Art a GoGoArt Over Easy


It's All Greek to Me
by Kathleen Lang


IKTINOS & KALLIKRATES Parthenon. West facade. 447 BCE-436 BCE
Athens, Greece.
©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. But Troy 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 plays.

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 long war.

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.



Discobolos (Discus-thrower). c. 450 BCE 154.94 cm
Marble Carving Vatican Museums.
©Kathleen Cohen

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
"Olympia re-visited"

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
"From the Games at Athens"
June 29, 2004-October 3, 2004

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
"Games for the Gods: The Greek Athlete and the Olympic Spirit"
July 21-November 28, 2004


More information about ancient Greek Art and the Olympic Games:
Athletics in Ancient Greece ,Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ancient Olympics (A Special Exhibit of the Perseus Digital Library Project)

Making Greek Vases, J. Paul Getty Museum

The Ancient Olympic Games : [2nd edition] by Judith Swaddling

The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization

Athens 2004 Olympic Games


Reviews -- Features -- News -- Events -- Store
Art Links
-- About -- Home

© 2004 Art a GoGo All Rights Reserved
Questions or Comments?
Subscribe to Art a GoGo Art a GoGo Home News & Events About Art a GoGo Art Links The Buzz On Art Art A GoGo Interview Reviews & Commentary Home About Art Links Store Events News Features Reviews