While their work was lifelike, it was also idealistic. That is, sculptors carved gods, goddesses, athletes, and famous men in a way that showed human beings in their most perfect, graceful form.

The only Greek paintings to survive are on pottery. They offer intriguing views of everyday Greek life. Women carry water from wells, warriors race into battle, and athletes compete in javelin contests. Each scene is designed to fit the shape of the pottery.

Greek Literature

In literature, as in art, the ancient Greeks developed their own style. To later Europeans, Greek styles were a model of perfection. They admired what they called the “classical style,” referring to the elegant and balanced forms of traditional Greek works of art.

Early Greek literature began with the epic poems of Homer, whose stirring tales inspired later writers. In later times, the poet Sappho sang of love and of the beauty of her island home, while the poetry of Pindar celebrated the victors in athletic contests.

Ancient vase painted with several figures of women engaged in communal activities such as preparing food, playing musical instruments, and preparing their toilettes.

Thousands of surviving painted vases provide us with much of what we know about daily life in ancient Greece. This vase from the 300s B.C., for example, shows women in conversations at home.

Greek Tragedy

Perhaps the most important ancient Greek contribution to literature was in the field of drama. The first Greek plays evolved out of religious festivals, especially those held in Athens to honor the god of fertility and wine, Dionysus (dy uh NY sus).

Plays were performed in large outdoor theaters with little or no set. Actors wore elaborate costumes and stylized masks. A chorus sang or chanted comments on the action taking place on stage. Greek dramas were often based on popular myths and legends. Through these familiar stories, playwrights discussed moral and social issues or explored the relationship between people and the gods.

The greatest Athenian playwrights were Aeschylus (ES kih lus), Sophocles (SAH fuh kleez), and Euripides (yoo RIP ih deez). All three wrote tragedies, plays that told stories of human suffering that usually ended in disaster. The purpose of tragedy, the Greeks felt, was to stir up and then relieve the emotions of pity and fear. For example, in his play Oresteia (aw res TEE uh), Aeschylus showed a powerful family torn apart by betrayal, murder, and revenge. Audiences saw how even the powerful could be subject to horrifying misfortune and how the wrath of the gods could bring down even the greatest heroes.

Fresco painting of a woman holding a stylus and a book. She appears to be deep in thought.

A Roman fresco from Pompeii believed to be of the Greek poet Sappho (610 B.C.–570 B.C.). Over the ages, readers have been impressed with her writing style and lively personality.

… it was not Zeus that had published me that edict [law]; not such are the laws set

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments