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Classical Greek World 540-320 BC

Case 7: Greeks beyond Greece

The Greeks and the Etruscans

Greeks dedicated vases as gifts to the gods or buried them in graves. But more Greek vases have been found in Italy, in the tombs of the Etruscans, than in Greece itself. Some vases seem to have been especially designed for export to Etruria. Others, including those that featured battles, banquets or athletics, would have appealed to the Etruscans without any need for adaptation, as these were all key aspects of Etruscan, as well as Greek, life.

Greek myths also appear in Etruscan art. Some Greek subjects were more popular than others and sometimes the Etruscans emphasized different characters or added new ones. For other examples of the cross-fertilisation of Greek and Etruscan ideas see Case 11

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The Greeks and their gods

The Greek world was full of gods, who appeared in all aspects of everyday life. The Greeks did not have a sacred text, but they told many different stories about their gods. Written stories survive, such as poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey, plays, and philosophical works. The many images of gods also show how Greeks imagined the divine. Gods are portrayed as noble, all-powerful and worthy of worship, but at the same time as ruled by human weaknesses such as jealousy, anger and desire.

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Collecting the Greek Past

How do ancient artefacts come to be in the Fitzwilliam Museum?

Many were given by scholars associated with the University of Cambridge, or supporters of the Museum. Others were bought from existing collections, like that of William Martin Leake (1777-1860). Leake was a soldier, diplomat and largely self-taught scholar, who travelled widely in the Mediterranean, and especially in Greece, between 1804 and 1808. On retiring from active service, he wrote extensively on his travels, his coins and the topography of ancient Greece. Many of these objects were originally part of his collection.

The Revd Samuel Savage Lewis (1836-1891) was a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, an energetic cleric, teacher and antiquary. His main collecting interests lay in the fields of ancient coins and engraved seal-stones, but some of the finest vases on display here were also his. The Lewis Collection is on long-term loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum from Corpus Christi College.

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