The Ancient Greeks have long been celebrated for their accomplishments in philosophy, mathematics, and art. From the time of their civilization to the present day, they have been seen as the springboard of civilization and the original practitioners of culture and knowledge. But, of course, it was the arts in Ancient Greece that have forever been popularized and have come to define their legacy.
Out of the many arts of the Ancient Greeks, six have become the most recognizably Ancient Greek—architecture, sculpture, theater, poetry, painting, and music. Each of these arts was immensely important to the development of ancient culture, and all had unique characteristics that separate them from other artistic styles.
The Ancient Greeks are best known for the architecture that survives from the civilization’s heyday. Ancient Greek architects were adept at creating wide-reaching, complex buildings made of stone and utilizing a distinctive ornately decorated style. These buildings were often elaborately planned out to make maximum use of the materials available and last for many years.
Public and religious buildings were of particular importance and could be found all over the Greek world, from the Parthenon in Athens to the first temples at Delphi and Olympia. Greek architects are still well-known today, not only due to their many surviving buildings, but also for their advances in architectural theory and remarkable designs.
Among the earliest forms of Ancient Greek art, sculpture was a distinctive and integral part of the culture’s artistic output. Despite the fact that Ancient Greek sculpture was traditionally made of stone, it was often incredibly detailed and included complex lifelike images of people and gods.
Greek sculptures often portrayed human figures, often gods and goddesses, in poses requiring high physical skill and talent. Greeks used their ability to capture the human form to cast sculptures of athletes and warriors as a celebration of their power and vitality. These sculptures became iconic symbols of Greek culture and were highly sought-after by many civilizations throughout the world.
Theater was an important form of entertainment in Ancient Greece, with its own distinct style and conventions. It is credited with the first use of costumes, sets, props, and music to enhance a live performance. Greek plays typically included elaborate choral songs and dances and were often based on religious myths or explored social issues of the time.
Theater was performed by professional actors, who were often given honorary positions in society, and was hosted in theaters meant for large-scale public performances. The Ancient Greeks believed theater was an important contact point between gods and humans, and plays were integral to the culture—often serving as a form of entertainment, but also educating citizens on topics like law, justice, and loyalty.
The Ancient Greeks wrote and composed some of the earliest and most influential poetry of Western civilization. Of particular note are the works of Homer, Sappho, and Hesiod, who wrote about popular Greek myths, gods, and heroes. Ancient Greek poetry was often composed in strict meter, matched to melodies, and was performed by a chorus or by one individual.
It was passed down orally before eventually being written down by the poets and scholars of the time. While much of the poetry is lost, the works that have survived have stood the test of time and continue to be appreciated to this day.
Although it has received less attention in recent times, painting was an important art form in Ancient Greece. Paintings often utilized a fresco or tempera style to depict mythological scenes and characters, or favorites related to landscape and urban settings.
Whether used in pottery, on walls, or sculpted into friezes, painting was an important part of Ancient Greeks’ artistic expression. The most famous Ancient Greek painting is the Procession of the Robed Figures frieze from the Parthenon, which is a very respected example of artistic skill and expression.
Music was another essential part of Ancient Greek culture and was used not only in religious and civic ceremonies, but also for recreation and entertainment. Ancient Greek music was typically composed of solo voice or with a choir and was largely composed of monophonic melodies.
It was usually accompanied by a lyre or pipe, both of which were popular forms of instruments in Greek culture. Music was believed to have a strong connection to the divine, and was often used to mark important events and celebrations.
The six arts of Ancient Greece were central to the development of the culture and, indeed, the world at large. Architecture, sculpture, theater, poetry, painting, and music were all deeply intertwined with the cultural and religious life of the Greeks.
Even now, thousands of years later, their influence on the arts cannot be denied. From the Parthenon to Homer’s epics, the contribution of Ancient Greek art continues to inspire and captivate.