The Greek Press Today
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06 December, 2006
The culture and differences of the ancient Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta are being presented to the American public from Tuesday, in a "unique exhibition", as described by Greek Culture Minister George Voulgarakis, during a press conference on Monday at the Onassion Cultural Centre of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, in Manhattan.
Voulgarakis congratulated the Onassis Foundation, particularly its president Antonis Papadimitriou, as well as the National Archaeological Museum, noting that the exhibition, like others which have been presented by the Onassis Foundation, contribute in the direction of the projection of Greece's culture.
"For the first time, two magnificent cities of antiquity are being projected in a modern multicultural city," said Voulgarakis, noting that "the best ambassador of Greece is its culture."
Speaking at the same press conference, Foundation president Antonis Papadimitriou referred to the content and timeless significance of the exhibition, noting "the parallel life and rivalry of these two cities, with very many dimensions".
Papadimitriou said that unique art objects were on display, adding that this was the first they were traveling outside Greece, and thanked the Central Archaeological Council, the National Archaeological Museums of Athens and Sparta, and all the other museums that allowed "these masterpieces" in their possession to be included in the exhibition abroad.
Greece's National Archaeological Museum director and curator of the exhibition, Dr. Nikos Kaltsas, outlined the exhibits, divided into three unities: the cultural, political and economic course of Athens and Sparta from the 8th to the 5th century BC.
"For the first time has such a large number of Laconic and Attic artwork been gathered side by side," Dr. Kaltsas said, noting that the purpose of the exhibition was not a comparison, but rather to highlight the differences of the two city-states in mentality, organization and artistic expression "which, in times of peace, developed that which today is known worldwide and universally acknowledged as classical Hellenic civilization".
The rival Hellenic city-states, Sparta and Athens, were distinct from one another not only politically and culturally, but also artistically. While ancient Sparta was famous for militarism and austerity, its artistic developments are typically regarded as less advanced than those of Athens, which has long been revered for producing some of the most exquisite artworks in all of ancient Greece.
The exhibition will trace both Laconic and Attic artistic developments from the 8th to the 5th centuries B.C., with a focus on the historically overlooked achievements made in Spartan art during this period. A total of 289 rare artifacts from the two city-states are brought together in this exhibition, many of which are visiting the U.S. for the first time. Highlights of Athens-Sparta will include a marble head of Leonidas, from the 6th century B.C., and Laconic bronze figurines of hoplites, from the 8th to the 6th centuries B.C., with loans drawn from museums across Greece.
Artifacts on display include a marble statue believed to represent the Spartan king Leonidas, weapons found at Thermopylae where he died fighting Persian invaders, and finds from Marathon, where Athens defeated a Persian army in 490 B.C. Athens and Sparta overcame decades of mutual distrust to ally against Persian invasions in the early 5th century B.C., but fought each other in the bitter Peloponnesian War which divided Greece's querulous city states and lasted, with brief intervals, from 431-404 B.C. Sparta won that war but lost the peace, declining in later years into a rural backwater, while Athens remained a center of learning and culture for most of its later history.
Papadimitriou, in an interview with ANA-MPA, said the exhibition was very important and of great interest from both a cultural and a historic viewpoint, and was the seventh exhibition to be organized by the Foundation in the US.
He said the exhibition showcased the parallel life and rivalry of the two city-states, with their numerous influences on politics, history, culture, philosophy and art.
Papadimitriou said that, of the 289 artifacts on display, particular interest was presented by the marble bust of a hoplite believed to be that of Leonidas, dating to the end of the 5th century BC, a marble 5th century BC statuette of an Attic Kore from the Acropolis Museum, bronze hoplite figurines from Sparta dated between the 8th-6th century BC, a 6th century BC clay cylix by the Laconian painter Arkesilas, a mid-4th centry BC marble statuette of the goddess Athena, Attic bas-reliefs and a gravestone stele from the late 5th century BC, and 5th century BC arrowheads and spears from the site of the Battle of Thermopylae.
The Onassion Cultural Centre is the Foundation's headquarters in the US, and a subsidiary of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation established in 1975 after the death of shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, named after Onassis' son Alexandros who was killed in a private plane crash.
Source: Athens News Agency