One afternoon in the company of the gods and goddesses was not enough for my husband, Andrew, and me. We returned the next week to travel in time (2000 years ago) and space (to Greece) again. I assert that the social relationships among the Olympian gods and goddesses are not so dissimilar from modern day humans. Their families, too, suffered from dysfunction complete with sibling rivalry and abandonment. The ancient Greek values displayed in this exhibit were laudatory, and still would be considered exemplary today including honor for theatre, music, art, poetry, love, story telling, athleticism and fitness, medicine, gardens, parties, the big picture, and good food.
Has humanity really developed in the last two thousand years?
I remember reading Plato’s The Laws in my high school philosophy class. The book was seminal in framing my thoughts about how little society governed by a legal system has changed in the last two thousand odd years. Sure, some realms have evolved such as the necessity for environmental protection and intellectual property. But the essential scaffolds of human society, values, and life in some ways remain invariant.
The Greek gods were certainly not paragons of perfection, yet they provided a model for human interaction. Perhaps perfection is overrated? Perhaps our value lies not in our quest for perfection but in our humanity, in our flaws, and in our struggles.
The ancient precious Greek and Roman statues presented at the WAG were largely well preserved. There was the odd head from one statue placed on the torso of another, but the essentials remained intact. The exhibit unveiled a flavor of ancient ideals and life styles, ideals in art and beauty tempered by human flaws. The WAG serves as a sanctuary for the artwork, analogous to sacred temples that originally housed the sculptures. Perhaps art galleries and museums provide modern reflective spaces to contemplate and meditate on our life, humanity, and our place in the world. These monuments to Greek mythology were protected for over two thousand years. What do you hold dear which you should work to protect? Your work? Your friendships? Your artistic endeavors? What ancient heritage do you honor daily?
What can we learn from the ancient Greeks and Romans? The representative of war is Athena, who is also the goddess of wisdom. Perhaps this is an early feminist commentary that also instructs that war should be guided through wisdom rather than capriciousness, haste, and impulsive, immoderate reactions. I learned from the exhibit to honor history, beauty, love, poetry, and, yes, all that might be flawed and imperfect but still good in the world. We are inundated by the chaos and catastrophes in the world, but it takes wandering through an art gallery to discover some peaceful moments that remind us of all that is still good.
So much of our culture derives from the ancient Greek ideals. The Hippocratic oath still sustains a relevance as does the Greek symbol for medicine, the serpent. The ancient civilization values good health, a Mediterranean diet (shown to be beneficial), and fitness. We still struggle with Dionysus’ counter to moderation, his decadent indulgence in parties and theatre. Yet this Greek god symbolizes the emergence of theatre which is valued in modern society (though often in the form of cinema and television).
A traipse through the WAG is like time traveling to ancient Greece with a modern sensibility as the guide. It is a means to reflect on ancient life, on modern life, on our cultural heritage, and to meditate on what we hold dear. I took the personality quiz about which Greek god to which I am most similar, which quite accurately resulted in Apollo. Music, art, poetry. Theatre, beauty, friendship. These are ancient Greek and Roman values. These are still our values today.
My challenge to you is to protect all your values, live consciously with them through your days, and defend your principles and what you hold dear.
What do you hold dear?