Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Greeks from Agamemnon to Alexander the Great-A Private Viewing at the Field Museum, Chicago

Photos by Lindsay Ozburn
On Friday, December 4th, Lindsay Ozburn, a Master's student with the European Union Center at the University of Illinois, attended a private viewing of the Field Museum’s new exhibit, "The Greeks: from Agamemnon to Alexander the Great". This special showing was a fundraising event for the Modern Greek Studies Program , also at U of I, in an effort to share the beauty of ancient Greek culture to the Midwest and garner support for the continuation and advancement of the program. Modern Greek Studies Program Director Dr. Stefanos Katsikas announced the successful establishment of an undergraduate minor, as well as his campaign for the establishment of undergraduate and graduate degrees in Hellenic Studies. The establishment of such programs would offer more study abroad opportunities, internships, and inter-University cooperation. The overwhelming support and attendance of more than 200 donors, drawing from Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni, the Greek-American community in Chicago, friends of the MGS program, as well as distinguished guest Greek Consul General in Chicago Polyxeni Petropoulou, highlighted the positive impact the program’s wonderful accomplishments which have helped connect the Greek-American community and its supporters throughout the Midwest.

This fascinating and unique exhibit features over 500 artifacts from 21 National Museums in Greece, including many pieces that have never before left the country. One of the exhibition project managers, Susan Neill, described it as the largest exhibition of ancient Greek culture in North America in twenty-five years. Organized into six ‘zones’, the exhibit takes you on a chronological journey of development in Greek history, from roughly 6500 B.C.E up to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. The first zones set the stage for the rest of the exhibit, showing the development of Greek culture, trade, war, and its decline.

Figure 1: Golden Roundels

What differentiates this exhibit from others is its focus on the individual. While some are not known by name, guests can see how ancient Greek citizens were represented in death. Glimpsing at the treasures within their tombs, one can see what was most important to them during their lifetime and how they wished to be remembered. This allows a more personable encounter, rather than simply looking at artifacts outside of the scope of everyday life in ancient Greece. A highlight of this experience includes a glimpse into a priestess’s burial, who was covered in over 200 stunning golden roundels. While this exhibit features only a fraction of those gold pieces, they were nevertheless stunning. The very delicate, intricate detailing on every piece exemplifies this priestess’s importance in life and in death, as well as the pride ancient Greek craftsmen and women took in their work.

An additional highlight is the interactive nature of the exhibit. While guests cannot touch the original artifacts, there are plenty of replicas available that allow guests to step back in time and experience the materials used in crafting and the intricate carvings created by skillful hands. The curators also employ the use of videos to transport viewers into the tombs in which many artifacts were discovered. One of these videos incorporates a touch screen that helps guests explore the façade of Phillip II’s tomb.

Figure 2, Funeral Mask, "First" Mask of Agamemnon

One of Lindsay's favorite exhibits were the golden masks of Agamemnon – not just because of their beauty, but because of the slightly comical story of their discovery. The first mask associated with the mythological Agamemnon was discovered around the 1870s in Mycenae. However, shortly after this, a second funeral mask was discovered that, due to its splendor, became known as what we now consider the official mask of Agamemnon. Their presence at the Field museum particularly special, as the first funeral mask has never left Greece and the replica of the second mask is highly prized. Some other notable artifacts include the second bust of Alexander the Great, a very unique boar tusk helmet, and many delicately-painted amphorae depicting scenes from Homer’s Iliad.

Figure 3, Mask of Agamemnon (replica)
Connected by thought, religion, athleticism, and democratic practice, the exhibit is highly recommended. It is unique that so many precious artifacts were allowed out of their homes to be enjoyed in Chicago. The sheer volume of artifacts makes it impossible to get through in just one visit. “If something catches your eye”, says Neill, “follow it.” The items that surprise you will be worth an second look, such as the tools of democracy used to select people for jury service. Do so every time you visit the exhibit, and you will be sure to have a unique, captivating experience every time.

Designed to bring people together and transcend boundaries, the exhibit is the product of four North American museums collaborating with their Greek partners. After spending several weeks at the Field Museum, it will travel to Washington, D.C. to be on display at the National Geographic Museum.

Lindsay Ozburn is a graduate student in the European Union Studies Program, Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow in Modern Greek, and is also perusing a minor in Cultural Heritage Management through the U of I’s CHAMP program.

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