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5.3: Classical and Hellenistic Greece (510 BCE – 31 BCE)

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  • Greece was almost the most perfect place to live during in 400 BCE; Athens was moving towards democracy, art was prospering, and the weather was exceptionally conducive for farming, The late Classical period in Greece was a time of change and progress in art, realistic statues were emerging with a human form unlike the upright, stiff statues of the past. The feet were separated with one leg in front of the other, almost like the statue is walking, hands in movement with the torso slightly turning to one side, the human sculpture appeared to curve, reaching out, and perhaps walk right off the platform.

    The statue (5.12) of Hercules by Lysippos—Alexander the Great’s official sculptor—was one of the most famous sculptures of the late Classical period. This massive marble statue is stately and muscular, yet a weary depiction of Hercules who is leaning on his club after killing a lion. The muscles in his body are slightly exaggerated to show an elite man, beyond what a human male would look like almost like the perfect human.

    5.12 Hercules

    The Hellenistic period of art began in the 1st century CE and continued until the collapse of the Greek civilization in the 6th century. The Winged Victory of Samothrace (5.13) is a marble sculpture of the Goddess Nike or victory. This magnificent masterpiece is well over 2.5 meters tall and is missing the arms and head, her clothing seemingly blowing in the wind adding to the appearance of movement. The triumphant spirit and divine movement of the statue appear to be ready for immediate flight off the podium.

    A statue of a person
    5.13 Winged Victory of Samothrace

    A Hellenistic bronze sculpture from the 4th century, the face of the weary boxer (5.14) looking back, perhaps thinking about what he should have done. The boxer is shown with curly hair and matching beard, his body leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, hands in front, bruised and bleeding from the fight, showing his exhaustion. Every detail is perfectly aligned to his profession, his broken nose, the many scars that cover his body, and the leather gloves used to damage his opponent's face.

    A sculpture of a person
    5.14 Greek boxer

    A Hellenistic sculpture, Ludovisi Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife (5.15) is a scene showing a man in the act of plunging a dagger into himself, committing suicide while clutching his dying wife’s limp body collapsing at his side. The original Greek statue was made of bronze in 230 BCE and later destroyed; however, the Romans sculptured a copy of the original in marble during the 2nd century, preserving the highly detailed statue.

    A sculpture of a person
    5.15 Ludovisi Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife

    Two previous temples were constructed and then destroyed on the present site at Didyma, and the Hellenistic Didymium (5.16) is the third and final temple dedicated to Apollo. The temple was designed to be as large as the nearby Temple of Artemis and was twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens. The design was based on an enormous platform, over 5,500 square meters, and installed on the platform were 122 columns, every 2.5 meters in diameter. The completed walls rose to a height of 28 meters, and the pillars supported a coffered roof covering the entire platform.

    In Greek temples, the inner chamber (adyton) was generally built directly on the platform; however, at Didyma, an underground spring was considered sacred, so the adyton had to be at ground level. The architects created two long, narrow, vaulted tunnels leading from the top of the temple platform down to the grassy floor of the adyton. The design let them build a traditional looking temple while preserving the sacred spring, and although the temple appeared fully roofed, the inner chamber was open to the sky. The temple is adorned with marble relief carvings on columns (5.17) and walls.

    A large white building
    5.16 Didymium

    The temple was the site for religious festivals, offerings, and sacrifices, and because this temple became essential to the people of Rome, Emperor Trajan built a new sacred road connecting the temple to the town. A succession of emperors continually added to and changed the site, which is why it was never totally completed; however, the temple had an extensive influence on the political and religious affairs of the region.

    5.17 Didymium column
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