Getting Started in Watercolor
Interview with Sue Miller
Ancient Greece: Mythology and Clothing Stylesby Jenny Heidewald
Ancient Greece was the birthplace of western philosophy, of great works of art and literature. Its mythology and culture has stood the test of time to color our world today, centuries later. Before the Greeks there were the Mycenaeans and Minoans, and Greek mythology is purported to have its roots from those cultures, as well as Indo-European culture. By looking at how the Romans assimilated Greek mythology, you can see how a character or god can be "abducted", as you will. In addition to covering the very basics of Greek history, and each of their best known deities, I will also be illustrating the clothing of the Greeks. There was more than the one standard outfit that is stereotypically associated today with the ancient Greeks, a rich tapestry of inspiration to draw from.
Around 1200 B.C.E. the eastern Mediterranean cultures suffered a catastrophe, attributed to the Dorians who invaded from the north. They had weapons made of iron, which defeated the native people, who were equipped only with stone weapons. Once the native peoples were overcome, written records stopped, causing the region to plunge into what is known as The Dark Age. The Dorian rule lasted approximately four hundred years, during which time storytellers traveled the realm, telling myths, legends, and fables in what became the shared Greek language. Around 800 B.C.E. the Greek city-states emerged; these gatherings of humanity were generally isolated from each other, and each had their own way of handling matters. While the citizens had things in common, their language, tales, and the gods, they would fight amongst each other as readily as they would join together to defeat a common foe.
The biggest city-states were Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Megara, and Argos; of these, Athens is probably the best known. Descended from Ionians, the citizens of Athens valued art, and science. It was the home of great thinkers, including Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle (who was also the tutor of Alexander the Great), and Speusippus. Sparta, the other well-known city-state, emerged from a Dorian settlement. In contrast to the Athenians, they were warlike, and placed great value on the ability to fight. Even the women were taught to fight, and had greater freedom than in other city-states, due to the men being absent much of the time.
Greek traders brought an Oriental influence to Greece. Then, during the twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt, about 660 B.C.E., Greek mercenaries brought Egyptian influences home with them. We can see these influences in pottery decorations and statues. Not too much later Greek art blossomed, and, in a reverse of the trend, became the model of Eastern and Western civilizations.
Clothing for men and women were similar, though the male garments were usually shorter, reaching to the knees as opposed to the ankle or floor. Using various draping and girdling techniques, the wearer could customize their look to be unique to them. While we generally think of the Greeks in white, due to their statues, it has been found that the statues themselves had been painted bright colors, and there is mention of different colors in various writings of the era. Colors include, white, red, yellow, green, brown, black, grey, mauves and purple, with black and purple being reserved for mourning. They also decorated their clothing with different designs, many like the border decorations seen on their vases.
Clothing aids included pins, called fibula, to hold shoulder gatherings closed, weights for corners of garments, and girdles, which were basically long belts or ropes, to gather material together.
I have listed the main garments below, and illustrations of each are in the mythology section.
A tunic called the peplos was the basis for the classic Greek outfit, from which the Dorian chiton followed and the Ionian influence then refined. The peplos was made of heavier fabric and fitted the body closer than the chitons that descended from it. The Ionians developed finer wool and linen textiles, enabling the graceful draping inherent to later Greek clothing. After Alexander the Great made conquests in India, fine cottons and silks were introduced.
There were a couple of outer garments, one being the chlamys, and the other the himation. The chlamys was a square cloak that was pinned over the right shoulder to leave the right arm free, and was worn by men. Both men and women wore the himation, usually a chiton or other garment was worn underneath. Older men and philosophers could, and did, wear the himation by itself; the intricate folds and weights in the fabric held it in place.
The Doric chiton was like the peplos in design, but was made of a softer fabric. A long rectangle of cloth was turned down from the top to the waist, and then folded in half around the body; next, it was clasped at both shoulders, and, finally, girdled in place. Later chitons were sewn up the sides.
The Ionic chiton was almost always worn with the himation. This garment consisted of one or two rectangular pieces of cloth which were joined together at intervals along the shoulder; once this was accomplished, the wearer used a girdle to gather the fabric to the body.
The diploidion was a separate piece of cloth that was attached over the chiton. It could either be joined at both shoulders, or at one shoulder, and then slung down under the opposite arm. Depending on the length, the diploidion hung in elegant folds either to the waist or almost to the feet.
The exomis, worn later mainly by slaves and working men, was pinned over the left shoulder, leaving the other bare for ease of movement. Another garment worn by men was called the chitoniskos. This was a chiton sewn across the top to create short sleeves, and looks rather like a large shirt. Men did not wear long sleeves, as they were considered effeminate.
Footgear usually consisted of sandals, though at home they often went barefoot. For headgear, the Greeks had the petasos, a wide brimmed hat that men used while traveling, and which had a string so that it could hang down the back when not needed. They also had the pilos, a brimless, cone-shaped felt hat that was mainly used by working men. There is also the boeotian, a straw sun hat that was worn by women as well.
The Greek stories, as with most religions, provided some clever suppositions as to why some things were. Lightning? Obviously thrown by the most powerful god. Many ancient Greek words are still used in common language today; for example, Nemesis, who was the goddess of divine justice, and Nike, the goddess of victory, now most associated with a shoe brand. Many of the constellations recognized by us were named by the Greeks, supposedly being people or animals placed in the sky by Zeus. Moreover, how could one forget the Olympics?
Many fantasy creatures also originated from Greek mythology, the Pegasus, centaurs, the Minotaur, mermaids/sirens, harpies, dryads, satyrs, nymphs, and many more. The Greeks did not shy away from explaining the birth of monsters such as the Minotaur, there is a lot of frolicking, abducting, and mayhem in their stories.
In the Beginning
Though the Greek religion dealt mostly with Zeus' generation, there were many beings born before them. In the very beginning, there was Chaos, the void before creation. From Chaos came many other primordial beings. The two that are talked about the most in Greek Mythology are Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (the sky, or Heaven). Difference sources place Uranus as a sibling to Gaia, and others as one of her offspring (produced only by herself). At any rate, Uranus and Gaia together had the next batches of younglings, who were actually gods instead of primordial elements. There were the Titans, the Titanesses, the Cyclopes, and the Hecatoncheires.
Uranus was a troublemaker for Gaia, imprisoning their young inside her body. Gaia, determined to see her children free, asked for their help in defeating Uranus, and the only one that was willing was Cronus, who fostered a deep hatred of his father. The plot to overthrow Uranus was successful, and Cronus followed in his father's footsteps to become a tyrannical ruler. Married to his sister Rhea, he swallowed each of their children after they were born; this was, of course because of a prophecy that he would be over thrown by one of his offspring. Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon were all swallowed before Rhea went to her mother and father for advice on how to save the latest child she carried. Rhea deceived Cronus into swallowing a rock instead of the child, who was taken and hidden in Crete. This was the beginning of Zeus.
After drugging Cronus to induce the vomiting up of his now grown siblings, Zeus and the Olympians fought against their father and the Titans. This battle was won, with the help of the Cyclops and Hecatoncheires. The Cyclopes had bestowed great gifts on the Olympian brothers, giving Zeus thunder and lighting, Poseidon a trident that caused earthquakes, and Hades a helmet of invisibility. Once the war was won, the three brothers drew lots to see who would rule which realm; Zeus ended up with the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld. Zeus was now the ruler of the Olympian gods, of the sky (including weather), and a keeper of justice and order in the world.
Zeus is known for his indiscretions with the ladies, turning into different animals, and even a shower of gold once as an act of seduction. Pretty much always these flings of his, or any of the gods, result in offspring. His wife, Hera, was exceedingly jealous and would often punish the women and their children by Zeus, turning them into animals, or devising other punishments. Zeus was considered to be, among other things, the god of the sky and wisdom, and maintainer of order and justice. His animals are the eagle and bull. The Romans knew Zeus as Jupiter. I have dressed Zeus in a himation.
Hera, the third officially married to Zeus, and the first child of Rhea and Cronus, she was the Queen of the Olympian gods, though no match for Zeus' power. She was the protector of marriage and wives; her vindictive jealousy over Zeus' wandering was the focus of many a legend. Her bird is the peacock, and her flower is the lily. The Romans knew Hera as Juno. Here I have dressed Hera in an Ionic chiton, girdled about the shoulders and waist, with a himation draped on top. Her hairstyle is modeled from vase illustrations from the classical period, and she holds her lotus tipped staff.
Aphrodite was the goddess of love, as well as beauty and desire. There are two tales of how she was born; one is that she was born from the sea, the byproduct of Cronus' castration of Uranus; the other is that she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. In one version of her marriage, since she was so beautiful, Zeus married her off to Hephaestus to avoid any quarreling amongst the gods. The other tale is that Hephaestus gained her hand through revenge he had on his mother, Hera. This did marriage not prevent Aphrodite from having many lovers, the most famous of those being Ares, with whom she had several children, the most notable being Eros. Her animal is the dove, her flower the rose and myrtle. The Romans knew her as Venus. I have dressed Aphrodite in a Doric Chiton.
Eros, the winged god of beauty and love, with his arrows of love causing mischief when they went awry! The son of Ares and Aphrodite, he was generally pictured with his mother, carrying his bow and arrow. Though most typically presented as a cherub figure, Eros was married at one point, in the legend concerning Psyche. The Romans knew Eros as Cupid. I drew Eros wearing an exomis.
Ares, the god of war, bloodlust, manly courage, and terrible violence, delighting in blood and slaughter for its own sake. One of the second-generation Olympian gods, he was the son of Zeus and Hera. Ares was at odds with his sister Athena many times. He was depicted as a handsomely muscular man in armor with a spear and shield. He had many children with many women, immortal and mortal. The Romans knew him as Mars, and his animals were the dog and the bear. Ares is pictured here in Greek armor. The helmets had high crests, often with horsehair, to make the men seem taller and more imposing. Greek warriors also wore greaves to protect their lower legs.
Apollo was the god of music, healing, the sun, poetry, archery and more, he is Artemis' twin, by Zeus and Leto. He is represented as a handsome youth with long hair and carries various articles attributed to him, such as the lyre, bow and quiver, and a laurel wreath on his head. The tale behind the laurel is that Eros was taking revenge for a comment made by Apollo. Eros shot Apollo with a love arrow and Daphne, a nymph, with an arrow that made her abhor the thought of love. The nymph fled the love struck Apollo; when she was about to be caught she called out to her father to be saved, and he turned her into a laurel tree. Apollo then declared that the laurel would be his tree from then on. His animals include ravens, deer, hawks, crows and foxes. The Romans knew him by the same name. Apollo is wearing a chitoniskos.
Artemis is the virgin goddess of the hunt, and later represented the moon. She is often depicted carrying bow and quiver, but she also uses a spear. Her animals are bears, deer and boars. As a huntress, Artemis wears a short double girded chiton, which affords greater movement; this chiton style was generally only worn by men, the exception being women of Sparta. Romans knew Artemis as Diana
Athena, commonly referred to as "the goddess with grey eyes", She is the wise warrior, the goddess of reason, strategy, and even handicrafts. She was very popular and featured in many legends. Athena was the patroness of the city of Athens, and was born from Zeus' first marriage, to Metis. When her mother was pregnant with Athena, Zeus was told that a son by his offspring would overthrow him. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Zeus decided to swallow Metis, to stop the baby from being born. This did not prevent the birth of Athena, who sprung from her father's forehead, fully grown and armored. Athena was generally depicted in armor, with a magnificently crested helmet, along with a spear and shield. The breastplate that she wore was called the aegis, which started out as a goatskin but gradually became depicted as scaled. Later she adorned it with Medusa's head. Her animal was the owl, and her plant the olive tree. The Romans knew her as Minerva.
Demeter was the goddess of summer, harvest, and agriculture. Generally depicted as a mature woman, she is one of the first Olympians, and had a daughter by Zeus, named Persephone. Her symbols were wheat, a horn of plenty, a winged serpent and a lotus staff. Her animals were snakes and pigs. The Romans knew her as Ceres. Here Demeter is wearing a Hellenistic chiton, which is a style that is belted high under the breasts, and girdled lower.
Dionysus was the god of wine, madness, chaos, and mystic ecstasy. The son of Zeus and mortal Semele, he was a second generation Olympian. His birth story is odd in that he spent his last three months in Zeus' thigh, thus he was called the twice-born god. Some lists of the twelve principal Olympian gods replace Hestia with Dionysus. In processions on earth, the god of wine is accompanied by satyrs, and wild women; called maenads, who have done terrible acts in the throes of mystic ecstasy. Dionysus carries a thyrsus, a staff that is entwined with ivy and topped with a pinecone, and wears a crown of Ivy. His plant is the grape, and his animals include donkeys, tigers, and dolphins. The Romans knew him as Bacchus. I have dressed his bacchantes in different lengths of diploidions.
Hades, the king of the underworld, god of the dead and the hidden wealth of the earth. During the fight against Cronus and the Titans, the Cyclops gifted Hades with a helm of invisibility, which was borrowed by other gods later. Since he lived underworld rather than residing on Olympus, Hades is not generally included in the lists of the twelve primary deities. Hades was a major player in the Greek story of how the seasons came to be.
After falling in love with Demeter's daughter, Persephone, he abducted her. Demeter was frantic to find her daughter; when she found that Persephone was in the underworld she refused to let summer come. Zeus finally took things in hand, and ordered Hades to let the girl loose. There were limits to Zeus' powers however, since Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds while in Tartarus she had to remain with Hades for a third of the year.
The god of the dead was also known as Pluto and "the rich", the latter referring to the riches of the earth. These euphemisms were used since it was thought that saying the name "Hades" would draw unwelcome attention from the god himself. The Romans also knew Hades as Pluto. Hades is depicted here in a himation, which could also be used to cover the head, and Persephone is wearing a peplos.
Hephaestus was the god of metalworking, fire, masonry, volcanoes, and sculpture. He was the son of Hera alone, who had rejected him when she saw that he was crippled with a lame foot. She threw him out of Olympus, and he took a convoluted path that eventually had him regaining entry. The husband of Aphrodite, he was depicted at his work as a smith, with tongs and anvil, working his trade. His animals were the crane and the donkey. Romans knew him as Vulcan, and here he is modeling the pilos cap.
Hermes, the messenger of the gods, was also, among other things, the god of travel, messengers, cunning, language, and athletics. One of his other jobs was guiding the souls of the dead to Hades. Hermes was depicted most often as a handsome, beardless youth with his winged sandals and hat. He also carried a caduceus, which was a wand with two snakes entwined around it. Hermes invented the lyre, which he gave to Apollo after a prank he played on his half brother involving cows. Apollo was so entranced by the sound of the lyre that he forgave his younger sibling his prank in exchange for the instrument. The animals that were associated with Hermes were the hawk, turtle, and ram. Mercury was his Roman name, and here he is showing off the petasos, it did not have wings for mortals.
Hestia was the goddess of hearth, and home. The eldest of the Olympian siblings, she happily remained in Olympus, becoming the religious center of the dwelling. Since she wasn't inclined to adventure, she remained more of a representation of home rather than a deity featured in myths. She was worshiped in every household, and all the temples. Her symbols are the kettle and hearth. Vesta was her Roman name, and here she is showing off one of the more elaborate Greek hair styles.
Poseidon, the god of the sea, oceans rivers, earthquakes (he was also known as "the earth shaker"), and the creator of the horse, was another of the first Olympians. Poseidon is most often represented as a mature man with a long flowing beard and a trident in his hand. His animals are the horse and the dolphin. Neptune was his Roman name. I have dressed the god in a chlamys, which is a short cloak worn by men while hunting, traveling, or at war. It is fastened on the right shoulder in order to leave the right arm free.
Greek mythology is a very deep, rich, and sometimes convoluted treasury, much too broad to cover in depth here. While ancient Greek culture has not survived to this day it is amazing that their religion, if only in a mythical form, has done so, and how much of their culture is still part of our own modern day one. There are many books that go in depth into their ancient culture, more explanations of their family life, and how they interacted with their gods, on a day-to-day basis. There are also many books and sites online that deal with clothing and different draping techniques used by the ancient Greeks.
Related EMG-Zine articles of mine:
Dryads and Trees
More information on Ancient Greece
Ancient Greek Clothing
Ancient Greek Female Costume
A Shorter History of Greek Art, by Martin Robertson
Ancient Greek Religion, by Jon D. Mikalson
Greek Religion, by Walter Burkert
The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, by Pierre Grimal
Bulfinch's Mythology, The Greek and Roman Fables Illustrated, by Thomas Bulfinch
Athena: A Biography, by Lee Hall
Women in Greek Myth, Mary R. Lefkowitz
Historic Costume, by Lester and Kerr
Costume History and Style, by Douglas A. Russell
Survey of Historic Costume, by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank
The Dictionary of Costume, by R. Turner Wilcox
The Encyclopedia of World Costume, by Doreen Yarwood
Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.
Would you like to support our contributors? As a subscriber, you could use your subscription fee to pay this author for their work, as well as receive lots of extra subscriber perks!
All graphics on these pages are under copyright. Webpage design copyrighted by Ellen Million Graphics. All content copyrighted by the creating artist. If you find anything which is not working properly, please let me know!
EMG powered by: a few minions and lots of enchanted search frogs