The ideal of athletic competition, mythology centered on the successes and failures of semi-divine heroes, lyrical poetry expressing the deepest emotions of the individual – these are just a few examples of great phenomena of European culture that derive from the Greek culture of the archaic period, from the time between Homer and the era of Pericles. If one were to look for a common denominator for these phenomena, one would have to point to the combination of exuberant individualism with the spirit of competition, to the ambition to stand out from the whole community in the competition between its most outstanding representatives. The great cultural phenomena mentioned above have their roots in the ideals but also in the lifestyle of a very specific social group, namely the Greek aristocracy of the archaic period. This project will examine the lifestyles and value systems of this group. We will focus on very many aspects of this issue. We will be interested in the material attributes of the status of the Greek elite, e.g. the funeral customs of the Greek aristocrat, but also in the aristocratic erotic ethics, the rules of sports competition, or the rules of organization of the all-night aristocratic feast called the symposium. In each of these areas, the prestige of the aristocrat was shaped in constant competition with his peers. Not just sports games, the symposium was nothing more than a series of formalized competitions in which one competed by manifesting one’s mastery of strictly cultural skills-from feasting contests of poetic improvisation to the impractical skill of throwing a discus over distance. In Greek reality, the highest social position was not determined by multi-generational noble genealogy, immense wealth, or a separate legal status, but by an appropriately spectacular lifestyle, the key element of which was the mastery of various cultural skills. Since almost all wealthy citizens of the Greek poleis could aspire to the position of aristocrat, aristocratic culture was enjoyed by Greeks regardless of their current wealth position. Aristocratic culture thus combined features of high culture and popular culture, and this universal appeal was passed on to the cultural phenomena of the classical period that grew out of it, such as the Attic theater. The most important sources of Greek classicism thus grow out of, among other things, the value system and lifestyle of the archaic Greek aristocracy.
Il. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons