Why is Greek art important?
Quatr.us answers questions
Upgrade /Log in
Options /Log out
Early Europe
Central Asia
Islamic Empire
Native Americans
S./Central America
American History

Ancient Greek Art

woman playing a sort of harp
A slave woman plays a kithara
(Athens, ca. 480 BC)

Artists in ancient Greece thought of art as a way of creating order out of chaos - taming wild things and making them into something human and good. Greek musicians took noise and turned it into regular patterns of sound, with rhythms, melodies, and harmonies. Greek musicians sang songs and played the lyre and pipes and a kind of tambourine. Greek philosophers like Pythagoras tried to figure out the mathematical patterns of music: how music and numbers were related to each other. Greek plays, which started as a kind of musical performance, brought music together with explorations of ethical questions and contrasted irrational emotion (often personified by female characters) with calm reasoning (often embodied by male characters).

nude sculpture of a boy
Kritios Boy (Athens, ca. 480 BC)

Greek architects also thought of their buildings as bringing order out of chaos; they took unformed rocks and carved them into regular blocks, and used them to form temples. They thought that architecture and music shared an interest in rhythm.

man defeats amazon woman
Achilles kills Penthesileia just at
the moment that they fall in love
(Athens, ca. 540 BC)

Greek sculpture was the same way: sculptors carved the naked male body, the height of perfect reason and control, and showed these men fighting scary forces of chaos: centaurs, Amazons, giants, foreigners, monsters. Nude women only came into Greek sculpture with the Hellenistic, as part of an artistic movement to carve chaos itself that also brought statues of foreigners, drunks, old people, and children.

Greek painters were concerned with the same issues. In the Bronze Age they painted battles between men and their enemies. In the Classical period, Greek pottery shows us, once again, scenes of the struggle between order and chaos: men fighting monsters, satyrs drinking and partying. But the paintings, which more often represent gods, also show us that to the Greeks, the gods themselves were often forces of chaos, and religious ritual represented man's effort to control the gods and force them into the realm of reason.

Learn by doing: Greek vase painting
More about Greek music

Bibliography and further reading about Greek art:

ancient greek artgreek art

Ancient Greek Art, by Susie Hodge (1998)- easy reading.

Greek Art and Archaeology (3rd Edition), by John G. Pedley (2002) A lot of good information and is pretty readable. Plus, the author is really an expert in this field.

The Archaeology of Greece: An Introduction, by William R. Biers (revised edition 1996) Biers writes very clearly and has a lot of good pictures.

More about Greek sculpture
Ancient Greece
Quatr.us home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

Help support Quatr.us!

Quatr.us (formerly "History for Kids") is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

'Tis the season: read all about the history of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Who invented Christmas trees? Who were the Maccabees? When was Jesus really born? How did people celebrate Hanukkah in the Middle Ages? Plus, some great gift ideas.