6: Ancient Greece


Greek Colonies
550 BCE
Greek colonies in blue


  • To outline the changes in Greek social, political, and economic organization that took Greek culture from the Iron Age (c. 110 B.C.E.) to the Archaic Period (c. 600 B.C.E.).
  • To trace the development of visual arts from the Iron Age through the Archaic Period.
  • To identify the major characteristics of the Heroic Age (1100–750 B.C.E.),
    the Age of Colonization (750–600 B.C.E.) and the Archaic Period (600–450 B.C.E.).
  • To describe the impact of the Persian Wars on Athenian history.
  • Know and understand the significance of the artistic works Kritios Boy, and the Iliad.
  • Know the contributions of Herodotus, Homer, and the Presocratics, especially Pythagoras.
  • Know the terms philosophy, kouros, kore, relief, polis, and ethos.

I. Historical Context

  • Three divisions of Early Greek history
    • Heroic Age
    • Age of Colonization
    • Archaic Period

II. Politics

  • The Heroic Age, 1000-750 BCE
    • Organized into city-states = polis
    • Colonies
    • Isolated from each other

  • The Age of Colonization, 750-600 BCE
    • Wealth and overpopulation of city-states
    • Competition between city-states for status
    • Founding colonies in Italy, Sicily, Egypt, and Asia Minor

  • The Archaic Period, 600-480 BCE
    • Tyrants = rulers, nothing negative
    • Sponsors of the arts
    • Wanted to improve the city-state

III. Early Greek Proto-Religion

  • Polytheistic
  • Contradictory stories about the gods
  • Religious narratives part of culture through stories
  • City–States had a select god or goddess they favored
  • Diversity of gods reflects diversity of needs in Greek communities

IV. Key Texts

  • Most significant author of the Heroic Age is Homer
    • Mysterious identity
    • Two epic poems - The Iliad and The Odyssey
    • Use of epithets (descriptive adjectives applied to characters) and elaborate similes
  • A. The Iliad
    • Theme: Human responsibility
    • Characters: Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Patroclus, and Priam
    • Problem: Agamemnon takes Achilles’ prize and Achilles refuses to fight in the Trojan War
    • Solution: The gods intervene
    • Moral lessons: Achilles shows independence of thought, which has both positive and negative consequences
  • B. The Odyssey
    • Theme: The return of the epic hero
    • Characters: Odysseus, Telemachus, Penelope, a Cyclops, and Calypso
    • Problem: Odysseus struggles to return home
    • Solution: The gods and some wealthy royals intervene
    • Moral lessons: Odysseus is highly intelligent, which must be tempered with humility
  • C. Heroic vs. Lyric Verse
    • Lyric Verse - personal feelings
    • Heroic Verse - epic stories about heroes like The Iliad and The Odyssey
    • Sappho - first woman poet to write Lyric Verse

V. The Arts

  • A. Art in the Heroic Age
    • Focus on art because little else survives
    • The Meander - geometric maze pattern painted on pottery
    • Human forms painted as early as 800 BCE
    • The Amphora - huge vases set over tombs to collect offerings
  • B. Art in the Age of Colonization
    • As Greek colonies spread, they took on traits of the cultures around them
    • Sphinxes
    • Winged human figures
    • Floral designs
    • Regional Art
      • Corinth - vases, commercially successful, huge profits and power
      • Athens - narrative style depicting stories from everyday life and myth
    • The Beginnings of Greek Sculpture
      • Heavily influenced by Egyptian Cult Statues and Asia Minor
      • Kore - a style of statue, standing female figure 6th century BCE
      • Kouros - a style of statue, standing male nude figure 600 BCE
  • C. Art in the Archaic Age
  • D. Music and Dance in Early Greece
    • Music is very important in ancient Greek culture
    • Doctrine of ethos - music isn’t just music, it affects human behavior
    • Greek Modes - scale of music (series of notes) that makes you feel a certain way

VI. Key Ideas (Philosophy in Ancient Greece)

  • A. Pre-Socratics: Materialists
    • Thales of Miletus - water is core element
    • Anaximenes - air is core element
    • Empedocles - four elements (earth, air, fire, and water)
  • B. Pre-Socratics: Atomists
    • Anaxagoras - small particles make up all things
    • Leucippus and Democritus - reality consists of indivisible "atoms"
  • C. Pre-Socratics: Pythagoras
    • Musical theory, mathematics, ethics
  • D. Other Pre-Socratics
    • Heraclitus - 2 separate universes, ours is in constant change
    • Parmenides - reality is unchanging, change is an illusion
    • Not many beliefs held in common...
      • Ad hoc stories are insufficient explanations of the world
      • They focused on the nature of reality
      • They used reason and observation

VII. Contributions

  • The Greek epics - the Iliad and the Odyssey
  • The Father of History - Herodotus