Hellados Paideusin-The School of the Greeks

Sun Mar 29 21:37:26 2009

“I say that Athens is the school of Hellas, and that the individual Athenian in his own person seems to have the power of adapting himself to the most varied forms of action with the utmost versatility and grace. … And we shall assuredly not be without witnesses; there are mighty monuments of our power which will make us the wonder of this and of succeeding ages.”

Pericles’ Funeral Oration from the winter of 431/430 BCE (Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 2.41.1-4 )

Athens in the age of Pericles was not only the dominant economic and military power in the Greek world but also its cultural center as well. Scholars, artisans and craftsmen throughout the Greek world flocked to Athens to build, design, teach and sell their wares. The Athenian cultural accomplishments of this and the following generations were staggering.

Pericles is perhaps best know for his lavish building projects. He rebuilt the city walls of Athens and built the long walls between Athens and Piraeus. On the Acropolis he added the architectural masterpieces: the Propylaea, the Parthenon, the Temple of Olypian Zeus and rebuilt other shrines and temples that had been destroyed during the Persian invasion.

To decorate these new buildings he employed some of the most talented artists of the Greek world including Phidias and Myron. Phidias was considered to be the best of all the Greek sculptors and is known particularly for large bronze statues especially the massive thirty foot Athena Promachos and the Athena Lemnia as well as the chryselephantine (gold and ivory) Athena Parthenos which were all located on the Acropolis. “In his works, Phidias is justly considered to have been the first to reveal the potential of sculpture.” (Pliny Natural History 34.54) Myron came to Athens from Eleutherae and was “the first sculptor to have extended the scope of realism; there was more harmony in his art…and he exercised more care with regard to proportions. Yet Myron took pains in his representation of the body, he did not express the feelings of the mind.” (Pliny Natural History 34.58)

Even small scale arts and crafts flourished. The white-ground technique of ceramics was popular in Athens at this time. It provides more subtle detail than either red or black-ground techniques and a greater range of colors. It was used to decorate small lekythos and other funerary vessels.

The liberal arts also achieved great prominence in this period. Democratic institutions placed a premium on the ability to speak well and convincingly. This lead to a flourishing of the arts of rhetoric and oratory, with Pericles himself as a notable practitioner, as well as many related arts. Logographers like Lysias provided assistance with legal and judicial speaking. Sophists, like Protagoras, Gorgias, Hippias and Thrasymachus, taught the art of persuasion and virtue. Both the Sophists and the Logographers commanded high fees and many became quite wealthy. Philosophers, including Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Democritus and Empedocles, speculated about the nature of world and historians Herodotus and Thucydides chronicled the great wars and deeds of the era. Perhaps the most important of these spoken arts was the theater. Pericles promoted the theater as a source of moral instruction. In this period the theater went through dramatic changes and some of its greatest works were produced by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides in tragedy, and somewhat later, Aristophanes in comedy.

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~ by severalfourmany on March 29, 2009.

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