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The Way that Greeks Define Themselves and t Barbarians through Various Artefacts Including Literature, Painting and Sculpture

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Margaret C. Miller points out that many artifacts found in monumental imperial art contain features which derive from Persian sources, and that these features are intended to function as status symbols.   The Greeks valued modesty and temperance, and they characterized the barbarian culture of the Persians as excessive and decadent. This explains why they can at one and the same time gather Persian art, jewels, and artifacts and look down on the people who made them. One way of distinguishing Greek and barbarian figures on vases and frescoes is by their use of different weapon styles, with Greeks preferring the spear or sword and barbarians often depicted holding distinctive double-curved bows.

Cohen notes that the Scythians, in particular, are depicted as bowmen and contrasted with Greek heroes like Herakles but that by the sixth century BC archer imagery and even Scythian styles come to be used in depictions of Herakles on vases.   The association appears to have stuck so that in later works there is even a suggestion that Herakles has Scythian connections and this shows that the Greek and barbarian cultures in some periods were growing closer and becoming more interchangeable.

Homer mentions this feature in the Odyssey (8. 223-225).   As the wars with different surrounding areas were waged, Greek sensibility to barbarian images changed. It seems that these weapon differences had great symbolic meaning for the Greeks and in times of conflict, at very prestigious locations, visual connections with barbarian technology are not used. So for example at Olympia  Herakles bears an ancient Greek club, and not a more modern bow and arrows: “ The Olympia metopes naturally foster a newly established tradition of Herakles as a home-grown club man and suppress, for a moment in Greek art, the archer hero perceived as kin to barbarian foreigners.

Thus the  arming of Herakles at Olympia specifically supports an interpretation of the metopic cycle of his labors as both a product and a symbol of Hellenic unity, pride, and chauvinism after the Greek victory in the Persian war. ”  

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