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Greece’s Age of Hellenism


Around 330 BC Alexander the Great spread Greek culture far and wide. The art of the age traded the calm balance of the Golden Age for art with more exuberance and realism as seen in statues like the Nike of Samothrace.

Complete Video Script

[116, Jockey of Artemision, 150–140 BC, National Museum of Archaeology, Athens] The Golden Age of Greece was followed by the age of Hellenism. In art, the importance of composure and balance was pushed aside by a cultural exuberance — there was more motion and more emotion.

[117] Eventually Greeks to the north, in Macedonia, emerged as a political and military power, where one remarkable man — Alexander the Great — was about to take Greek culture and spread it far and wide. Around 330 BC, Greek values were spread abroad by the conquests of Alexander. Within a decade, this young and determined leader had established

[118, map] the so-called "Hellenistic" empire — a unified, Greek-speaking culture that stretched from Europe to Egypt and deep into Asia.

[119] The art from this age reflected the fast-changing times, with influences from all across the cosmopolitan Greek world. Compared with the Golden Age, Hellenistic art is ultra-realistic — like this weary bronze boxer with exhaustion written all over his battered body. Hellenistic portraits were less idealized and more individual — even eccentric. Once-balanced Golden-Age statues were now charged with energy, dramatically capturing turbulent scenes.

[120, Winged Victory (or Nike) of Samothrace, 200–175 BC, Louvre, Paris] A good example is this "Nike," or goddess of victory. Perched on the prow of a ship, celebrating yet another Greek conquest, she thrusted her arm up like a Super Bowl champion. As her sea-sprayed dress whips in the wind, she stands steady like a pillar of strength — celebrating the ecstasy of victory.

[121, Laocoön, 40֪–30 BC, Vatican Museums, Rome] Taking us from the thrill of a Hellenistic victory to the agony of defeat, this man and his sons wrestle with snakes, punished for trying to warn his fellow Trojans about Greek invaders. The scene ripples with drama. The poses twist, straining every muscle. The line of motion runs diagonally, up the leg and through the body, taking Hellenistic imbalance and exuberance to a whole new level.

[122, Jockey of Artemision, 150–140 BC, National Museum of Archeology, Athens] This bronze horse and jockey is also charged with Hellenistic energy. The high-spirited detail is astonishing, right down to the horse's dramatic head, and the concerned look on the young jockey's face.

[123, Horses of Saint Mark, 300 BC–AD 400, St. Mark's Basilica, Venice] [FYI, these horses were formerly attributed to the Greek Lysippos, but they are now given to an unknown Roman sculptor] And, prancing in pairs, these chariot horses also capture the exuberant spirit of the age. Again, the realism is remarkable: the bulging veins, the creases in their necks as they rear back, heaving chests…so alive. With flashing eyes and flaring nostrils, they are the epitome of equestrian energy.

[124] Greek culture — and its art — was galloping both east and west. With the Hellenistic Age, it became dominant across much of their known world. The same gods, same plays, in the same language, were celebrated in theaters like this throughout a vast empire. But great as Greece was, it was soon to be eclipsed.