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The Artist in Ancient Greek Society (CLASSICS 18N)


Given the importance of art to all aspects of their lives, the Greeks had reason to respect their artists. Yet potters, painters and even sculptors possessed little social standing. Why did the Greeks value the work of craftsmen but not the men themselves? Why did Herodotus dismiss those who worked with their hands as "mechanics?" What prompted Homer to claim that "there is no greater glory for a man than what he achieves with his own hands," provided that he was throwing a discus and not a vase on a wheel? Painted pottery was essential to the religious and secular lives of the Greeks. Libations to the gods and to the dead required vessels from which to pour them. Economic prosperity depended on the export of wine and oil in durable clay containers. At home, depictions of gods and heroes on vases reinforced Greek values and helped parents to educate their children. Vases depicting Dionysian excess were produced for elite symposia, from which those who potted and painted them were excluded. Sculptors were less lowly but still regarded as "mechanics," with soft bodies and soft minds (Xenophon), "indifferent to higher things" (Plutarch). The seminar addresses such issues as we work to acknowledge our own privilege and biases. Students will read and discuss texts, write response papers and present slide lectures on aspects of the artist's profession.