Modern echoes of Ancient Greece

August 26, 2015

You’re looking into the eyes of Plato, as Socrates and Aristotle did some 2,500 years ago. Through the headset, you hear an excerpt from The Republic, Plato’s masterpiece that laid the foundation for Western philosophy and science, and remains one of the most important books ever written. The face rendered in the marble portrait and the profound thoughts about those who govern us seem a perfect fit.

Welcome to The Greeks – Agamemnon to Alexander the Great, a stirring exploration of the origins and legacy of one of history’s most influential cultures. Philosophy, politics, science, medicine, theatre — so many aspects of our lives today carry the echoes of Ancient Greece.

The birthplace of Western culture

Terence Clark is the exhibition’s curator at the Canadian Museum of History. “The way we envision the world around us and our place in it; the idea of testing and determining facts from observation; the principles of democracy; comedy and tragedy in theatre as a way of teaching morals as well as entertaining — we can trace it all back to Classical Athens,” he says.

The exhibition explores those connections with the help of over 500 outstanding artifacts selected from 21 Greek museums. The artifacts include breathtaking adornments fashioned from gold, expertly carved marble statuary, intimidating Iron and Bronze Age weaponry, and a wondrous array of clay figurines, amphorae and other objects.

Jean-François Léger, Creative Development Specialist at the Canadian Museum of History, was responsible for integrating the artifacts and storyline into a compelling visitor experience. He speaks with amazement about the exhibition’s “incredible treasures,” and how it links contemporary Canadians to the people of Ancient Greece.

Connecting the past with the present

“Much has changed since then, of course, but much remains the same,” Léger says. “Like the Ancient Greeks, we question the purpose of our lives and we struggle to come to terms with our own mortality. It’s always fascinating to see how others have grappled with these timeless issues.”

Clark agrees. “The exhibition focuses very much on individuals and how they viewed themselves and their relationship with the gods in life and in death. That was our ‘big idea.’”

Clark describes The Greeks as a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this is the biggest and most important Greek exhibition to ever travel outside Greece. And given the time and effort put into this, I can’t imagine it will be replicated any time soon.”

“As you stare into Plato’s eyes, hear his words and imagine being in his presence,” Clark adds, “be sure to say a word of thanks to the people of Greece, who made the exhibition possible.”

The Greeks – Agamemnon to Alexander the Great is presented at the Canadian Museum of History until October 12, 2015.

Image: Queen Meda’s myrtle wreath
Gold wreaths were originally reserved for the gods, but in the 4th century BCE also became fashionable for kings, queens and the wealthy.
© Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs