CLST 124: Greek Art and Archaeology

October 1, 2006
Zoë Kontes

Zoë Kontes

Immersion in Greek sculpture, architecture, painting, coinage, vase paintings, and epigraphy from the middle of the fifth century B.C.E. to the second century C.E. helps students discover the sights and traditions of a distant past. In the process, they learn to formulate ideas about everyday Greek life and the average person's place in it.

Zoë Kontes, a visiting professor from Brown University, says she uses the class' survey of archaeological remains from the Classical to the Greco-Roman period to get her students thinking about "the function of the object or building, and how we know that; the date of the object, and how we know that."

Readings are purposefully drawn from both archaeological and art-historical perspectives, Kontes says, noting that scholars in the two fields analyze and interpret the same ancient remains very differently. To drive the point home, she assigns writing projects that require students to assume one role or the other in evaluating a piece, so that they begin to gain an understanding of how perspective may affect interpretation.

"Students [will] get the sense that you don't believe everything you read, because there's usually not just one opinion about anything that has to do with studying archaeology," she says. In one assigned article, for example, an archaeologist described a tomb excavation in Macedonia and claimed that it was the tomb of King Phillip, the father of Alexander the Great. Other articles challenged this claim, and Kontes had students debate the merits of competing claims in their postulations about this find.

She also stresses to students that history is continuously being updated, reinterpreted, and reconstructed as new excavations are reported. It's important for students to recognize that they "can come up with an opinion that's as reasonable as anybody else's," she says. Her aim is to give them the analytical tools with which to start.

There's a more subtle agenda, as well: instilling an appreciation for ancient Greek culture and art, as well as for archaeological finds, "which have a lot of connections to our modern culture," Kontes says. In addition to recognizing the artifacts' influence on modern architecture and art, students are encouraged to debate their placement and treatment in contemporary society. One class discussion concerns the Elgin Marbles, which were removed from the Parthenon in Athens and taken to England by Lord Elgin in the early nineteenth century, and the question of whether they should be returned to Athens or remain in the British Museum.


Zoë Kontes earned a B.A. in classics from Bowdoin College in 1996, and received her Ph.D. from Brown University in archaeology in 2004. She spent three years studying in Athens, and has worked on excavations in Italy and Greece. She is currently a visiting assistant professor and director of the introductory Latin program.




Weekly readings from textbooks and art historical and/or archaeological texts and journals


Three papers (two short and one longer research paper)
Three exams