Ancient Greeks: Classics students on war, heroes, sport and arts in today’s world

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Four Year 12 students- Daisy Nalder, Ania Adams, Mala Cleland and Charlie Ullrich, visited Auckland Museum to discuss the legacy of Ancient Greece through a modern lens. Video / Cameron Pitney / NZ Herald

War, sport, art. Four Year 12 students studying Classics at Western Springs College visited Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira and discuss the legacy of the
Ancient Greeks through a modern lens. As told to Sarah Daniell.

Charlie Ulrich: What surprised me the most going through the exhibition was how much influence Ancient Greeks have on society now – like the Olympics – how that has evolved and adapted.

Daisy Nalder: How it’s carried on for so long – now the Commonwealth Games and all the various sports like the javelin – still to this day, they remain, thousands of years later.

Charlie: And the main principles of it – bringing people together to celebrate each other.

Daisy: And victory – that competitive drive has sustained for more than 2000 years.

Art, sport, hero worship - the parallels with Ancient Greeks and modern times is examined by students at Auckland Museum.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Art, sport, hero worship – the parallels with Ancient Greeks and modern times is examined by students at Auckland Museum. Photo / Dean Purcell

Ania Adams (Te Ātiawa): Xenia, which is hospitality, relates to what we know as manaakitanga in our Māori culture. Entering a house in Ancient Greece, the relationship between the host and the guest was so important. When we enter marae or whare, we take our shoes off to show respect for tūpuna – which is like showing respect to Zeus – the god of hospitality. He protected strangers. I think that idea of ​​Xenia is so important.

Daisy: Going against that custom was going against the gods. Dishonouring them entirely.

Anya: Going against manaakitanga is like disrespecting the gods – what we would call tūpuna.

Charlie: Also, having that respect for your guests. Giving them all they need before you even question them about their journey or question why they are there.

Daisy: That idea of ​​generosity and care is carried through in various cultures.

Athletes, Warriors and Heroes: Ancient Greeks exhibition that is showing at the Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Athletes, Warriors and Heroes: Ancient Greeks exhibition that is showing at the Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. Photo / Dean Purcell

Mala Cleland: And the concept of heroism – it’s evolved from being an image represented by someone physically strong – usually a male – who is showing great bravery and courage, and it’s really developed, especially in recent times during the pandemic. Instead we see school teachers and hospital workers as heroes – people who are demonstrating a different form of bravery and I guess a different form of strength. Using their experience and intelligence to save lives instead of physical strength. I think that’s a significant development that has been influenced by Greek culture.

Daisy: And a lot of epic poetry was based around heroes such as Odysseus and in this time there are more heroes that are females – but in Ancient Greece females were subordinate. They had to attend to their household and family obligations. They were more desired the fairer their skin was. That meant they didn’t do outdoor labour.

Charlie: They had to mirror their husbands.

Daisy: Yeah – be entirely devoted to their husbands and fathers. Their lives were essentially about that and I think although we have made significant progress in some ways, females do still suffer various inequalities. Like recently – the ability to be able to make decisions around their own bodies has been stripped, in terms of the Roe v Wade situation. And yeah, it feels like a significant regression. Women only began to be seen as equals in the mid-20th century but …

Mala: The patriarchy …

Western Springs College year 12 classics students Daisy Nalder, Mala Cleland, Ania Adams (Te Atiawa) and Charlie Ullrich.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Western Springs College year 12 classics students Daisy Nalder, Mala Cleland, Ania Adams (Te Atiawa) and Charlie Ullrich. Photo / Dean Purcell

Charlie: I was amazed, walking through the exhibition and just realizing how real it was. It’s so easy to think this is so long ago. But this is all familiar – it’s all stuff we have in our world today, that we recognize.

Mala: They were so ahead of times in terms of artistic uses of everything in their civilization – the way they would turn everything into an artistic piece.

Daisy: The Romans adopted a lot from the Ancient Greeks in terms of performing arts – musical theatre, dance. All those forms of celebration and festivals have carried on. It’s really cool seeing how it used to be and how it is now.

Charlie: The way all these celebrations had one victor – one person won the contest – it has changed but it is still very similar to our own celebrations and that idea of ​​competitiveness.

Mala: I think that victorious vein you saw in the exhibition and portrayed in the prizes – the figurines and the olive oil receptacles – has a direct influence to how we see celebrities today. How we revere them. What it means to be famous today…

Anya: They appreciated things so much more though, I reckon.

Mala: Yeah, you were really appreciated for your victories.

Charlie: But there was also a deep appreciation for the arts.

Mala: How intricate their works were … and how they’ve survived this long.

Daisy: It’s interesting to see what our generation sees as an influencer, what you have to achieve, compared with them.

Charlie: And also how widely celebrated the human body was back then. Women have been covering up for centuries and they still are – but now people are able to celebrate their own bodies and embrace their own bodies.

Mala: You can see ties to modern-day modeling and the statues then – that idealistic body type that is sought after and posing. It’s very like some of the stuff you might see in commercials.

Anya: So similar in the way they made men’s bodies back then so jacked, and that women would fantasize over.

Daisy: And revering Helen of Troy – “the most beautiful woman in the world” … we see that today. Western ideals of beauty.

Daisy Nalder, Mala Cleland and Ania Adams.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Daisy Nalder, Mala Cleland and Ania Adams. Photo / Dean Purcell

Anya: Although I loved the statues – they are so beautiful – the one thing I would take home would be the golden jewellery. It was so gorgeous. Imagine just seeing that on a woman – you’d think she was royalty. The Nike jewelry wore. I’d definitely take that home.

Daisy: It would be a bit hard to take home [laughs] but the big piece – the carving from the mausoleum – absolutely amazing, just staring up at it. The fact it was such a small part in terms of the entire building but it’s so intricate and detailed and … yeah … it’s so gorgeous.

Charlie: I reckon Zeus’ head would fit perfectly in my room. Because, you know, I would just be staring at the gods.

Mala: It sounds kind of, like, weird – but the gravestones. I thought they were so amazing in terms of the appreciation for someone’s life that they got carved into their gravestones. Specifically, the one of the woman with her children – that was a symbol of her life. I think that was an amazing representation of what we talked about in terms of the appreciation of life in Ancient Greek culture.

Daisy: The philosophical ideas – like the ideologies of Plato and Aristotle and how that has carried through to modern ethics and how it’s still represented in society today – ethics and morality. And an example – from Plato – opinion is the wilderness between ignorance and knowledge is a good example in terms of social media now.

Western Springs College year 12 Classics students Daisy Nalder, Ania Adams, Mala Cleland and Charlie Ullrich at the Ancient Greeks exhibition at the Auckland Museum.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Western Springs College year 12 Classics students Daisy Nalder, Ania Adams, Mala Cleland and Charlie Ullrich at the Ancient Greeks exhibition at the Auckland Museum. Photo / Dean Purcell

Charlie: And Kleos – the concept of honor and glory – reading The Odyssey, it was completely acceptable to kill, like, a traitor. That’s changed. How they had very high sets of morals but these things were almost justifiable.

Mala: It was about honor and reputation – and you might be respected for brutally murdering people.

Anya: There was honor and fear – because they would look up to gods and they were terrified they would be brutally murdered.

Mala: Warfare is still evident.

Anya: And there are very similar themes in reasons for colonizing or invading – territory and resources.

Mala: Gaining land and power.

Charlie: Even like people being completely concerned with their honor and how that’s carried through looking at our own world leaders – we ask are these people genuine or are they concerned with power?

Daisy: Like totalitarian dictators and people concerned with their own reputation.

Charlie: It’s so easy to think these heroes are these perfect beings – but you realize the things that they do and why they do them – is it for themselves?

To see a video of the Western Springs College students’ visit, see nzherald.co.nz/video

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