7: Hellenistic Greece


  • To outline three major periods of Greek history from 479–323 B.C.E.: Classical, Late Classical, and Hellenistic.
  • To detail the Classical Ideal and the artistic achievements of Athens.
  • To explain the impact of the Peloponnesian War.
  • To examine the significance of Athenian drama and dramatists.
  • To explore the contributions of the three most famous Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
  • To trace the rise of Macedon and the impact of Alexander the Great.
  • Know and understand the significance of the works The History of the Peloponnesian War, the Parthenon, Discobolus, and Aphrodite of Cyrene.
  • Know the contributions of Aristophanes, Sophocles, and Aristotle.

Plato and Aristotle

Key Terms

Classical Period
Peloponnesian War
Doctrine of Ethos
Discus Thrower
Aphrodite of Cyrene

I. Historical Context

  • A. The Classical Period
    • Golden Age of Greece
    • Occurs between the Persian Wars and the time of Alexander the Great
    • Artistic and Intellectual Achievement
    • Dedication to the Classical Ideal

  • B. The Classical Ideal
    • Existence can be ordered and controlled
    • Ability can triumph over chaos
    • Balance and equilibrium
    • Perfect proportion
    • Nothing in excess
    • Understanding human motivations

II. Politics


Green - Sparta & allies
Orange - Athens & allies

  • A. Pericles
    • Athens is the center of the Classical Period
    • Pericles, leader in Athens who sponsored many achievements 431-404 BCE
    • The Delian League safeguarded general defense funds
    • Athens used Delian League funds to build the Acropolis
    • Other members of the Delian League felt this proved Athens’ desire to rule them all
    • Ended when Sparta laid siege to Athens

  • B. The Peloponnesian War (Link to Map)
    • 431-404 BCE
    • The Delian League safeguarded general defense funds
    • Athens used Delian League funds to build the Acropolis
    • Other members of the Delian League felt this proved Athens’ desire to
      rule them all
    • Ended when Sparta laid siege to Athens

  • C. Late Classical Period
    • Athens no longer center of Greek Culture
    • Macedon comes to power under Phillip II
    • Phillip unifies Greece (except for Sparta) in the League of Corinth
    • Assassinated in 336 BCE
    • Son, Alexander the Great succeeds him
    • Alexander conquers most of the known world

  • D. The Hellenistic Period
    • Time between the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE) to the rise of the Roman Empire
    • Artistic Freedom as opposed to Classical Order
    • New patrons of the arts like Alexandria, Pergamum, and Antioch

III. Proto-Religion | Drama in Classical Greece


Euripides holding
a Greek mask

  • A. Theater
    • Attending theater = religious ritual
    • Honors Dionysius
    • Physical theaters = sacred ground
    • The Drama Festivals of Dionysius
      • Featured 3 tragic plays and a Satyr play (comedy)
      • Plots focus on mythology, relationship between mortals and gods
      • Actors = priests
      • Elaborate masks and costumes
      • Function of Chorus - perspective, spectator point of view, commentary
  • B. Athenian Tragic Dramatists
    1. Aeschylus
      • Optimistic philosophy - growth of civilization through reason and order
      • 3 plays are called the Orestia Trilogy (458 BCE)
      • Agamemnon - violence breeds violence
      • The Libation Bearers - violence breeds violence
      • The Eumenides - only reason can end violence
    2. Sophocles
      • Tragic consequence of human error
      • Most traditionally religious
      • Antigone - stubbornness and bad judgment have tragic effects
      • Oedipus the King - ambiguous
    3. Euripides
      • Realistic plays
      • Focus on injustice
      • Sympathy for problems of women
      • Suppliant Women
  • C. Greek Comedy and Aristophanes
    • Aristophanes - greatest Athenian comic poet
    • Mixed political satire and fantasy
    • The Birds - Cloudcoukooland
    • Lysistrata - women prompt peace with Sparta

IV. Key Texts

  • Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War
    • Impartial account of war
    • Attempt to analyze human motives

V. The Arts


Bronze Copy of Discus Thrower
Copenhagen, Denmark

  • A. Greek Music in the Classical Period
    • Popularity
    • Doctrine of Ethos (Character) - affect behavior
    • Pythagoras - octaves, fourths, tetrachords
    • Recorded musical notation - simplistic
    • Harmony
  • B. Sculpture in Classical Greece
    • Myron’s Discus Thrower - naturalism, ideal athlete
    • Focus on proportion, symmetry, balance
    • Polykleitos - believed a mathematical formula existed to determine the extent of human beauty
    • Focus on the individual
    • Late Classical
      • Fate of the individual
      • Human motivation
      • Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Cyrene
        • First time the female form is the subject of art
  • C. Art in the Hellenistic Period
    • Emphasis on emotion and expression rather than order and balance
    • Inspired by heroic efforts of Alexander
    • Freedom of expression
    • New patrons = New opportunities for art

VI. Architecture


The Acropolis
Athens, Greece

  • A. Architecture in Classical Greece
    • Part of Pericles’ building program
    • Monument built on top of a hill
    • Two significant parts: Parthenon and Erechtheum
    • Parthenon
      • Dedicated to Athena
      • Focus on balance, proportion
      • Ideal beauty in realistic terms
      • Low relief frieze depicts yearly procession to honor Athena
    • Erechtheum
      • Porch of the Maidens
      • Columns in the shape of women
  • B. Architecture in Late Classical Greece
  • C. Architecture in Hellenistic Greece
    • Alexandria - library, lighthouse
    • Pergamum - Altar of Zeus and Laocoön

VII. Key Ideas (Philosophy in Ancient Greece)

  • A. Socrates
    • Questioned the fate of the individual
    • Questioned traditional values
    • Developed the Socratic Method
    • Most notable teachings were recorded by Plato
      • The Apology
      • Symposium
      • Memorabilia
  • B. Plato
    • Student of Socrates
    • Recorded Socrates’ teachings and final days
    • Founded the Academy (387 BCE)
    • Political theory - wrote about the ideal society
    • Inspired by the chaos of fourth century Greek politics
  • C. Aristotle
    • Student of Plato
    • Taught Alexander the Great
    • Founded the Lyceum (335 BCE) to compete with the Academy
    • Metaphysics, Physics, Rhetoric, Poetics, Drama
    • “Master of those who know”

VIII. Historical Context

  • Much of Alexander’s kingdom was controlled by Rome by the end of the third century BCE
  • 146 BCE Rome captures Corinth, the last symbol of Greek independence
  • Greek culture lives on