The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Culture of Greece

Greece is often referred to as the cradle of and ancient was considered to be its center. The in Athens is an enduring symbol of Greek culture.
Greece is often referred to as the cradle of Western civilisation and ancient Athens was considered to be its center. The Parthenon in Athens is an enduring symbol of Greek culture.

The culture of Greece has evolved over thousands of years, with its beginnings in Ancient Greece, through the influence of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Greek independence. Greece is often called the cradle of Western civilisation.


Art and architecture

Ancient Greek architects and artists have greatly influenced European art through the present day. Byzantine art and architecture also played an important role in early Christianity, and remains a significant influence in the Orthodox Christian nations of Eastern Europe. Yet, only a minor assortment of ancient Greek art has survived - most often in the forms of sculpture and architecture and minor arts, including coin design, pottery and gem engraving.


Main article: Architecture of Ancient Greece

Remains of ancient Greek architecture still survive or are well documented today alongside more modern examples.

The ancient Greeks developed two primary styles (or "Classical orders"); the restrained and solid Doric and the refined and decorated Ionic. It should be noted that the Ionic style eventually evolved into the more ornate Corinthian style.

The form of ancient Greek temples, a rectangular shape, surrounded by colonnades surmounted by a triangular pediment, built from limestone or marble, remains a popular style to date. While the arch was familiar to the Greeks, it was not widely used, in contrast to later Roman buildings. Surviving examples of ancient Greek architecture include the Parthenon and the Erechtheum in Athens, and Roman structures based on the Greek model, such as the Pantheon in Rome.

The , Delphi Archaeological Museum, one of the greatest surviving works of Greek sculpture, dating from about .
The Charioteer of Delphi, Delphi Archaeological Museum, one of the greatest surviving works of Greek sculpture, dating from about 470 BC.

Painting and sculpture

Main articles: Art in Ancient Greece; Sculpture of Ancient Greece

The Greeks, like most European cultures, regarded painting as the highest form of art. Although the names of ancient Greek painters are known, such as Polygnotus, Aetion and Apelles, examples of ancient Greek paintings are very rare. Greek painters worked mainly on wooden panels. The finest works were admired for hundreds of years after their creation. However, these paintings rapidly disappeared after the 4th century AD when they were no longer adequately protected. In addition to sub-standard Roman copies, for example in Pompeii, rare surviving examples have been found in the tombs of the kings of Macedon at Vergina, at Lefcadia also in ancient Macedon, as well as Kazanlak in ancient Thrace.

Surviving examples of the ancient Greek sculpture are more common, particularly the works of the Greek master sculptors, such as Phidias and Praxiteles. These artists and their followers were frequently emulated by the Romans. However, the Christians of the 4th and 5th centuries viewed the destruction of pagan idols as an act of piety. Many ancient marble sculptures were burned to form lime in the Middle Ages, and most bronze statues were melted down for their metal. The marble statues that escaped destruction were spared as they were either buried and forgotten, or in the case of bronzes, lost at sea.

In the Byzantine period, religious art was the dominate theme, with highly-decorated mosaics and icons adorning religious buildings. The Renaissance artist, El Greco (Domenikos Theotocopoulos), responded to Byzantine and 16th century Mannerist art, producing sculpture and paintings with a liberated form, light and colour that inspired 20th century artists such as Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock.

Pottery and coins

A (mixing bowl), from the .
A black figure krater (mixing bowl), from the 6th century BC.

Main articles: Pottery of Ancient Greece; Greek coins

Ancient Greece was also renowned for its pottery, which included everything from drinking vessels to urns. Black-figure pottery, in which the decorations appear as black silhouettes over a red background, are highly representative of early Greek craftsmanship. Later forms include red-figure pottery and white-figure pottery.

The Greeks did not view coin design as a major art form. Nevertheless, the durability and abundance of coins have designated them as one of the most important sources of knowledge about Greek aesthetics. Coins were invented in Lydia during the 7th century BC, but were first extensively used by the Greeks, who set the canon of coin design which has been followed ever since.

See also: Ode on a Grecian Urn, Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial


Main article: Greek literature

The earliest works in European literary tradition are the epic poems of Homer and Hesiod. Early Greek lyric poetry, as represented by poets like Sappho and Pindar, were responsible for defining the lyric genre as it is still understood in western literature. Aesop wrote his Fables in the 6th century BC.

In theatre, Aeschylus introduced the ideas of dialogue and interacting characters to playwriting. In doing so, he essentially invented "drama": his Oresteia trilogy of plays is seen as his crowning achievement. Other refiners of playwriting were Sophocles and Euripides. Aristophanes, a comic playwright, defined and shaped the idea of comedy as a theatrical form.

Herodotus and Thucydides are often credited with developing the modern study of history into a field worthy of philosophical and scientific pursuit.

Philosophy entered literature in the dialogues of Plato, while his pupil Aristotle, in his work the Poetics, formulated the first set criteria for literary criticism. The histories of Thucydides and Herodotus helped establish history as a literary form.

In modern Greek literature, notable authors include Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis, both of whom won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Nikos Kazantzakis and Vassilis Vassilikos are also widely translated.


The in is the best-preserved of all ancient Greek temples.
The Temple of Hephaestus in Athens is the best-preserved of all ancient Greek temples.

Main articles: Greek religion, Eastern Orthodoxy

The religion of ancient Greece is well-known in the modern western world via Greek mythology. Tales of the Greek gods and mythological heroes remain popular to this day.

Greek paganism was never a unified belief system. The Greeks worshipped a large pantheon of deities, with the Olympians predominating, but with many local deities recognised as well. Deities from other cultures were freely adopted by the Greeks, and through syncretism many gods from other lands throughout the Mediterranean were identified with their Greek counterparts (most notably the Roman gods.) The ancient Greeks also developed a number of mystery religions such as the Eleusinian Mysteries. These mystery cults became widely popular in late antiquity, and are perceived by some as precursors to Christianity.

It is certain that Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism, contributed to the early development of Christianity, which spread to Greece in the first century A.D. After the legalisation of Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 313, the Christian faith became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, of which Greece was a part. In the Great Schism of 1054, the Eastern and Western churches split, and Eastern Orthodox Christianity remains the predominant religion in Greece until this day. Since 1833, the Orthodox Church of Greece has remained an autocephalous church within the Eastern Orthodox Communion. The majority of modern Greeks (95 to 98 percent) remain at least nominally members of the Orthodox church.

The population of Modern Greece includes small minorities of Muslims, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. A minute number of Greeks are practitioners of HellÍnismos, which is a modern attempt to reconstruct the pagan religion of ancient Greece.

Philosophy, science and mathematics

The Greek philosopher
The Greek philosopher Socrates

Main article: Greek philosophy

The tradition of philosophy in Ancient Greece also added to the literary works. Greek learning has had a profound influence on Western and Middle Eastern civilisation. The works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers profoundly influenced Classical thought, the Islamic Golden Age, and the Renaissance.

In medicine, doctors still refer to the Hippocratic oath, instituted by Hippocrates, who is also credited with laying the foundations of medicine as a science. Galen built on Hippocrates' theory of the four humours, and his writings became the foundation of medicine in Europe and the Middle East for centuries. The Greek physicians Herophilos and Paulus Aegineta were pioneers in the study of anatomy, while Pedanius Dioscorides wrote an extensive treatise on the practice of pharmacology.

Thales of Miletus is regarded by many as the father of science; he was the first Greek philosopher to seek to explain the physical world in terms of natural rather than supernatural causes. Pythagoras was a Greek mathematician who is known as the "father of numbers"; it is believed that he had the pioneering insight into the numerical ratios that determine the musical scale, and the Pythagorean theorem is commonly attributed to him. Diophantus of Alexandria is sometimes called the "father of algebra", and much of modern geometry is based on the work of Euclid. Eratosthenes was one of the first scientific geographers, calculating the circumference of the earth and making the first maps based on scientific principles. Hipparchus is considered to be the greatest astronomical observer of the ancient world, and was probably the first to develop an accurate method of predicting solar eclipses. Aristarchus was the first known astronomer to propose a heliocentric model of the solar system, though the geocentric model of Ptolemy was more commonly accepted until the sixteenth century. Ptolemy also contributed much to cartography and to the science of optics. Archimedes was the first to calculate the value of π and the first to calculate a geometric series; he also was the first mathematical physicist, discovered the law of buoyancy, and invented the irrigation device known as Archimedes' screw.

Greek contributions to science continue in modern times. Mathematician Constantin Carathťodory worked in the fields of real analysis, the calculus of variations, and measure theory in the early 20th century. Professor John H. Argyris , a Greek mathematician and engineer, is credited with the invention of finite element analysis. Dr. Dimitris Nanopoulos is a noted theoretical physicist, having made significant contributions to the fields of particle physics and cosmology.


Main article: Music of Greece

There have been excellent composers and performers in all kinds of music but traditional Greek music is noted as a mixture of influences from indigenous Greek culture and Western and Middle Eastern cultures. Turkish and Ottoman elements can be most clearly heard in the traditional songs, dhimotiká, as well as the modern bluesy rembétika music. The best-known Greek musical instrument is the bouzouki, which is actually a Turkish import (possibly a refined version of saz).

Famous Greek musicians include Nikos Skalkottas, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Maria Callas, Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis, Vangelis, Demis Roussos and Nana Mouskouri.


Several varieties of
Several varieties of baklava

Main article: Greek cuisine

Greeks are reputed for their healthy Mediterranean diet.

The cuisine of Greece has influences from Italian, Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisine. Greek cuisine incorporates fresh ingredients into a variety of local dishes such as moussaka, stifado and spanakopita. Throughout Greece people often enjoy eating from small dishes (meze with various dips such as tzatziki, grilled octopus and small fish, feta cheese, dolmades (rice, currants and pine kernels wrapped in vine leaves), various pulses, olives and cheese. Olive oil is added to almost every dish. Sweet desserts such as galaktoboureko , and drinks such as ouzo, metaxa and a variety of wines including the retsina. Too much elaboration is generally considered to be against the hearty spirit of the Greek cuisine.


Greek culture was and is more than cerebral. The Panhellenic Games and especially the Olympic Games originated in Greece in ancient times, centred around individual sports such as running, boxing, wrestling, chariot racing, long jump, javelin, and discus.

The first Modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896, and the Olympics returned to Athens for the 2004 Summer Olympics, making Athens the fourth city after Paris, London and Los Angeles to the stage the modern Summer Olympics twice. Greece has been represented in every Summer Olympics, along with just four other countries, Australia, France, Great Britain, and Switzerland.

Football (soccer) is a popular sport in modern Greece. The Greece national football team unexpectedly won the 2004 European Football Championship, beating the hosts, Portugal, in the final. Domestic football teams include AEK Athens, Olympiacos, and Panathinaikos.

See also

External links

Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12