In this climate of dynamic cultural activity geared towards the arts and oratory, politicians, philosophers and playwrights became the influencers of the Acropolis. First there was Socrates and Plato, whose symposiums painted a vivid portrait of Athenian society. Among their guests were notable figures of the era, such as Alcibiades (450–404 B.C.), a brilliant and unruly politician who, in Cornelius Nepos’s words, “surpassed all the Athenians in grandeur and magnificence of living”. Born into a prestigious family, which guaranteed him an eclectic network of acquaintances, Alcibiades would conduct himself with “great luxuriousness of life, with wanton drunkenness and lewdness, with effeminacy in dress—he would trail long purple robes through the market place”, wrote Plutarch. At the same time, the statesman gained the love of his fellow citizens by organising theatrical performances and making generous donations to the polis. Writing about Alcibiades’ continuous switching of political allegiance between Athens and Sparta, comic playwright Aristophanes remarked: “Athens yearns for him, and hates him too, but wants him back”. Alcibiades was not only in demand on the battlefield, he was also highly sought after at dinner parties for his public speaking abilities and intellectual spirit—not to mention his extraordinary good looks, which ensured his many shortcomings were forgiven. He was an exuberant and ambitious character who never failed to get people talking about him.
Pericles and Aspasia of Miletus, meanwhile, were Ancient Greece’s power couple. He was a politician and public speaker with a passion for the arts, she was a concubine who rose to the position of his official companion, in spite of all the controversies that ensued—which he always succeeded in silencing. Under Pericles, Athens entered a golden age gripped by a frantic search for beauty, during which the arts were encouraged and new monuments appeared on every corner. Among these new buildings was the Parthenon, its construction overseen by Phidias, a religious sculptor and celebrated architect of the period. Intelligent and highly educated, and contrary to conventions at the time, Aspasia was no mere wife and homemaker. She broke all the rules, achieved status beyond what was expected of her, participated in symposiums (from which women were usually excluded), and gave lessons on oration and philosophy—including to Socrates.
Sappho (630–570 B.C.) was another one of the few women to command space in a male-dominated society. The poet revolutionised the perception of women and defied the conventions dictating that only men could write poetry. Her verses describe her love for the girls in her thiasos, a cultural and spiritual community that worshipped the cult of Aphrodite, where she educated young women in the art of singing and dancing.
Eclectic characters and spirited rule-breaking intellectuals make Ancient Greece the inspiration behind the bohemian style of Gucci’s Pre-Fall 2019 campaign.
Image by VPC Travel Photo / Alamy Stock Photo.
Ancient Greek symposium. Fresco from the Tomb of the Diver in the Archaeological museum in Paestum, Italy.