This week: Rome in Greece

Hadrian’s library, Athens, Greece. IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons.

These days, the term ‘philhellenism’ (literally, the love of all things Greek) is perhaps most often associated with the Romantic poets and thinkers of the late 18th and 19th centuries – a period during which a ‘new cult of the antique’, as one scholar described it, won many disciples among the elites of Europe and the US.

Among those remembered as philhellenes are the Russians Pushkin and Tolstoy, the Germans Nietzsche and Goethe, and most famously, the Britons Byron and Shelley – with the latter perhaps most succinctly summing up the movement’s spirit, when he wrote: ‘We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece.’

As we discover this week on The Past, however, that spirit of philhellenism goes much further back – to the aristocratic Roman obsession with a lost ‘Golden Age’ of Ancient Greece, centred on the Athens of Pericles in the 5th century BC, and its intellectual and artistic achievements.

In the new issue of Current World Archaeology magazine, Carly Hilts explains how Ancient Greek art, architecture, literature, religion, philosophy, and medicine all came to be embedded in the Roman imagination – and how, in turn, centuries of Roman rule left traces that can still be seen today in Athens, the city at the heart of their infatuation.

Elsewhere this week on The Past, we have also been searching in the archives for more about Athenian history: Richard Hodges delved more deeply into the city’s Roman remains; Lucia Marchini looked for eternal beauty at the Museum of Cycladic Art; and Paul Cartledge revealed how the revolutionary idea of democracy was first put into practice.

And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite for more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around Ancient Athens. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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