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The portals to immortality-Greek Grave Steles To us who live in modern times the melancholic look that we find in the sculpture of cemeteries throughout the world is something we take for granted Although its authenticity has been lost to us this so-called look can be traced back to 5th century Greek funerary sculpture For us it is only natural to associate such a look with death However as the above verse elaborates the Greeks viewed death somewhat differently from the way we do To them death freed their souls and brought true happiness then why does their grave sculpture look so pensive and thoughtful It is because unlike today where the dead are only represented figuratively in a sobbing angel or mournful cherub the Greeks depicted their dead as they were in life - life which was full of uncertainties and burdens but also with simple pleasures that made it all worth while The Greeks successfully combined these two juxtaposed experiences and harmonized its contradictions to portray in steles the individual whose simplicities and complications was a reflection of the bitter-sweetness of life No where is this combination more successful than in the Greek grave stele of the 5th century before Christ The 5th BC encompassed two distinct periods the early classical and the high classical However both these periods shared the uniquely contradicting constantly explorative and modestly idealistic vision of life which made the subjects of the stele at their moment of death all the more human to the observer Neither the previous Archaic period nor the following 4th century or the preceding civilizations quite so convincingly capture for the observer the poignancy of death the way a fifth century BC stele could The period of the 5th century BC is sometimes referrd to as the golden age which is the height for Greek art and civilizations and ironically has its beginning and ending in war The 480 BC marked the defeat of
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