The Recurring Relevance of Classical Greece

a photoessay by Bobby Andrews, B.A.

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PROGENITOR (noun) \prō-ˈje-nə-tər, prə-\
a) someone who first thinks of or does something, or a person who begins something,
b) something that is a model for something else - that begins the development of something else.
— Merriam Webster Dictionary

I daresay the Ancient Greeks are our own progenitors - yours and mine alike.  To know who you are it is important to know where you have been, or at least where you come from.  Today's cultural and political sphere is based on thousands of years of ideological and technological advancements that are hidden from plain view.  With a glimpse into ancient greece the average person gets many 'a-ha' moments.  A sense of depth and connectivity to others. It is well worth your time to inject into your mental faculty a space for the time stretching back to ancient greece.  Relevant because of its major advancements in all spheres, and the slight blueprint time has graciously preserved in ruins, and lore.  Certainly our origins stretch much further back than ancient greece and its pre-history, but this was the beginning of a modern and civilized world - aberrations aside.  Within the following page you will find a photographic journal that demonstrates, hopefully accurately, major archaeological and artifact remains of ancient greece, and it's pre-historical period.  I hope you can feel a kinship with our progenitors, and let that inspire you.

Classical Greece:  Context and Relevance

If you question whether the ancient greeks, or any human civilization, is connected to you then consider the following chart.  The grey box spatially represents in time the key dates numbered #9-#23 below.  The main contention is that ancient Athens isn't so ancient.  Every human being alive today is closely intertwined in a very short period of major technological and political advancement that our ancient Greek forebears clearly experienced. 

If that doesn't convince you of our connectivity then consider that everyone alive today likely "shares a common ancestor between 2,000 and 5,000 years ago".  Yes everyone. ( 1 )

Humanhistoryscaledtoaline
  1. Evidence of at least 18 species of humans stretches back approximately 6 million years,
  2. Modern humans are the last surviving human species (homo sapiens), and we have shared earth with at least 3 other human species in the past,
  3. 2.6 million years ago - humans use small stone flakes as tools,
  4. 1.9 million years ago - our human relatives (homo erectus) are fully bipedal (upright),
  5. 1.7 million years ago - stone is used to make large axes,
  6. 790,000 years ago - humans begin controlling fire and cooking food,
  7. 500,000 years ago - hunting large animals with spears begins,
  8. 400,000 years ago - earliest known human shelter is constructed,
  9. 100,000 years ago - major advancements in tool materials (ivory, bone, antler); jewelry is worn for identity; burials of the dead begin,
  10. 80,000 years ago - homo sapiens migrate from Africa into Asia,
  11. 74,000 years ago - humans are nearly extinct due to extreme climate fluctuations; only 10,000 adults of reproductive age in existence,
  12. 60,000 years ago - humans begin painting and creating figurines,
  13. 50,000 years ago - homo sapiens migrate into Australia,
  14. 40,000 years ago - homo sapiens migrate into Europe and share territory with Neanderthals,
  15. 28,000 years ago - human species Neanderthal goes extinct,
  16. 15,000 years ago - humans migrate into the Americas,
  17. 12,000 years ago - a revolution in Agriculture begins as humans learn to domesticate animals and grow their own food leading to the establishment of villages, specialized crafts, and an increase in population,
  18. 10,000 years ago - Cows are domesticated and the first cities are founded in modern day Turkey and Jericho,
  19. 5,600 years ago - Horses are domesticated,
  20. 3,400 years ago - Athens is founded,
  21. 3,100 years ago - Xi'an is founded,
  22. 2,700 years ago - Rome is founded,
  23. 2,014 years ago - Christ founds Christianity

The above dates are provided by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and I recommend visiting there website to view a great visual of the human family tree.  Click here, (2).


Ancient Greek Pre-history

The traditional date for establishing the beginning of ancient Greek civilization is the first olympic games in 776 BC.  Yet, more historians date the founding of ancient Greece closer to 1000 BC when the Mycenaen civilization mysteriously collapsed shortly after the Battle of Troy (approximately 1100 BC).  Two great civilizations preceded the ancient greeks - the Mycenaens (1600 - 1100 BC), and the the Minoans (2700 - 1450 BC) - and both greatly contributed to the Greek character.  In particular the Mycenaens who helped establish the 12 Olympian Gods of ancient Greece in the era known as the Heroic Age - names of heros like Perseus, Theseus, Achilles, Hector,  and Hercules were well known in ancient Greece and contributed to the identity of being a Greek - captured in vivid poetry by the great, and blind, poet Homer.  Homer played a major role in ancient Greece by taking a traditional oral story of Troy and placing it into a written language - an invention of identity. 

Sing, O muse, of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans [greeks].
— Homer, The Iliad

Photo 1.  The rear gate and ruins of ancient Mycenae.

Mycenae, Greece, 2014.

Photo 2. The King's view of the Argolic gulf from the palatial grounds.

Mycenae, Greece, 2014.

Photo 3.  The famed Lion's Gate framed by cyclopedian walls.

Mycenae, Greece, 2014.

Photo 4. The beehive shaped 'tholos' tomb of Queen Clytemnestra, wife of the famed King Agamemnon who angered Achilles at the Battle of Troy. 

Mycenae, Greece, 2014.

Photo 5. Archaeologists work on repairing the "mighty walls of Tiryns" fabled to be built by a Cyclops, and the birthplace of Heracles (Hercules). 

Tiryns, Greece, 2014.

Photo 6.  One of five recovered Mycenaen funerary masks crafted out of gold.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 7.  Several bronze swords from the Mycenaen civilization that was built on conquest and constant wars - artifacts of a warrior aristocracy. 

National Archaeological Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 8.  A Mycenaen boar's tusk helmet as described in Homer's Iliad. 

National Archaeological Museum, Athens, 2014.

Ancient Greece

The traditional date for ancient Greece is from the first Olympic Games (776 BC) until the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC).  Yet, many historians today extend the dating from the fall of the Mycenaen Civilization (1000 BC) until the institutional rooting of Christianity (approximately 200 AD).  That aside, it is the 200 year period of classical greece (510 BC- 323 AD) when this civilization hit its peak and made its mark as one of the humanity's greatest.  During the period it was the various city-states that dominated ancient greek political and cultural identity. 

Photo 9. The photo shown here captures the space used by the ancient Athenians.  The large defensive hill on the right is called Acropolis and contains the major existing architecture including the celebrated Parthenon.  The foreground is what remains of the ancient Agora (market) where commerce and daily public life took place.  Compared to the ruins of other ancient greek city-states, like Corinth and Sparta, Athens is relatively well preserved and generates an outstanding impression. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 10.  "Porch of the Caryatids" overlooking Athens from the Acropolis - built during the classical period in honor of the patron goddess of Athens - Athena. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 11.  View of the south side of the Acropolis showing the top of the Parthenon. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 12. The colossal temple ruins of the Olympieion.

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 13. The Temple of Hephaestus in the ancient agora of Athens is built in the Doric style.  The frieze above the columns depicts the Greek Heroes Theseus and Heracles (Hercules). 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 14. Ruins of the ancient Greek Agora (market/public space).

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 15. The Temple of Apollo ruins at the ancient Greek city of Corinth.

Corinth, Greece, 2014.

Photo 16. Ruins of an ancient Greek theatre at the city of Argos. 

Argos, Greece, 2014.

Photo 17.  Ruins of a large theatre within the ancient greek sanctuary of Asclepius - god of medicine.

Epidaurus, Greece, 2014.

Photo 18.  Archaeological ruins of the important Aegean based greek city of Delos.  This Aegean island is the traditional birthplace of the Olympian God Apollo - also known as the God of the Sun.

Delos, Greece, 2014.  

Photo 19.  The Temple of Apollo at the ancient Greek sanctuary of Delphi. 

Delphi, Greece, 2014.

Photo 20.  Ancient Greek Sanctuary that exerted major influence over the fate of Greece through a Priestess that uttered Oracles - thought to be be advice from the God Apollo. 

Delphi, Greece, 2014.

Photo 21.  The Delphi Temple of Apollo ruins in the mountains of Greece. 

Delphi, Greece, 2014.

Architecture - Building for scale

The architecture left behind by the ancient greeks leaves one with a hair raising impression.  The size and symmetry of the temples, theatres, and other public buildings are greatly celebrated and live up to their reputation.  Today many ruins are spread across the Aegean, in relatively good condition, that exemplify the three main orders of greek architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.  The influence of these buildings extends beyond the ancient greek period due to renewed discovery and interest in classicism, particularly during the renaissance (14c - 17c AD).

Photo 22.  People standing at the entrance of the temple show the scale of ancient greek architecture. 

Delphi, Greece, 2014.

Photo 23.  Ruins of another temple dedicated to the God Apollo with two people at left illustrating the scale. 

Corinth, Greece, 2014.

Photo 24. A man walking towards the ruins of Olympieion shows us why they are described as colossal.  This was a temple dedicated to the olympian god Zeus and begun by the pre-democratic Athenian Tyrants. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 25.  An ancient Greek theatre nestled high in the mountains.  Greek theatres were open air without a stage. 

Delphi, Greece, 2014.

The Greek Language

One of the most important contributions made by the ancient greeks was the establishment of a written language.  The Mycenaen and Minoan civilizations had written symbols for administrative purposes (linear B, and linear A respectively) but it was the founding of an ancient greek alphabet and it's ability to expand on phonetics that revolutionized communication.  Nearly all words of Latin languages (english, french, spanish) have an etymological origin in Greek.  From the work of Homer (ancient greek), to Lucretius (latin), to Dante (Italian), to Shakespeare (English), to your child's grammar class the written language has followed us.

Photo 26.  The Minoan Phaistos Disc is a precursor to the Greek alphabet but has yet to be interpreted (1850-1600 BC). 

Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete, 2014. 

Photo 27.  Burned Minoan tablets preserved linear b script - adopted by the Mycenaens for writing their ancient form of the Greek language.

Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete, 2014.

Photo 28.  A Greek stele shows the written form of ancient greek language .   Derived from an ancient phoenician alphabet it was the first to use letters for both vowels and consonants. 

Acropolis Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 29.  The Greek written alphabet chiseled into marble ruins atop of Acropolis.  The symbols also represent concepts like 'Alpha', and 'Omega' and are used widely in mathematics.

Athens, Greece, 2014.

The Gods, and Mythology

There are several disadvantages to a modern mind trying to understand the Gods of ancient Greece.  Most difficult is that our own conceptions of monotheistic religious Gods (ie. Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are highly misleading.  The mythological stories we have of the Greek Gods are often amusing to the modern mind because they show the Gods as a fighting family more than a divine source of all that is good - a Judeo-Christian view.  I'll defer to a nice explanation on the nature of the Greek Gods by John Gaskin, a professor of naturalistic philosophy at Trinity College Dublin.  Here he explains to us the ancient Greek conception of their Gods by saying what they are not.

Men are mortal, were born and will die. Only gods are immortal, but not even they are eternal. What is eternal never came into existence and will never go out of existence. But in some way the gods were ‘born’. They came into existence as part of the natural universe, but they will not go out of existence, and they interfere in human affairs. They are, moreover, not moral archetypes. They are like a big, powerful, partly democratic, sometimes quarrelsome, generally happy human family.
....
So, in sum, unlike Christian or Islamic monotheism, classical polytheism saw its divinities as beings who:

1) were part of the universe,
2) did not grant everlasting life in exchange for belief in them,
3) made no claim to exclude other divinities (there was, therefore, no problem of religious toleration),
4) embodied a religion that required no national or international uniformity and had no sacred text with divine authority,
5) had no absolute evil being - no Satan - in their pantheon of gods.
— John Gaskin - The Traveller's Guide to Classical Philosophy, p.54, 158

Photo 30.  West pediment sculpture from the Temple of Zeus depicting the God Apollo with outstretched arm, and the centaur myth. 

Olympia, Greece, 2014.

Photo 31. The Temple of Zeus that housed one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

Olympia, Greece, 2014.

Photo 32.  Sculpture of Olympian God Hermes holding a baby Dionysus - God of Wine.

Olympia, Greece, 2014.

Photo 33. Figurine of a satyr - a companion of the Olympian God Dionysus, and a symbol of pleasure. 

Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, 2014.

Photo 34.  Ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Delion situated with a view to neighboring island Delos - the birthplace of the God Apollo.  This Temple was constructed in the early Archaic period (8th-9th c. BC).

Paros, Greece, 2014.

Photo 35. Ancient Greek gorgon statue.  The Gorgon is a mythological creature and Medusa - slain by Perseus - is the most famous.

Paros, Greece, 2014.

Photo 36.  Ancient Greek Sphynx characterized by a lion body, great wings, and a female head.  Mythology says that it was ferocious, and asked a riddle that had to be answered correctly or death ensued.

Olympia Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 37. A dilapidated Greek Sphynx statue.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 38. The Erechtheion built during the classical period on top of Acropolis - dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 39.  The Artemision bronze statue depicting either Olympian God Zeus or Poseidon. 

National Archaeological Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 40.  A statue of the goddess Nike - wings lost to time.

National Archaeolocial Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 41.  A room of Greek statues at the National Archaeological Museum.

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 42.  A marble engraving depicting Nike with her wings. 

Acropolis Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 43.  The Temple of Athena Nike built 420 BC.  The  Athenians built this temple in the hopes of a victorious outcome in their war against Sparta during the Peloponnesian Wars.

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 44.  Sculpture of Nike from the Temple of Zeus. 

Olympia, Greece, 2014.

Photo 45.  Three Tritons, known as messengers of the sea, standing in the ancient Greek Agora.  Mythology describes the Triton as a son of the Olympic God Poseidon and anatomically half man, half fish.

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 46. A statue of the ancient Greek God Pan.  Mythology describes Pan as the God of the wild and a symbol for fertility, the season of spring, and theatre. 

Cycladic Art Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 47.  A statue depicting the fabled Cretan Minotaur.  Mythology describes the Minotaur as a half man and half bull that hunted humans in a maze.  Legend has is that Theseus, the heroic founder of Athens, slayed the Minotaur. 

National Archaeological Museum, Athens, 2014. 

Photo 48. A marble statue depicting the hero Heracles with his symbolic lion cloak and club. 

Archaeological Museum of Mykonos, Greece, 2014.

Trade, Commerce, and Craft

The Aegean has proved to be an important hub for human history, and trade has been rampant there between extremely different groups of people for millenia.  The ancient Greeks were well established throughout the region and trading their wares with distinct civilizations in Egypt, Asia-Minor, Etrusca, Cyprus, and others.  Traded goods included agricultural products, pottery, wine, precious metals, and textiles.  The movement of goods, and people, meant the movement of ideas and ancient Greece absorbed much of the regions influences.

Photo 49. A marble engraving of an ancient Greek trireme.

Acropolis Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 50. Model of an ancient Greek trireme showing the rower's space. 

Acropolis Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 51. Ancient Greek pottery from the geometric period.

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 52. Large amphora vase depicting the wooden horse story at the Battle of Troy. 

Mykonos Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 53. Early geometric period pottery is characterized by the simple and pleasing linear design.

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 54.  Large amphora vase.  Many pottery artifacts such as this one were dedications to the Gods, and for funeral purposes.

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 55. Pottery detail likely depicting the primordial goddess of earth Gaia. 

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 56. Pottery detail of a funerary procession and charioteers with figure eight shields. 

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 57.  Horses were an important part of ancient Greek life. 

Cycladic Art Museum, greece, 2014.

Photo 58.  Pottery was a major industry in ancient Greece with major competition between Athens and Corinth. 

Corinth Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 59.  Port of Naxos, Greece in the Aegean Sea.  Naxos was one of the major sources of marble used throughout ancient Greece.  Although It's neighboring island Paros, Greece likely exceeded its reputation in marble quality.

Naxos, Greece, 2014.

Photo 60.  A mineshaft of an ancient Greek marble mine that harvested reputable Parian marble. 

Paros, Greece, 2014.

Photo 61. Two archaic period Kouros - characterized by the left foot forward, and hands at the side.  Kouros were male representations of the ideal of youth, and used as tributes to the Gods in the archaic period (800 - 480 BC).  

Olympia, Greece, 2014.

Photo 62.  Three of twelve original squatting marble lions remain outside at the ruins of Delos.  Delos was an important Aegean port in ancient Greece as the mythological birthplace of Apollo, and the treasury of the Delian League headed by Athens in an attempt to defend Greece against the invading Persians.

Delos, Greece, 2014.

Photo 63. Marble frieze from the Parthenon depicting the Panathenaic procession held every four years. 

Acropolis Museum, Athens, 2014.

Photo 64. Detail from the Parthenon frieze. 

Acropolis Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 65. Marble detail of four horses abreast.

Delphi, Greece, 2014.

Photo 66. A marble frieze of the Siphian Treasury at the Delphi sanctuary depicting the Olympian Gods in battle with Giants - known as the Gigantomachy.

Delphi, Greece, 2014.

Photo 67. Gigantomachy depicted in marble frieze. 

Delphi, Greece, 2014.

Photo 68. Detail of marble statue.

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 69.  Sculpture depicting helmuted warrior heads of mythological Greek heroes.

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 70. Fragment of marble statue.

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 71. Large marble statute of lions eating a stag.

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 72.  Marble statue of archaic period Kore. 

National Archaeological Museum, Greece 2014.

Photo 73.  Marble bust of three females. 

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 74. Portraits of bearded men or Gods in marble.

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 75. Marble head with a streak on its face.  Likely a product of weather meeting formerly inset materials used for the eye.

National Archaeological Museum, Greece, 2014.

Photo 76.  This Doric capital is representative of one of three main architectural orders in ancient Greece.

Olympia, Greece, 2014.

Photo 77. Ionic capital - one of three architectural orders.

Olympia, Greece, 2014.

Photo 78. Corinthian capital - one of three architectural orders.

Ancient agora, Athens, 2014

Photo 79.  Statue of a Greek tragedian in front of the ancient theatre of Dionysus. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Fusion:  Modern Greece and Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece slowly lost its place as the major power center in the Aegean after the death of Alexander and that demise has been rough on the fate of these ancient citie-states.  Historically there have been multiple states controlling the fate of Ancient Greece and its main cities like Athens: Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans.  Amazingly the ancient ruins have survived in relatively good shape despite the destruction from looting, war, natural disasters and ideological differences like Christian Emperor Theodosius who destroyed the temple of Zeus at Olympia to rid of the old religion and make way for Christianity.  Increased attention from the international community over the last 150 years has led to a higher likelihood of investigating and preserving key historical artifacts for posterity. 

Ancient Athens is a particularly important center and it is quite clear from all the tourism and orderly excavations that it will be in good hands going forward.  On the surface, at least, it appears Athens of old will have a place in Athens of new.

Photo 80.  The Roman Agora catches some light below the Acropolis, bottom right.  The Romans built heavily in Athens, led primarily by the great Emperor Hadrian who sympathized with the ancient Greek traditions.

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 81.  A Venetian wall on the island of Paros made from materials of a Greek Temple.  A common fate for ancient Greek temples throughout history.

Paros, Greece, 2014.

Photo 82.  The ancient Olympieion Temple surrounded by modern Athens. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 83.  The modern Acropolis Museum is built to display ancient ruins at its foundation.  Athens and Greece has invested heavily into archaeology and wishes to be the trustee for posterity.

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 84.  A nice view of the Parthenon and Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 85.  Important artifacts that would otherwise be overexposed on Acropolis are brought to the Acropolis Museum to be preserved and on display. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 86.  The marble frieze from the Parthenon on display. 

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 87.  Five of six original Caryatids on display.

Athens, Greece, 2014.

Photo 88.  Tourism is hot in Athens. 

Acropolis, Greece, 2014

Photo 89.  The preservation of ancient Greece for posterity. 

Acropolis Museum, Greece, 2014.