Thursday, November 13, 2014


Greek art was the basis for most Western art and went through several artistic periods. The earliest works of Ancient Greek art were influenced by that of Ancient Egypt. You can see this in paintings where figures are shown in their profile rather than looking straight ahead. Greek art styles spread as they conquered more lands.  It influenced other artistic styles from the Romans to the Japanese and everyone in between, thanks to Alexander the Great and his crew.

Next came Byzantine art, a period starting from about the 5th century and lasting until the collapse of Constantinople in 1453. This period of art still held on to a lot of classical themes, but it focused on glorifying and paying homage to God and other holy figures. Following this was a school of icon painting called the Cretan School, named after its popularity on the island of Crete.

Most Greek artists didn’t have much opportunity to study art while they were under Ottoman occupation, so many of them chose to study abroad. At this time during the 19th century, Munich was one of the centers for artistic study, and many Greek students went there to study. Upon coming back to Greece, they started the Greek Munich School to pass on the things they learned to the next generation of artists. Among some of the top names to come out of this generation are Theodoros Vryzakis, Nikiphoros Lytras, Georgios Jakobides, Georgios Roilos, and Konstantinos Volanakis.

"Grandma's Favorite" by Georgios Jakobides

Greek artists continued to draw influences from other art capitals of Europe throughout the 20th century, such as Paris and Rome.  French Impressionism was especially popular among Greek artists.  Other acclaimed artists who made their mark during the 20th century include Constantine Andreou (painter, sculptor), Thodoros Papadimitriou (sculptor), Giorgio de Chirico (painter, founded Metaphysical art), Jannis Kounellis (influential in Arte Povera movement), Theodoros Stamos (abstract expressionist painter), and Constantin Xenakis (kinetic sculpture).

Constantin Xenakis
Greek literature is written in Greek, and its beginnings are generally attributed to Homer’s timeless classics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Poetry was also highly regarded, and poets such as Sappho and Pindar are two of the most well known.  Historians, such as Herodotus and Thucycides, were instrumental in creating chronicles highlighting important events in Greek history. Most notably, philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had such an influence on prevailing thought at the time that they are still highly revered and studied today.  Scientific studies and treatises were also being written, Hippocrates being the most well known.  He’s also the namesake of the term “Hippocratic Oath,” which basically holds doctors and medical staff to swear an oath that they will uphold specific ethics in their work. 

Athens became the center for thought, education, the arts, and of course, literature.  Greek literature is essentially divided into the three main eras: Ancient Greek literature (before 350AD), Byzantine literature (about 290-1453), and Modern Greek literature (1453-today). It’s a little weird to think of the “modern” era starting over 550 years ago!

Ancient Greek literature was pretty diverse as far as types of literature. Of course, poetry was always popular, as was drama.  Both tragedies and comedies were becoming quite the thing, and many new plays were being written and performed. Translations of the Bible into Greek were also being written for the first time during this period.  The Byzantine era was more or less a transitional period, although encyclopedias were brought to the forefront during this period.

An early transcription of the New Testament called "Papyrus 46."

Most of the literature written during the Modern Greek period was written using the Modern Greek language. Poetry and dramas are still being written during this time. Literature became influenced by Italian trends in literature and philosophy as well as other European trends. As Greece moved toward independence, literature took a more nationalistic turn.  Kostis Palamis was considered the “national” poet. Many writers, novelists, poets, and playwrights have emerged throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Many have won awards and prizes for their works, including Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis who are the only two Greeks to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (Seferis in 1963 and Elysis in 1979).

Giorgos Seferis
Of course, there have been many books written about Greece, or take place in Greece, or are based on earlier Greek plays and epic poems and mythology. “Jason and the Argonauts” is one Greek myth that has been remade as movies and TV series several times. Greek mythology is the basis of many stories and references in other works. Some of the most familiar gods (and many are copied in Roman mythology) who are the subjects of fables and mentioned in lyrics are known around the world: Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Dionysus, Hades, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Poseidon, Zeus. There are many classifications of minor gods and demigods, and important mortals; it’s a huge list. One of my favorite books –and I’m not necessarily a romance genre lover– is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, which takes place on the Greek island of Cephallonia during the German and Italian occupation during WWII. 

Up next: music and dance

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