A Greek scholar claims that Macedonian art is not Greek art

O. Palagia wrote a review of a book, focused on the hunting frieze of the royal tomb 2 (= Philip II tomb), in Journal of Hellenic Studies 134, pp. 255-256. At page 256, first column, lines 22-24, she wrote the following:

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‘It is a methodological error to treat Macedonian art as an outcrop of Greek art; Macedonia is a case apart.’

In my opinion, this statement is beyond good and evil and requires a comment.
Ancient Macedonians in the classical period spoke a Greek dialect, as it is argued by epigraphic evidence (see especially Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 43. 434), moreover as a rule already in this period they wrote normative Greek.

They worshipped the same gods which were venerated in other parts of Greece, represented the same myths, already in the late 5th c. BC, Greek poets as Agathon and Euripides and Greek artists as Zeuxis lived in Pella and worked for the Macedonian royalty.

In the third quarter of the 4th c. BC, the best artists, as Lysippus, Apelles, Leochares, etc. renovated radically the Greek visual arts in the context both of the Macedonian royalty and of the patronage of this court.

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Whoever is not a professional scholar may think at first view that the permanence of the monarchic institution in Macedonia makes this world different from the ‘truly’ Greek world, which is often identified with that of the poleis or city-states.

However, monarchies were not unknown in the Greek world: from Syracuse to Cyrene to Salamis on Cyprus to Sparta to Epirus, etc.

Of course, as all other regions of the Greek world, even Macedonia has its own peculiarities. Regional features also characterize the worlds of the Greeks of Sicily, of southern Italy, of Thessaly and of all other regions of the Greek oikoumene.

In the case of Macedonia, in my opinion, the main peculiar feature is spiritual before being artistic and visual.

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The crucial element of its spiritual identity lies in the prevalence of Dionysus and Orpheus with their mysteries.

This humus determines the importance of monumental tombs and of themes dealing with the death and thus the coming to surface of an anti-sophistic ideology: against a naturalistic notion of life and world and in favor of a mysteric one.

That is clear already in Euripides’ Bakchae, a tragedy which had been performed for the first time in the royal court of king Archelaus.

Since the classical Greek painting from southern Greece is nearly completely lost, we have not enough comparanda to judge how the great Macedonian painting of the late 4th c. BC was ‘original’.

However, sculptures and mosaics reveal the same stylistic trends which can be found in the corresponding examples in other Greek regions.

For example, the head of Sphinx from Kasta of Amphipolis is very close to the heads of the Dancing Girls of Delphi, of the ‘Ariadne’ from the southern slopes of the Acropolis of Athens (as Prof. A. Stewart has rightly pointed out), of the Demeter of Knidos and of the Dionysos from Thasos.

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In architecture, the late classical gymnasium of Amphipolis bears the same basic display of constitutive elements of this typology which occur in south-Greek gymnasia.

The temple architecture in Macedonia adheres to the same principles which are found in south-Greek temples.

Thus the peculiarities of the Macedonian visual arts are rather contributions to a debate and circulation of patterns which characterize the whole Greek world.

In conclusion, the opinion that Macedonian art is not a component of Greek art is untenable.

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