FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How I Fell in Love With Greek Art

The Francois Krater: Archaeological Museum of Florence. This valuable and beautiful vase was painted by Kleitias and made by potter Ergotimos, about 570 BCE. Kleitias painted miniatures of great mythical-historical events in the life of the Greeks. Photo: Wikipedia.

I rarely paid attention to images or pictures. My focus was always the written word. My mind built the gods, heroes, and material artifacts, including temples and the Parthenon. I had to do that because the country of my birth, Greece, in the twentieth century, was largely without the statues of ancient Greek gods and heroes or the temples built to honor the gods.

Greek art in Greece and America

Certainly, Greek museums are full of ancient Greek treasures, including statues of gods and heroes. But step outside the museums and you are in a desert decorated by Christian churches built for the most part on the ruins of temples.

The first time I visited the Acropolis was when I left Greece for the United States.

My historical studies enriched my knowledge and understanding of Homer and the Greeks. I have been proud Greece is the birthplace of Western civilization.

However, my working experience at the US Environmental Protection Agency shocked me so much I began having doubts Greek influence was more than a lipstick in America.

Yes, several museums in America, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Getty Villa in California, have exquisite collections of Greek art. But what did these largely stolen goods do in shaping public opinion and forming a character befitting a civilized country?

Nevertheless, Greek art in America has had some influence in architecture and in the appreciation of the good and the beautiful. When, in 1974, I first saw the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Senate and House office buildings in Washington, DC, I had the sensation I was vising Athens in the fifth century BCE.

It took years of dealing with reality – the world as is — before that sensation, like a cloud in the bright Sun, dissipated into the chaos of America the New Rome. It also took more years for me to turn to the archaeological images of ancient Greece I came to love.

Self-discovery

This was a process of self-education and reflection, my frequent visits of museums and archaeological sites. I kept taking  pictures. I kept admiring the pictures in art history books. I even had the audacity of reviewing the great art history books of Oxford University professor John Boardman, the foremost Greek art historian of the planet.

The Greeks, Boardman says, influenced civilizations from China to Peru. Art was the weapon of choice. Greek art “had something of the character of a virus in antiquity.”

But to appreciate why Greek art was so powerful, Boardman says, one has to understand it in Greek terms, namely understanding the society that created it.

The Greeks created art for the satisfaction of their esthetic, metaphysical, and practical needs, quite independently from Assyrian or Egyptian influences. They were obsessed with the idea of the good and the beautiful. Could something be good but not beautiful? What was the connection between the good and the beautiful? The Greeks incorporated that passion in their crafts and art.

Ceramic iconography

The potter, the humble craftsman of soil and dreams, created a tremendous variety of vases, cups, mixing bowls and storage jars for everyday use. He painted the surface of his ceramic pots, telling stories of wine and roses, ivy and grape leaves, and the god of wine, Dionysos; giving impressions about the fashionable and desirable in his society.

He drew his images from the past and his personal experience: the poetry of Homer and mythology, the athletic and religious celebrations of the Greeks, the numerous festivals, and the beauties of the natural world.

For example: In 1844, an enterprising man named Alessandro Francois discovered fragments of a large krater (vase) near Florence. This was a black-figure vase constructed in Athens at approximately 570 BCE by the potter Ergotimos and the painter Kleitias.

The beauty of the Francois Vase is that it’s like a brief illustrated history of Greece: its paintings send us to Homer, the Olympics, and myths.

One looks at the Trojan War hero Ajax carrying the body of the dead Achilles. Homer becomes alive. The greatest Greek hero, Achilles, fulfilled his wish to die young but live in the memory of men and women forever.  Or the chariot race from the Olympics flashes into the mind the intensity of the competition and the triumph of victory hovering over the lucky charioteer: the excitement of the greatest Greek spectacle and struggle of all times becomes as real as possible.

A computer of heavens and Earth

Writing my book on the Greek computer also opened the doors slightly more to the fascinating and gorgeous world of Greek art.

The computer is dated from the second century BCE. It’s a mind-boggling example of scientific technology. I had to have the images of its fragments so I would be better able to understand what that device did and why.

I started my investigation in 2007 and I am still looking for reasons of how and why the Greeks embarked on so difficult but satisfying project – the equivalent of going to the moon.

I started from the gods of science and technology: Metis, Athena and Hephaistos. They were the models of intelligence and craftsmanship.

I continued with philosophers like Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle; scientists and mathematicians like Euclid and Archimedes; and astronomers like Aristarchos of Samos, Hipparchos and Ptolemaios. They codified cosmological, mathematical and engineering knowledge.

At each step of this intellectual adventure I found images that glued the text in more solid foundations. Each image brought me back to the origins of Greek thought and technology.

Craftsmanship was more than technical stuff. It was a process of the good and the beautiful, all mixed up with scientific technology. It was art.

That’s how I fell in love with Greek art.

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
February 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Timothy M. Gill
Why is the Venezuelan Government Rejecting U.S. Food Supplies?
John Pilger
The War on Venezuela is Built on Lies
Andrew Levine
Ilhan Omar Owes No Apologies, Apologies Are Owed Her
Jeffrey St. Clair
That Magic Feeling: the Strange Mystique of Bernie Sanders
David Rosen
Will Venezuela Crisis Split Democrats?
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump’s National Emergency Is The Exact Same As Barack Obama’s National Emergency
Paul Street
Buried Alive: The Story of Chicago Police State Racism
Rob Seimetz
Imagined Communities and Omitting Carbon Emissions: Shifting the Discussion On Climate Change
Ramzy Baroud
Russian Mediation: The Critical Messages of the Hamas-Fatah Talks in Moscow
Michael Welton
Dreaming Their Sweet Dreams: a Peace to End Peace
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming’s Monster Awakens
Huma Yasin
Chris Christie Spins a Story, Once Again
Ron Jacobs
Twenty-First Century Indian Wars
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Venezuela: a Long History of Hostility
Lance Olsen
Climate and Money: a Tale of Two Accounts
Louis Proyect
El Chapo and the Path Taken
Fred Gardner
“She’s Willie Brown’s Protogé!” The Rise of Kamala Harris
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Biomass is Not “Green”: an Interview With Josh Schlossberg
John Feffer
Answering Attacks on the Green New Deal
W. T. Whitney
US Racism and Imperialism Fuel Turbulence in Haiti
Kim Ives
How Trump’s Attacks on Venezuela Sparked a Revolution in Haiti
Mike Ferner
What War Films Never Show You
Lawrence Wittner
Should the U.S. Government Abide by the International Law It Has Created and Claims to Uphold?
James Graham
A Slow Motion Striptease in France
Dave Lindorff
Could Sanders 2.0 Win It All, Getting the Democratic Nomination and Defeating Trump?
Jill Richardson
Take It From Me, Addiction Doesn’t Start at the Border
Yves Engler
Canada and the Venezuela Coup Attempt
Tracey L. Rogers
We Need a New Standard for When Politicians Should Step Down
Gary Leupp
The Sounds of Silence
Dan Bacher
Appeals Court Rejects Big Oil’s Lawsuit Against L.A. Youth Groups, City of Los Angeles
Robert Koehler
Are You White, Black or Human?
Ralph Nader
What are Torts? They’re Everywhere!
Cesar Chelala
The Blue Angel and JFK: One Night in Camelot
Sarah Schulz
Immigrants Aren’t the Emergency, Naked Capitalism Is
James Campbell
In the Arctic Refuge, a Life Force Hangs in the Balance
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Corregidor’s Iconography of Empire
Jonah Raskin
The Muckraking Novelist Dashiell Hammett: A Red Literary Harvest
Kim C. Domenico
Revolutionary Art and the Redemption of the Local
Paul Buhle
Life and Crime in Blue Collar Rhode Island
Eugene Schulman
J’Accuse!
Nicky Reid
Zionists are the Most Precious Snowflakes
Jim Goodman
The Green New Deal Outlines the Change Society Needs
Thomas Knapp
Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die
February 21, 2019
Nick Pemberton
Israel, Venezuela and Nationalism In The Neoliberal Era
Chris Orlet
The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Fair Taxation Scaremongering Tour
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail