Neoclassicism: The Philhellenic Art Movement that Revived the Hellenic Spirit

Why are there so many buildings that resemble ancient Greek temples in Europe? And why do so many artists from the Romantic era depict ancient Greek mythological characters in their sculptures and paintings?

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The Movement of Neoclassicism/ Hellenism

If you have ever visited some of the major cities of Europe, such as Paris, Vienna, Munich, and Brussels, you might have noticed some 18th and 19th century buildings that are clearly inspired by the simplicity and symmetry of Classical Athens’ architecture. You might have visited the Orsay Museum in Paris and noticed a collection of artworks from that same period that depict characters from ancient Greek mythology. Maybe you have heard of cities named Athens in the United States of America and Canada and of secret societies communicating in ancient Greek in American Universities.

This movement in art and architecture is called “Hellenism”, “Neoclassicism”, or “Neoclassical Hellenism”. These terms were introduced during the Romantic era (18th and 19th Century Europe) by the German art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann. It was a time when noble Europeans would study the political and philosophical ideas of Classical Athens, often romanticizing the era.

With Hellenism, “Philhellenism” was born: a love and admiration for the living descendants of ancient Greeks, who lived under the Ottoman rule. Philhellenes played a crucial role in reviving the Hellenic (Greek) spirit and encouraging the enslaved Greeks of the Ottoman Empire  to create a national identity and fight for their independence.

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Neoclassicism in Art

Helinika has gathered a collection of artworks and buildingsthat were inspired by the Neoclassical movement.

Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Love, Antonio Canova

By Kimberly Vardeman – Flickr: Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, CC BY 2.0

Italian artist Antonio Canova is behind the masterpiece of Neoclassical sculpture named “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss”. The sculpture respresents the god Eros (Cupid) kissing and reviving Psyche (Soul). The sculpture was inspired by Greek mythological characters, however the depicted scene comes from the Metamorphoses of Apuleius.

Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Antonio Canova

Canova is also behind the marble sculpture of Perseus holding the head of Gorgon Medusa in the Vatican. Perseus was the ancient Greek legendary hero who slayed a monster named Medusa who would turn people into stone with her gaze.

When The Heart is Young, John William Godward

John William Godward was an English Neoclassicism painter who draw inspiration from both ancient Greece and Rome. “When The Heart is Young” was painted in 1902 and depicts a young woman laying wearing on a marble bench.

In The Days od Sappho, John William Godward

Here is another painting from Godward, created in 1904. The painting depicts another young woman in a scenery that reminds us of ancient Greece. The title of the painting includes the name Sappho. Sappho was an archaic Greek poet from the island of Lesbos, often called the “Tenth Muse”.

Neoclassicism in Arcitecture

Neoclassical architecture is prevalent in Greece and other European countries but also in the United States of America and South America. The epicenter of Neoclassical architecture was, without a doubut, Munich, Germany.

The Hellenic Parliament

The Hellenic Parliament, an austere and fuctional building, which initially served as the palace of King Otto, was designed by the German architect Friedrich von Gaertner.

Altes Museum Berlin, Karl Friedrich Schinkel

Designed by the Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the Altes Museum in the historic center of Berlin is a major work of German Neoclassical architecture. The Museum is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

The White House, James Hoban

The official residence of the president of the United States, known as the “White House”, is an example of both Neoclassical and Palladian arcitecture. The White House was designed by the Irish architect James Hoban in Washington DC.

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What is the Meaning of Hellas, Hellenes, Hellenistic, Hellenism, and Philhellenism?

You might be wondering why Greece is officially called “Hellenic Republic” or “Hellas” and why Greeks are often called “Hellenes”. The same goes with adjectives such as “Hellenic” and “Hellenistic” instead of Greek. Another common term is “Philhellenism”, meaning friend/lover of Hellenism. What do these terms mean and how are they connected to Greece?

Hellas and Hellenes

The reality is that Greeks/Hellenes today use the terms «Ελλάδα» (Hellada), «Έλληνες» (Hellenes), and «ελληνικός» (Hellenic) when talking about Greece, Greeks, and Greek (adjective) respectively. At the same time, many western countries are more familiar with the Latin “Graecia”, hence the common use of the words  “Greece” and “Greek”. In this sense, “Greece” and “Hellas” can be used interchangeably, but the second option is more accurate than the first.

Origins of the Terms Hellas and Hellenes

There are various theories surrounding the etymology of “Hellas”. We know from the ancient Greek poet Homer that Hellas was a place in central Greece, where the women were described as “very beautiful” (καλλιγύναικος). You might have also heard of the mythical Helen of Troy, considered the “most beautiful woman in the world”, whose abduction started the Trojan War. Her name, which is still a very popular given name for girls, means “bright”/ “of light”, leading us to the conclusion that Hellas was “the land of light”. Greece is still referred to as “the land of light”, not only because of its clear skies and many consecutive days of sunlight, but also because its history inspired the Age of Enlightenment.

The term started describing all Greeks thanks to the conquests of Alexander the Great (356 BC – 323 BC). Up to that point, the Greeks were organized in city-states, such as Athens and Sparta. Greeks were aware of their common characteristics in religion, language, and appearance, and would distinguish themselves from people of different cultural backgrounds.

With the creation of the vast empire of Alexander, these differences became more prominent and Greeks started recognizing themselves as one group: the Hellenes. Ancient Greek historian Thucydides was also using the term “to Hellenize” (ελληνίζει) when referring to the spread of the Greek language and culture.

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Hellenistic Period

The Hellenistic Period is the historical period that starts with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire. This was the time when the Attic dialect of the Greek language, that you may know as Koine Greek, became the lingua franca in the Mediterranean and other regions that were reached and influenced by Alexander. Some scholars often refer to it as an age of decadence, since it marks the decline of the Greek Classical Era. However, the Hellenistic Period was a time of prosperity and was characterized by a great progress in arts, mathematics, philosophy, architecture, and science. Stoicism and Epicureanism saw a rise during this period.

Hellenism

“Hellenism” has three different meanings. Today, the term describes the culture(s) of Hellas and Hellenes (Greece and Greeks) from ancient to modern times. Sometimes, scholars might use the term Hellenism to describe only the culture of the Hellenistic Period, as described in the previous paragraph. In the European Romantic era, “Hellenism” was a synonym of the neoclassical movement in art and architecture, which was inspired by the Greek Classical era.  

Philhellenism and Philhellenes

Philhellenism derives from the Greek «φιλώ» (to befriend, to love, to adore, to kiss) and the term Hellenism, which is a synonym for the Greek culture and aesthetic. Philhellenes are the admirers of Hellenism and Hellenes (Greek culture and Greeks). Philhellenism became a movement in Western Europe and other regions in the 17th, 18th and 19th Century thanks to the neoclassical movement that focused on the study of Classical philosophers and thanks to the tradition of the Grand Tour; a coming of age trip for upper-class European men in the archaeological sites of Italy and Greece. Philhellenism played a crucial role in the start and completion of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.

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Five Facts About Aristotle | #Philosophy

You may know Aristotle (Aristotélēs, 384–322 BC) as the ancient Greek philosopher who was taught by another well-known philosopher, Plato, during the Classical era.  Here are five facts about philosopher and polymath Aristotle that you may or may not know.

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Facts About the Philosopher Aristotle:

  1. Aristotle did not originate from Athens
  2. Aristotle was the student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great
  3. Aristotle was the founder of the Peripatetic School of Philosophy
  4. Aristotle did not hate Democracy
  5. Aristotle was married to a respected female scientist

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Aristotle’s Origins

Although associated with Classical Athens, Aristotle was born in 384 BC in Stagira, an ancient Greek city in the peninsula of Chalkidice. His father was a physician and was closely associated with the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. At the age of eighteen, young Aristotle moved to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy, the first higher education institution in the West. The philosopher is said to have participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, the secret cult of Demeter and Persephone that we have discussed in the past.

Aristotle as a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great

Aristotle was the student of Plato and, like his teacher, he tried to tackle ontological topics and understand the concepts of existence, being, and reality. However, Aristotle did expand on these topics and his philosophical ideas are perceived as empirical and practical when compared to Plato’s abstract thinking. For example, both Plato and Aristotle expressed the importance of “virtue” in achieving happiness. “Virtue”, according to Plato, was the harmony of the three parts of the soul: reason, spirit, and appetite. Aristotle, on the other hand, viewed happiness as the exercise of intellectual and moral “virtues”. Happiness, in this sense, is not a state of being, but an activity.

After Plato’s death, Aristotle left Athens and started tutoring Alexander the Great in the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. Aristotle’s broad knowledge on zoology and botany and his deep understanding of Persian customs and traditions sparked the curiosity of young Alexander who ended up creating one of the largest empires of the ancient world.

The Peripatetic School of Philosophy

Before moving to northern Greece, Aristotle founded the Peripatetic School of Athens in 335 BC. Along with a number of students, including Aristoxenus and Theophrastus, he would conduct philosophical and scientific inquiries. The name of the School derives from the Greek word «περίπατος» (peripatos), which means “walk”. One theory is that the philosopher would walk a lot while talking or thinking, hence the name. Another, more credible theory is that Aristotle and his students would walk around the Lyceum, a temple in ancient Athens, since the philosopher did not own any private property in Athens at that time. The temple of Lyceum is often associated with Aristotle for that reason and many educational institutions around the globe, including Greece, bear that name.

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Aristotle’s Political Views

In previous videos we have seen that Athenian philosophers such as Plato and Socrates were skeptical about Democracy. They did not necessarily hate it, but they saw a lot of its flaws. Aristotle was the least skeptical towards Democracy than the three. The philosopher suggested that the best form of governance includes a mixed constitution that would have characteristics from Democracy, Aristocracy, and Monarchy. Today, most western countries possess mixed constitutions.

Aristotle’s personal life

Although we often view ancient philosophers as celibate, this is far from the truth. Aristotle in particular was married to Pythias, an ancient Greek biologist who had a well-know collection of specimens of living things and had contributed immensely in the study of embryology. She also co-authored an encyclopedia with her husband. Pythias and Aristotle had a daughter, Pythias the Younger, and both women ended up dying at a young age.

After his wife’s death, Aristotle had a love affair with a young woman from his hometown. Herpyllis, as she was called, ended up living with the philosopher till his death. They also had a son together named Nicomachus and, although they were never married, Herpyllis was included in his will.

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Five Facts About Plato | #Philosophy

You may already know that Plato (428/427 BCE – 348-347 BCE) was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. You may also be familiar with him thanks to the Italian Renaissance fresco in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican called “The School of Athens”. Here are five facts about Plato that you may or may not know.

socrates

Five Facts About Socrates | #Philosophy

You may know Socrates as the Classical Greek philosopher behind the quote “I know that I know nothing”, who also laid the fundamentals of western philosophy. Here are five facts about the classical Greek philosopher that you may or may not know.

Understanding the Greek Culture | The Greek Culture Today

Can you measure the Greek culture? What does it mean to be Greek? What are Greeks like?

Although we live in the era of convergence and globalization, there is a call to protect local cultures and maintain a certain level of cultural diversity. If we want to protect our cultural identities, it is crucial to understand what our cultures actually are. Understanding cultures is also essential for anyone who wants to introduce products and concepts in a foreign market or working in a multicultural environment.

Understanding the Modern Greek/ Hellenic Culture

Today, we will try to understand the Greek culture based on different metrics and examples. Before we get started, it is important to clarify that we perceive the modern Greek culture as a continuation of the ancient Greek culture, with the difference that it has been influenced throughout the years from the cultures of the Frankish states, the Ottoman Empire, the Bavarian and Danish monarchies etc.

The Greek Culture as a High-Context Culture: Communicating Without Words

In a past video it was mentioned that Greeks place non-verbal communication at a higher level than others. We could safely say that Greek people are masters at decoding indirect speech and body language. Anthropological and cross-cultural studies agree with that statement.

In his 1959 book “The Silent Language”, American anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced some new concepts that define culture. One way of categorizing cultures is by dividing them into high-context and low context cultures.

High-context cultures use a lot of hand gestures. People like maintaining eye contact and pay close attention to other peoples’ posture and facial expressions. It is not about what is being said, it is about what is not said.

On the other hand, people in low-context cultures prefer speaking in a direct and clear way. They are not making a lot of gestures and rarely pay close attention to others’ facial expressions.

It comes as no surprise that Hall places the Greek culture in the first category. If you have ever visited Greece, you should have already noticed that people speak with their hands and always try to maintain eye contact when they speak to you. It is also important to note that, if you annoy a Greek person, they will most likely give you many cues. If you don’t notice them, don’t be surprised if you see them getting mad at you all of a sudden!

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The Greek Culture as a Collectivistic Culture: It Is About “Us”

The American anthropologist also distinguishes cultures based on whether they are individualistic or collectivistic. Most western countries, such as the United States of America, are considered to be highly individualistic. People in these cultures strive to be independent from an early age. At the same time, they might find it hard to take decisions with others, maintain strong relationships over the years, and they are more susceptible to loneliness.

Greece is on the other side of the spectrum, since it is recognized as a collectivistic culture. Greek people love sharing experiences with others and maintain close relationships with their families throughout their lives. They like sharing food and they are less likely to travel alone. There is no shame in asking for help and independence is perceived differently than in the US or other individualistic countries.

If you ever visit Greece and want to immerse yourself in the culture, try ordering food with the group you are dining with. You can order a bunch of different dishes and try a bit of everything. If you are visiting alone, don’t be surprised if the locals approach you and invite you to join them. Philoxenia (φιλοξενία) is the Greek tradition of hospitality. Its roots go back to ancient times and it requires people to be welcoming towards strangers.

The Greek Culture as a Balanced Masculine Society with Feminine Characteristics

The Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede has also contributed immensely to the study of national cultures. He came up with many different cultural dimensions, including masculinity vs. femininity.

Masculine cultures, such as Japan and the United States, value success and do not view competition as something negative. People raised in these cultures learn the importance of standing out of the crowd and becoming winners.

On the other hand, feminine countries, such as most Scandinavian countries, strive at improving the quality of life of every person, instead of being considered “the best country in the world”. Characteristics that are considered feminine, such as being nurturing and caring, are valued more than being competitive and ambitious.

Greek culture ranks somewhere in the middle, maintaining a balance between masculine and feminine characteristics, but it is considered a bit more masculine than feminine. Greeks are very proud of their heritage. Successful people, such as Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate who was one of richest men to have ever lived, are admired.

At the same time, there is distinction between “confidence” and “overconfidence”, “ambition” and “overambition”. Since ancient times, Greeks have been referring to «ευγενής άμιλλα», that is often translated as “fair play”. Although Greeks are interested in winning and competing, it is very important to be ethical and not “step on top of others” to get on top. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had a theory that the ancient Greek spirit of fair play led the Greeks in creating “their great civilization”, as he said.

Other Dimensions of the Greek Culture

Hofstede has come up with many more dimensions for defining a culture, such as power distance, uncertainty avoidance, indulgence, and long-term orientation.

Greece has intermediate scores in indulgence, meaning that it has a healthy relationship between restrain and enjoying life, and in long-term orientation, meaning that it maintains some links with its past but looks towards the future.

Indeed, you will see Greeks enjoying nice meals most days of the week. Drinking red wine is often recommended by doctors to protect the heart and, according to statistics, the Greeks are the most sexually active people in the world. At the same time, there are some clear limits between indulgence and over-indulgence.

For example, drinking alcohol in Greece is enjoyed by most adults, however, our drinking culture is very different than of other nations. Drinking a little bit on a regular base and enjoying it with friends is preferred over “boozing” and getting black-out drunk every Saturday night.

This balance can be explained by the ancient Greek quote «(παν) μέτρον άριστον», which is often translated as “all in good measure”. This might be the quote that acts as a compass in each Greek person’s life. Enjoying life but not loosing control is the most common piece of advice we get from our caregivers and teachers in our childhood and teenage years.

The cultural dimension that is the most unbalanced is that of uncertainty avoidance. The Greek culture ranks as the most avoidant in the world when it comes to uncertainty. This dimension explains how different nations manage anxiety and react to threatening or unknown situations.

It is worth mentioning that during the years of the Ottoman Occupation but also after the Greek War of Independence, Greeks had and have faced a great number of wars, political instabilities, violent regime changes, national divisions, civil wars, and financial crises. Greeks have recently faced a great uncertainty: the Greek government-debt crisis in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, which created a social, cultural, and humanitarian crisis.

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Why Is The 17th of November a Commemoration Day in Greece?

The 17th of November commemorates the people who lost their lives in the Polytechnic Uprising that occurred in Athens in 1973. It also marks the beginning of the end of the Greek Junta, also known as “the Regime of the Colonels” that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. The 17th of November is not a national holiday in Greece but rather a profession-specific holiday and a day of rememberance.

The day is dedicated to freedom and Democracy and it is a reminder to never take these two for granted. It is also a call to stand against police brutality, militarism, and authoritarianism. The 17th of November is often described as a result of the prolonged political crisis that was rooted back to the Greek Civil War. From this perspective, the holiday is a reminder of the great dangers of extreme political and ideological division within a society.

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The Greek Junta/ Regime of the Colonels:

On April 21 1967, colonels George Papadopoulos and Nikolaos Makarezos seized power in a coup d’état. There were several other military officers that had conspired to this plan, including general officer Stylianos Pattakos. The coup leaders started arresting politicians and authority figures, as well as citizens who they suspected were sympathizers of the left. It is estimated that over 10.000 people were arrested in one day.

Once Greece was at the hands of the colonels, articles of the Greek Constitution were suspended, civil liberties were restricted, politicians were exiled, and citizens were tortured and imprisoned. During the seven years of the Junta, four different dictatorships governed the country.

The first years were characterized by strong propaganda to gain the trust of the citizens who maintained a neutral position. The ideology was spread through schools and churches. Public works that were promised in the past were completed. Farmers’ debts were written off and forgotten. At the same time, economic scandals rose and the public dept almost doubled by 1973.  

The Regime of the Colonels ended with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974, leading to the establishment of the Third Hellenic Republic and the complete democratic transformation of the country. The regime was blamed for mismanaging the situation in Cyprus, while a great percentage of the public was outraged with the actions the colonels took to stop the polytechnic uprising.

It is worth mentioning that the Greek Junta was closely associated with the “Truman Doctrine”, an American foreign policy that aimed at halting the Soviet geopolitical expansion during the Cold War. Greece had experienced a civil war some years beforehand between those who supported left and those who supported right ideologies. Various external organizations have been blamed over the years for supporting the Greek Junta, including “Ordine Nuovo”, a far right paramilitary organization in Italy.

The Polytechnic Uprising:

University and high-school students in Athens were some of the first to reject the military regime. In 1973, massive student demonstrations were organized in the Greek capital, which stands as a global symbol of Democracy to this day.

Law students barricaded themselves in the Law School of the University of Athens in February 1973, an act that was followed by police brutality, inspiring more students to take an active stance against the Junta. On November 14 of that year, students at the Athens Polytechnic went on strike and occupied the University demanding “Bread-Education-Liberty”. Some of the students aimed at abolishing capitalism, while the great majority reportedly demanded the restoration of Democracy and Greece’s exit from the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO).

Non-students who wanted to protest against the regime started gathering at the Polytechnic University and a radio transmitter was set up to inspire the people to join them. In November 16, protesters showed their presence on the streets of Athens and the police responded with bullets. At least 24 people were reportedly shot dead during the protests. Other reports mention that the deaths were at least 40.

In the early hours of November 17, the anti-junta movement escalated when a military tank crashed the Polytechnic’s gates. People were reportedly clinging on the gates shouting slogans against the regime. It is also reported that the city of Athens was in complete darkness, since all the streetlights had been shut down. The area was lit only by the generators of the University. What happened after the crash remains a mystery and a highly controversial subject in Greece.

The official investigation that followed the fall of the Junta declared that there were no deaths during the Polytechnic incident. However, 24 deaths have been officially recorded in the protests that occurred outside the University. Moreover, it is estimated that the injured civilians between November 15 and November 17 were thousands. Several conspiracy theories have emerged throughout the years from both sides.

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The 17th of November Today:

The 17th of November is a rememberance day in Greece, schools are closed, and commemorative services are held in the campus of the Polytechnic University. The commemoration day ends with a demonstration from the campus to the embassy of the United States. The demonstrations often get violent.