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Aegean Culture and Early Greece
Transcript of Aegean Culture and Early Greece
We don't know a great deal about Greece's early days. We know that a civilization inhabited the Greek mainland and the islands in the Aegean Sea. We also know that a group of Indo-Europeans invaded and established themselves as Greeks. From this point, Greek society began to emerge.
For centuries, the principal evidence that these cultures existed was found in Homer's Greek epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Archeological discoveries confirmed the truth of Homer's words.
is an Early Bronze Age culture of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, spanning the period from approximately 3000 BC-2000 BC.
What we know about this culture comes from statuary and wall paintings.
This culture produce flat female idols carved out of the islands' pure white marble centuries before the great Middle Bronze Age and the Minoan culture arose in Crete, to the south.
arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC.
The Minoans were quite organized
and advanced. They mined copper, traded overseas, and were excellent farmers. Their culture was very rich, as well.
The Minoan religion has been described as a "
," although there is some evidence of male gods. Women are depicted as officiating religious ceremonies, and inheritance is thought to have been matrilineal.
Minoan society was focused on equality, with women participating in sports such as bull-leaping. Also, archaeological evidence suggested that even the poorest member of society was well-off, indicating that wealth was evenly distributed.
The Minoans had many deities, but there's speculation that they
may have just been aspects of one central goddess.
Women's robes were left open to the navel allowing their breasts to be left exposed.
The Minoans left behind impressive palaces. The palaces fulfilled a plethora of functions: they served as centers of government, administrative offices, shrines, workshops, and storage facilities.
Perhaps the most famous palace is located at
. Knossos most likely gave rise to the myth of the Labyrinth, an elaborate, maze-like structure built for King Minos of Crete and designed by Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull and was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus.
Odysseus and the Sirens
Circe and the Pigs
The Mycenaen culture marks the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece. It's also the historical setting of much ancient Greek literature and myth, including the epics of Homer.
The Trojan War
In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans (Greeks) after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta. The war is among the most important events in Greek mythology and was narrated in many works of Greek literature, including the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer.
The Greek Pantheon
In Greek mythology, there are twelve deities (the Olympians) in the pantheon. The Olympians gained their supremacy in a war of gods in which Zeus led his siblings to victory over the Titans.
Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hestia, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus and Hermes and later on Dionysus (who took the place of Hestia).
The Twelve Olympians
Besides Homer's epic poetry, there was also lyric poetry (sung with a lyre accompaniment, rather than chanted, as with epic). Lyric poetry flourished on the Isle of Lesbos, as best seen in the work of
Plato described Sappho as the "tenth
Muse." That's high praise.
Some of Sappho's poems:
The Archaic Period
This period of ancient Greek history follows the so-called Greek Dark Ages. This period saw the the founding of colonies, as well as the first inklings of classical philosophy and theatre in the form of tragedies.
During this time, two types of Greek vase-painting emerged:
the black figure and red figure style.
Classical and Hellenistic Greece! Oh YEAH!!
What Did They Believe?
Greek religion has fascinated people for centuries. Most of our understanding of popular Greek religious ideas come from
, who assembled the most famous Greek deities into a pantheon of gods and goddess, ruled by the sky-god Zeus on Mount Olympus.
Before Homer, Greek deities were not recognizably human. Greek deities evolved into larger-than-life figures that resembled humanity, with all its charms and flaws. This is in contrast to Mesopotamian and Egyptian pantheons.
The Role of Critical Thought
While philosophers like Socrates and his pupil Plato were critical of the myths and legends surrounding the Greek deities, popular Greek religion was strong in everyday life. People believed in demons and nymphs, the future-telling power of oracles, and in superhuman heroes kike Hercules. Greek religion would greatly influence Rome, as we'll see later.
Socrates was condemned to death for corrupting young minds and destroying faith in the Greek deities. In this work entitled The Trial of Socrates, we see Socrates teaching even as he reaches for the cup of poison hemlock.
Greeks believed in demonic creatures, such as the centaur...
...and female spirits called nymphs.
Symbols of Death
While the Venus of Willendorf symbolized
life and fertility, these Cycladic sculptures represent death. Collectively, they are known as "stiff nudes" and are characterized by a rigid posture, no arms or folded arms, no facial features except for a raised ridge for a nose, and a supernatural vulva (the distinct v shape on the statue). These small statues were mostly located in tombs.
Connection to the Goddess
For the Cycladic people, life and death were united. The stiff nudes are not symbols of despair but a reminder that life springs from death.
Snakes as Symbols
The snake is a powerful, ancient symbol, though the snake is treated as evil in many Western (certainly Christian) traditions. To the Minoans, however, as to people before them, the snake was a symbol of the life/death cycle (the shedding of its skin) energy, and power.
The Rod of Asclepius is still used
as a symbol of healing.
Palace of Knossos
la la la...
Some scholars speculate that the Grim Reaper is simply an evolved, male stiff nude.
...and the seilenoi....
Modern-Day Bull Leaping
Was the Trojan War Real?
Helen of Troy - a "face that launched a thousand ships"
*Hades is left out because he spent most of his
time in the Underworld and is therefore typically not thought of as an Olympian.
I will still devour your soul....
An example of music on a lyre
Was Sappho a Lesbian?
Evidence suggests that Sappho was married and a had a daughter, but no one knows for sure. Also, she ran a school for unmarried women, and her school was dedicated to Aphrodite and Eros, and Sappho became as famous for being a dedicated teacher as she did for her poetry.
300 years or so after her death, a play was performed that depicted Sappho as a lesbian (and a promiscuous one, at that). The image stuck in people's minds, and early Christians burned her work in 380 AD and again (under the direction of Pope Gregory VII in 1073 AD
Love in the Greek World
Keep in mind that during Sappho's time, the idea love (Eros) was very different from our current interpretation. It's also important to know that homosexuality wasn't feared and persecuted during antiquity, especially in Greek society. In fact, homosexuality wasn't a burning issue during the Middle Ages. Early Christians and the Pope may have disliked Sappho's sexual imagery and her devotion to the "pagan" goddess Aphrodite, but it's a good bet that her work wasn't destroyed because of her perceived sexual orientation.
The Greek God Eros