A few weeks ago, I came across this BBC article which was talking about how the art and architecture of the ancient Greeks is currently influencing many modern designs: from our interior to the jewelry we are wearing. More and more people are turning to the Greeks for help decorating their homes. While I fully embrace this new tendency – I am always looking for new and original ideas connected to the ancient world – there are some issues I have with this so-called ‘Hellenistic revival‘.
As you may know, the Hellenistic period is that part of Greek history which starts with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with Cleopatra and Marc Anthony’s defeat at the battle of Actium in 31 BC, when the Romans conquered the last of the areas once controlled by the Macedonian king. The Hellenistic period was different from the Archaic and Classical period because of the interaction between the typical Greek culture and that of the East, creating a whole new world in which the Greek cities were politically and culturally less important than in the periods before. This role was now taken up by the
The word Hellenistic originated from the German hellenistisch which was created by the German historian J. G. Droysen in the 19th century. This to refer to the period in which Greek culture spread through the non-Greek world after Alexander’s conquests. While the term is easy to use, it is important to point out that this is a modern concept and for the ancient Greeks there was no such thing like the Hellenistic period. Even more, the use of the term Hellenistic implies that Greek culture was successfully spread throughout Alexander’s empire, which definitely was not the case.
It is clear however that many of those businesses and designers who are now so inspired by this Hellenistic revival, don’t seem to realize that there is a difference between Hellenistic and Hellenic. While Hellenistic refers to the period after the death of Alexander the Great, the term Hellenic is most commonly used to describe the period before the death of Alexander as well as the geographical region of mainland Greece itself. Hellenic is derived from the Greek word for Greece itself Hellas or Ἑλλάς. Hellenic typically refers to the Greek culture itself while Hellenistic connects that culture with the wider areas under the control of Alexander and his successors.
As long as you love anything Greek, that is of course not a problem, but I did want to point out that there are some clear differences between the two and it might be good to be aware of that. Otherwise, it might get very confusing.