Greek to Me
by Kathleen Lang
KALLIKRATES Parthenon. West facade. 447 BCE-436 BCE
©Art Department CSULA, Permission of Kathleen Cohen
With the release of the movie Troy and the Olympic Games
in Athens this summer, our collective attention will be on a classic
epic and a return to the site of the original Olympic Games in
the 8th century B.C.E.
Both events represent
an opportunity to learn more about ancient Greek art and one of
the most important cultures in the Western world.
Use the term "epic"
to describe any story and your listeners' eyes will instantly
glaze over. Without a doubt it is the most clichéd term used to
describe a novel or film that features heroes and courageous deeds.
is different-it really, really is an epic. Based upon the
classic poem The
Iliad by the Greek poet Homer, the story features the
mortals, gods and goddesses that are the cornerstone of all Greek
Although it was written
during the 8th century B.C.E., Homer has constructed a masterful
tale that still possesses the power to transcend centuries and
move the modern 21st century reader. The human experience is captured
in its fullest sense. Selfishness, greed, lust, bravery and ferocious
violence are all important aspects to this story that places the
ancient tribes of Greece and Troy against each other in a ten-year
The film includes all
the famous clichés about the Trojan War: a beautiful abducted
woman, a hunky (and sulky) warrior, fierce battle scenes, and
of course, that horse. But while you're watching the action, be
sure to notice all the artistic details that are contained in
the film. Architecture, hairstyles, jewelry, costumes, and even
goblets resemble artifacts from this period.
Keep in mind that if
the characters don't resemble the look of 5th century Classical
Greece, it's because they're not "classical." Homer may have written
this story during the 8th century B.C.E. but the story of the
Trojan War dates back to the 12th century B.C.E. Visual evidence
of just how influential this legend was can be seen in the many
vases that were painted with scenes from The Iliad.
In coordination with
the release of Troy, the British
Museum has currently on display costumes from the film and
has linked related objects from their collection. The museum encourages
visitors to explore the theme of this period throughout the museum.
The British Museum
also offers an excellent online
guided tour that explores how the key scenes from the Trojan
War were depicted on Greek vases from the museum's permanent collection.
(Discus-thrower). c. 450 BCE 154.94 cm
Marble Carving Vatican Museums.
The first Olympic Games were held in 776 B.C.E. and were just
one part of a religious festival honoring Zeus, the most important
god in the Greek pantheon. It featured only one event, the stade-a
run of approximately 210 yards. Soon, the Games included more
events and were held every four years until 393 C.E. when they
were abolished by Christian emperor Theodosius I for their pagan
influences. 1500 years later the Olympic Games were revitalized
by Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin.
This year marks the
28th year of the modern Olympics. It is also the first time the
Olympics have been held in Greece since 1896 when Athens was the
site of the first modern Games.
Several museums are
planning exhibits to highlight works of art from their collections
that convey the importance of the Games in ancient Greek life.
British Museum, London
of Art, New York City
"From the Games at
June 29, 2004-October 3, 2004
Museum of Fine Arts,
for the Gods: The Greek Athlete and the Olympic Spirit"
July 21-November 28, 2004
about ancient Greek Art and the Olympic Games:
in Ancient Greece ,Metropolitan Museum of Art
Olympics (A Special Exhibit of the Perseus Digital Library
J. Paul Getty Museum
Ancient Olympic Games : [2nd edition] by Judith Swaddling
Greeks: Crucible of Civilization
2004 Olympic Games