of classical proportions” is most often cited as an influence on Nabataean art, there were plenty of sculptures made by the Nabataeans that did not appear Greek at all even though they were made while the Nabataeans were living under Roman rule (Vries & Oringa). Vries & Oringa cite “the simple standing block” as an example of such artwork. The fact that the Nabataeans maintained their local flavor in their artistic style shows that these people did not wholly lose their cultural identity at the time.

Even the Romans may have delighted in the diversity revealed through Nabataean art, simply because the Nabataeans mingled with many peoples at the time. What is more, the adaptation of Greek art to new cultures must have been viewed as a triumph of ancient Greek artistic styles. After all, ancient Greek art continues to be celebrated around the world to this day. References Apollo. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://felc. gdufs. edu. cn/jth/myth/Greek%20Online/5Apollo. htm. Art. (2008). Ancient Greece. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://www. ancientgreece. com/s/Art/. Culture. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://www. crystalinks.

com/greekculture. html. Harris, W. Euhemerus. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://community. middlebury. edu/~harris/SubIndex/greekmyth. html. Ingfei, C. (2002, Aug 2). The Sun also Heals; Some believe. International Herald Tribune. Kerr, M. (1995, Oct 23). “The Sole Witness”: The Periclean Parthenon. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://people. reed. edu/~mkerr/papers/Parth95. html. Leadbetter, R. (2004, Jan 31). Apollo. Encyclopedia Mythica. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://www. pantheon. org/articles/a/apollo. html. Sartre, M. , Porter, C. , & Rawlings, E. (2005). The Middle East under Rome. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Taylor, J. (2001). Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabataeans. London: I. B. Tauris. Timeline of Ancient Greece. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://www. aspasiaproject. com/timeline. htm. The Parthenon. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://academic. reed. edu/humanities/110Tech/Parthenon. html. The Parthenon: Religion, Art, and Politics. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://employees. oneonta. edu/farberas/arth/ARTH200/politics/parthenon. html. Torso of Apollo. (2000). The Detroit Institute of Arts. Retrieved Feb 27, 2009, from http://www. cartage. org. lb/en/themes/arts/scultpureplastic/SculptureHistory/GloriousScul


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