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Religion and Death
Greek Religion

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 her naked.
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
MS 5462
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
MS 4026
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)

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