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Classical Greek World

Case 4: Classical Athens 540–400 BC

Death and burial

Many Greek vases were placed in graves, indeed that is how most of them survive today. Some were the sorts of vases used in life, while others were made especially for funerary purposes. Most distinctive of the grave vases are the tall, white flasks for perfumed oil (lekythoi), laid inside the tomb or left as offerings outside it. These lekythoi often show tomb monuments; they were so characteristic of Athenian cemeteries that stone lekythoi were also made as grave markers - see these example in the gallery.

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A good Athenian

Much Athenian imagery focuses on what it meant to be a good Athenian citizen, which in classical Athens was an adult male born of citizen parents. Young men were trained through formal education, physical training, and social interaction with other men to become citizens. The ideal adult Athenian was expected to be kalos k'agathos (handsome and good) and to be a brave warrior who would fight for the city.

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Pots and parties

Many Greek houses had rooms set aside for men to meet, talk, sing and drink wine. These gatherings were called symposia. Respectable women were not admitted to a symposium, and party-goers were expected to speak or sing for their fellow guests. Mixing bowls, jugs and cups were needed to prepare, serve and drink the wine. Scenes on the vessels – of drinking and drunkenness, of the wine-god Dionysos, of athletics and fighting, and of both homosexual and heterosexual courtship – would remind the guests of the need to mix their wine with water, and would stimulate party conversation.

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