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The men were artists, politicians, architects, and scientists. So, what were all the wives doing? The democratization of politics and education within Ancient Greece was certainly a product of their ideals, but it in no way extended to all citizens. Women were essentially a subservient class, destined to live in the shadows of their male counterparts, with major careers being domestic or sex work.

Ancient Greek womanhood had two options: mother or whore, these lifestyles being mutually exclusive.

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However, evidence of the roles of women within Ancient Greece, and its cultural hub, Athens, do appear on pottery found in the home and therefore in the everyday lives of Greek citizens. Portraying women as the caretakers of the home provides a romanticized picture of domestic life, as well as keying into the sexual politics within the home.

With pottery being one of the few high art forms to be consistently found in homes of all classes and incomes, it demonstrates the typical opinions of Athenian citizens. For example, iconography found on an amphora vase that was used to carry wine, and therefore used in the home, demonstrated scenes and ideas that would be familiar and agreeable to the average citizen.


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In spite of that, commonplace opinions are not always rooted in historically accurate, meticulously detailed records. A lidded container, circa BCE and attributed to a follower of Douris, used to hold makeup or jewelry, depicts a scene of adornment. It is unlikely that gatherings of this size were commonplace for Athenian women, as women were essentially isolated in their individual houses, without the company of others.

Art History: Female Figures in Ancient Greek Sculpture - Free Essay Sample

Be that as it may, it is much more desirable to see a vase painted with the joyous and ultra-feminine atmosphere of wedding preparation and beautification than a woman quietly tending to the house alone. Domestic life encompassed young women, too. A red figure water jar from approximately BCE attributed to the Phiale Painter depicts young girls in dance lessons, training to become hetairai. Girls were not given a childhood, per se, rather, they were taught how to be women from an early age. A driving force within Greek culture, to the extreme that physically beautiful people were seen as more divine.

While the Greek Gods were represented through the human form, they were not technically humans. A red figure lekythos bottle circa BCE attributed to the Group of Vienna is decorated with the story of the beauty contest that sparked the Trojan War.

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Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite surround Paris, awaiting his decision. The expectations of female beauty within the divine are resting on the shoulders of a mortal man. Beauty is considered a key component of divinity, and yet the winning beauty among three Goddesses is being decided by a human prince. By bringing this story to women through the medium of vase painting, which allowed illiterate women to understand their own religion, it not only supported the idea that the female form is, at the end of the day, an instrument of beauty, it diluted the divine power of three Goddesses down to their mere sexual attractiveness.

In the same way that depicting the female form as a Goddess drew attention to the cultural importance of the female body, the physical shape of a vase could also have significance. By zeroing in on her sexually desirable body parts, the middleman of the actual human woman behind those breasts is cut out. Women are frequently depicted as sexual objects in Ancient Greek pottery, thus providing context for the sexual culture of Ancient Greece.

A red figure hydria from BCE attributed to the Harrow Painter depicts a scene that can be interpreted as either a transaction between a hetairai and an Athenian youth, accompanied by his father, or an innocent scene between a mother, her son, and her husband. A lidded container, circa BCE and attributed to a follower of Douris, used to hold makeup or jewelry, depicts a scene of adornment.

It is unlikely that gatherings of this size were commonplace for Athenian women, as women were essentially isolated in their individual houses, without the company of others. Be that as it may, it is much more desirable to see a vase painted with the joyous and ultra-feminine atmosphere of wedding preparation and beautification than a woman quietly tending to the house alone.


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Domestic life encompassed young women, too. A red figure water jar from approximately BCE attributed to the Phiale Painter depicts young girls in dance lessons, training to become hetairai. Girls were not given a childhood, per se, rather, they were taught how to be women from an early age. A driving force within Greek culture, to the extreme that physically beautiful people were seen as more divine.

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BBC - iWonder - Why does the art of ancient Greece still shape our world?

While the Greek Gods were represented through the human form, they were not technically humans. A red figure lekythos bottle circa BCE attributed to the Group of Vienna is decorated with the story of the beauty contest that sparked the Trojan War. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite surround Paris, awaiting his decision. The expectations of female beauty within the divine are resting on the shoulders of a mortal man.

Beauty is considered a key component of divinity, and yet the winning beauty among three Goddesses is being decided by a human prince.


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  • By bringing this story to women through the medium of vase painting, which allowed illiterate women to understand their own religion, it not only supported the idea that the female form is, at the end of the day, an instrument of beauty, it diluted the divine power of three Goddesses down to their mere sexual attractiveness. In the same way that depicting the female form as a Goddess drew attention to the cultural importance of the female body, the physical shape of a vase could also have significance.

    Art History: Female Figures in Ancient Greek Sculpture Cause and Effect Essay

    By zeroing in on her sexually desirable body parts, the middleman of the actual human woman behind those breasts is cut out. Women are frequently depicted as sexual objects in Ancient Greek pottery, thus providing context for the sexual culture of Ancient Greece. A red figure hydria from BCE attributed to the Harrow Painter depicts a scene that can be interpreted as either a transaction between a hetairai and an Athenian youth, accompanied by his father, or an innocent scene between a mother, her son, and her husband.

    However, the vast majority of scholars argue that this is a scene depicting sexual power dynamics, not domestic roles. It nevertheless gives a clue as to what the distinguished gender roles within Athenian society were. Men had economic control, while women were compensated by their husbands or the men who solicited sex work from them. The medium of pottery was found in households and temples alike, thus making it a reliable source for the common opinions of Greek citizens and the average treatment of women, who were expected to be domestic caretakers or prostitutes.

    A good wife was a beautiful, dutiful one. While the modern world appears to have moved on from the idea that a woman is only as good as her physical appearance, that her worth is found both in her beauty and her ability to be a good wife or mother. These days, women are expected to be as beautiful as the women in the adornment scene, as sexually desirable as the hetairai, and as practical as the housewife.

    Jenkins, Ian and Turner, Victoria. The Portland Art Museum. Bundrick, Sheramy.