Religion and Death
The ancient Greeks were a deeply religious people. They worshipped many gods
whom they believed appeared in human form and yet were endowed with superhuman
strength and ageless beauty. The Iliad and the Odyssey, our earliest surviving
examples of Greek literature, record men's interactions with various gods
and goddesses whose characters and appearances underwent little change in
the centuries that followed. The Greeks attributed these epic narratives to
Homer, a poet living at the end of the 8th century BC Each Greek city was
normally under the protection of one or more individual deities who were worshipped
with special emphasis, as, for example, Athens and the goddess Athena. While
many sanctuaries honored more than a single god, usually one deity such as
Zeus at Olympia or a closely linked pair of deities like Demeter and her daughter
Persephone at Eleusis dominated the cult place. Elsewhere in the arts, various
painted scenes on vases, and stone, terracotta and bronze sculptures portray
the major gods and goddesses. The deities are depicted either by themselves
or in traditional mythological situations in which they interact with humans
and a broad range of minor deities, demi-gods and legendary characters.
||Marble Statuette of Aphrodite, Above
Click image for interavtive viewing.
ca. 150-100 BC
Benghazi, eastern Libya
The goddess rises nude out of the sea which gave her birth, wringing the
sea water from her hair. The statuette may have been intended for display
in a pool of water, since it appears to have been cut off at the waist
as part of its original design. Aphrodite is goddess of sexuality and
erotic love, and concerned with fertility and procreation. She was also
worshipped as a goddess of the sea. Embodying perfect beauty, she appears
clothed in the major arts until the 4th century BC when her statues show
H. 32.0; L. 21.0; W. 13.5 cm. Photo courtesy Public Information Office,
Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum.
||Attic Red Figure Pyxis
ca. 400-390 BC
By the Meleager Painter
Heracles and Hebe's wedding in the presence of the gods on Mt. Olympus.
The lid of the pyxis shows Heracles leading Hebe to his house, while an
Eros or Cupid figure carries a marriage torch in front of the wedded couple.
Hebe is dressed in a white and gold chiton and himation and wears a wedding
veil which another Eros adjusts. A goddess lights the scene with a pair
of torches. Athena and Zeus sit enthroned, while Hera leans intimately
against Zeus's shoulder. A third Eros reclines against Zeus's throne next
to a high-stemmed censer for burning incense. Behind the Eros is a low,
footed chest, probably a wedding gift. Two women carry a jewel box for
the bride and a vessel containing water for her bridal bath.
H. 9.0; Dia. 21.8 cm. Photo courtesy Public Information Office, Univ.
of Pennsylvania Museum. (165k)
||Marble Head of Athena
2nd century BC
Purchased in Cairo
Athena was the daughter of Zeus and originally a Mycenaean palace goddess.
Her function later expanded to include the roles of guardian of cities,
war goddess, patroness of arts and crafts, and promoter of wisdom. She
is always shown modestly clothed and often armed. The owl is her special
bird. The back of the sculpture seems deliberately cut and at least one
rectangular hole looks ancient. This suggests that the head once formed
part of a relief. Given its size, the unfinished appearance of the top
of the helmet, and the foreshortening evident in its execution, the head
may have been part of a sculpted pediment group, perhaps originally set
up in Alexandria.
H. 30.0; W. 24.0; Th. 16.0 cm. Photo courtesy Mediterranean Section, Univ.
of Pennsylvania Museum. (66k)
© Copyright 2002