For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with Greek mythology. I loved the stories of Mt. Olympus and all of the deities like Zeus and Poseidon who ruled over various aspects of our world. I would read stories like The Odyssey, Jason and The Argonauts, and Pandora’s Jar (yes, it was a jar and not a box). They were stories steeped in tradition with strong lessons of morality and personal choice.
It was all so different than the biblical stories I was familiar with as a good, young Catholic boy. It was so much more fascinating to me because their myths introduced me to creatures like Medusa, Cyclops, Pegasus and the Minotaur! I couldn’t get enough of it! I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about each deity, their children, and how they were all related to one another. However, as most of us often do, I grew up and nearly forgot about all that.
Jump forward to nearly fifteen years later when I was just beginning my design education; I was enrolled in a historical design class at a local community college. The instructor of this course was an eccentric, older woman. She was very animated and had a real love of history. Maybe that is why, when we started to delve into the subject matter, I was completely captivated. She took me right back to when I was a little boy learning about Greek mythology.
We studied ancient design as far back as Egypt, however I lit up when we got to Greece and the ancient cities of Athens and Pompeii. I learned about the three basic Greek columns used in architecture. (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian). I learned about the development of the arch, and how that influenced the future of architecture, including the creation of aqueducts, and how they were used to start more modern civilizations by routing water for agriculture and public infrastructure.
It was an entirely new set of information about the Greek civilization. This was factual, but it was very interesting to me. I learned about their philosophy on art. All of their art is stylized, meaning there is no specific detail to any of their sculptures or paintings. Faces are plain, and round as to not convey flaws or specific characteristics.
This is why most sculptures from that time are very similar in look. It wasn’t until the Roman empire, where we begin to see heavy detailing in sculpture from Western Europe. The Greeks preferred stylized interpretations in everything artistic. This must be why so many of their motifs have survived these thousands of years since their creation. They are classic in style and appeal to most people because they are not fussy or baroque in style.
So, here’s a little history lesson for you today. Did you know that a lot of the repeating patterns we see almost daily that we consider “classic” are a lot older than you may have thought? In fact, they are down-right ancient! A lot of them date back to ancient Greece. Here are a couple examples of how Ancient Greece is still a huge influence in our style today.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these Greek motifs are inspired by water. Considering the fact that Greece borders, and its islands are surrounded by the Aegean Sea; it makes perfect sense that the culture is heavily influenced by it. That being said, the first and most recognizable motif found in ancient Greece is the Greek Key. This motif wasn’t inspired by the sea, instead it was inspired by the Meander river in ancient Greece (now Turkey), it symbolizes infinity or the eternal flow of things. Most people associate this pattern with the Versace brand as it is heavily used by that company, but it is also seen a lot in home décor:
The second motif commonly used by the ancient Greeks is the Guilloche or Wave pattern. It is a much more literal interpretation of water and has two predominant stylized patterns; both can still be found today.
I find it fascinating how old, but relevant these motifs still are. Many have been embellished or altered throughout time, but none are as “classic” in style as the originals. When I walk through a trade show, I can spot them all over. I see them on showroom floors and in small home décor shops. As a design professional, it’s something I take for granted at times, but I love to share my knowledge. It’s like a game of Where’s Waldo that I like to play while out shopping. I hope it’s something you can enjoy playing along with now that you’re in the know. Opa!!!