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Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts

Ancient Egyptian art is often considered the earliest representation of Western art. The art of this region and era was often funerary or religious in nature, as exemplified in the colossal pyramids of Giza, built as final resting places for the pharoahs, or of the Sphinx, a mythic creature. Additionally, ancient Egyptian art was highly symbolic and a painting or sculpture was not meant to be a record of a momentary impression. Of the materials used by the Egyptian sculptor (clay, wood, metal, ivory, and stone), stone was the most plentiful and permanent, available in a wide variety of colors and hardness. Sculpture was often painted in vivid hues as well. The perspective of Egyptian art was frontal, and Egyptians painters and sculptors always portrayed human figures standing upright, stiff and rigid, facing directly to the front. If their heads were turned in profile, the eye was drawn as if it was seen from the front. Additionally, much of Egyptian sculpture was cubic; meaning, that the product nearly always echoed in its form the shape of the stone cube or block from which it was fashioned, partly because it was an image conceived from four viewpoints. Later, some new artistic influences were introduced when Egypt came under the influence of the Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) world. One of the most important of these was the realistic painted representation of individuals.

The earliest Roman art is generally associated with the overthrow of the Etruscan kings and the establishment of the Republic around 500 B.C. Roman art is traditionally divided into two main periods, art of the Republic and art of the Roman Empire, with subdivisions corresponding to the major emperors or imperial dynasties. When the Republic was founded, the term Roman art was virtually synonymous with the art of the city of Rome, which still bore the stamp of its Etruscan art. The Romans were particularly interested in portraiture, and were more interested in sculptures that looked like actual persons rather than ideas (in contrast to the Greeks). About 200 B.C., as the Romans began conquering Greece, Roman art became influenced by the Greek art in the temples, cemeteries, public squares and homes. Augustus' Ara Pacis, for example (the Altar of Peace), is heavily influenced from Greek art, especially in its frieze which is resembles that in the Parthenon. Additionally, during the last two centuries before Christ a distinctive Roman manner of building, sculpting, and painting emerged. Nevertheless, because of the extraordinary geographical extent of the Roman Empire and the number of diverse populations encompassed within its boundaries, the art and architecture of the Romans was always eclectic, with its varying styles attributable to differing regional tastes and the diverse preferences of a wide range of patrons. Roman art was not just the art of the emperors, senators, and aristocracy, but of all the peoples of Rome's vast empire, including middle-class businessmen, freedmen, slaves, and soldiers in Italy and the provinces.

One of ancient Rome's greatest contributions to art was their city planning and architecture. The Romans were ingenious in building great roads and highways which connected the far reaches of their Empire together. Vast aqueducts channeled water from place to place. The Romans built grand civic buildings such as the Colosseum and the Forum as well as religious structures like the Pantheon. As with much of their culture, the Romans borrowed the Greek orders of columns in their architecture. Columns varied from the simple Doric style to the Ionic and finally, the floral leaf-like ornamentation of the Corinthian style. The Romans also developed a new form of interior design. Their domestic houses as well as public buildings and tombs were often decorated with painted frescos, and the floors set with colorful mosaics.

Literature and Poetry

Ancient thinkers, referred to as Presocratic Philosophers, wrote verse about what they observed in nature. In ancient Greece, many aspects of culture were still without distinct form. The origin of drama is mired in legend, but drama seems to have arisen as part of religious worship and the word "tragedy" appears to come from the word "goat song". The first element in Greek tragedy was the chorus, which danced and sang poetry created by the dramatist at the religious festivals. Actors came later, with the great tragedians. The man credited with creating the epics we know of as the Iliad and Odyssey, (whom we refer to as Homer) was a rhapsode, a person who accompanied his improvised performances with a musical instrument. Epic poetry, one of the major forms of narrative literature, came to be distinguished by its distinct (epic) meter. The epic retells in a continuous narrative the life and works of a heroic or mythological person or group of persons. Lyric poetry, developed according to legend, by Terpander, was poetry accompanied by a lyre. Epigrams were composed for funerals. An epigram is a short poem with a clever twist at the end or a concise and witty statement. It was an epigrammatist, Mimnermus of Smyrna, who is credited with developing the elegiac meter that was used for love poetry (elegies). History, as developed by Herodotus, was a (prose) story about whatever Herodotus set his inquiring mind to.

In ancient Rome, satire was a recognized and somewhat defined literary verse genre. It was the only genre the Romans claimed as their own invention. Some early novels fell within the genre of (Menippean) satire. Roman epigrams owe much to their Greek predecessors and contemporaries. Roman epigrams, however, were more often satirical than Greek ones, and at times used obscene language for effect. In the literary world, epigrams were often gifts to patrons or entertaining verse to be published, not inscriptions. Many Roman writers seem to have composed epigrams, including Domitius Marsus, whose collection 'Cicuta' (now lost) was named after the poisonous hemlock tree for its biting wit, and Lucan, more famous for his epic Pharsalia. Authors whose epigrams survive include Catullus, who wrote both invectives and love epigrams.


Only approximately fifty pieces of music survive from ancient Greece, ranging in time from 500 B.C. to 300 A.D. Much about this music is unfamiliar to modern ears, including musical intervals smaller than the space between two keys on the modern piano, strange rhythms and time meters. Still, the ancient Greeks composed the same basic types of music, including dance songs (hyporchema), sad songs (threnos), drinking songs (skolion) and hymns (hymnos or dythyrambs). In addition, there were a large variety of instruments commonly used to produce Greek music, many of which became associated with religious figures. The aulos, a wind instrument, was associated with Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy, and is akin to the modern recorder. The kithara was a stringed instrument, an early form of the guitar, and was associated with Apollo, the god of the Sun and reason. Other Greek instruments include the tympanon (drum), Kymbala (cymbals), and the Syrinx or Pandean pipes (panpipes). Pythagoras of Samos, who lived during the 6th through 5th centuries B.C., was a very important figure in the evolution of Greek music. He discovered mathematical ratios for various musical intervals, and his followers further developed his system. Music came to be considered as not only an art, but also as a branch of mathematics.

Music filled the lives of the ancient Romans, from private nightly dining to festive public celebrations, from serious musical performances to military parades, and from solemn to wildly erotic religious rituals. As for instruments, the Romans enjoyed the lute, a forerunner of the modern guitar; organs powered by bellows; the kithara, the "guitar" of the ancient Romans; the lyre, which appeared in various forms; flutes, often in the form of twin reeds; the tympani, or tambourine, used most often in celebrations, theater performances and dances; trumpets and French horns, used for the military and parades; panpipes, harps, and drums.

Music permeates the culture of ancient Israel. In the Iron Age, the place of music in the life of the Israelites cannot be overestimated. The Bible is rich with references to music and the role that music played in the social, political, and religious aspects of ancient Israel. Festive choruses enriched marriage ceremonies with music and dancing, and music expressed the joy and thanksgiving when the sheep were sheared and the grapes were gathered. Victorious armies were met with the songs of women, celebrating the return of Israel's warriors, and apparently, music sprang up spontaneously and effortlessly in day to day life as well. In the religion of the Israelites, musical instruments played meaningful roles in the festivals and in the worship at the temple. The life of King David provides manifold examples of the importance of music in ancient Israel. David himself played the kinnor well enough to sooth the temper of his predecessor, King Saul; and David danced and played music in front of the Ark of the Covenant when it returned to Jerusalem. After David killed Goliath, Scripture records that "the women sang as they played, and said, 'Saul has slain his thousands, And David his tens of thousands.'" Music occupied a prominent position in the secular and religious spheres of Israelite life. Music was a form of expression that they embraced and loved. When the temple was destroyed, the Jewish people gave up the music that they had loved and mourned for the loss of the Temple, with only the shofar to remind them that someday God would redeem his people.