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Hood exhibition explores childhood in ancient Greece

Posted 08/13/03, by Sharon Reed

A collection of more than 130 objects will shed light on the experiences of children in ancient Greece, an area of incomplete historical knowledge. The exhibition includes an interactive recreation of a Greek home.

Girls Playing Ephedrismos, Hellenistic, ca. 300 B.C.E., Terracotta, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York (photo courtesy of the Hood Museum of Art)

The Hood Museum of Art will open Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past, the first major exhibition to explore childhood in ancient Greece, on Aug. 23.

More than five years in the making, the exhibition features approximately 130 art objects on loan from American, Canadian, and European collections that present a comprehensive examination of the visual record of Greek childhood in all its dimensions. Coming of Age in Ancient Greece will explore the emotional and familial environment in which children were raised, their activities from play to schooling, boys' and girls' participation in religious rituals, the commemorative objects that marked their early death, their transition to adulthood, and images and stories of children in mythology. Painted vases, sculptures, grave monuments, and artifacts such as ancient toys and baby feeders will bring these children's experiences to life.

Organized by the Hood Museum of Art, the project is curated by Jenifer Neils, Ruth Coulter Heede Professor, Department of Art History and Art, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; and John Oakley, Chancellor Professor/Forrest D. Murden Jr. Professor and Chair, Department of Classical Studies, The College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by Yale University Press, a scholarly symposium, and educational programs. Following its debut at the Hood Museum of Art, Coming of Age in Ancient Greece will travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Calif. A smaller version of the exhibition will also be exhibited at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York.

While a great deal is known about the life of the adult Greek male in antiquity, and now to a certain extent something about the secluded existence of women, the missing narratives of children's lives represent a major gap in our understanding of ancient Greece. Evidence for Greek childhood is slight and widely diffuse - as Socrates told a friend, "Nobody cares about your birth or upbringing or education or about any other Athenian's - except maybe some lover." Certainly the emotional and familial environment in which Greek children were raised, their activities from play to schooling, and their various rites of passage were key factors in the formation of those adult Greeks to whom Western civilization is so indebted. This subject, about which works of art and artifacts have a great deal to reveal, offers a tangible link to the past in an age such as ours that is so concerned with childhood in all its dimensions.

Specific to the Hood venue, a partial recreation of an ancient Greek house will contain an extensive array of interactive learning resources. Designed to help visitors of all ages understand the daily lives of children in ancient Greece, the house and its contents will illustrate what Greek households were like, what children ate, where they slept, what they wore, how they were educated, and what games they played. In addition, an audio guide designed by Antenna Audio will provide an opportunity for visitors at the Hood Museum of Art to explore selected sections of the exhibition in greater depth. Available for rent at $5 per person in the galleries, the guide will also feature a special tour with stops designed for families with children. The exhibition is further enhanced by the ongoing presentation of a film in the galleries produced by the Institute for Mediterranean Studies that features interviews with the guest curators, Professors Jenifer Neils and John Oakley.

Complementing the exhibition is a fully illustrated scholarly catalogue with specially commissioned essays by scholars who work in the areas of Greek social history, literature, archaeology and art history. Essays address such issues as gender stereotyping, changes in childhood over time, class distinctions and slavery, and mentor relationships. In addition, there are comprehensive entries on every object in the exhibition, researched and written by Neils and Oakley, who have personally studied each work of art. Both the essays and the entries deal with issues that have never before been considered within the context of ancient Greek childhood.


A scholarly symposium at the Hood on Nov. 6-8 will look beyond ancient Greece and offer a more expansive, multidisciplinary perspective on the history of children in the ancient world. Involving speakers from Europe and the United States, it will place ancient Greek childhood in a wider context by examining images of children in other ancient Mediterranean societies such as Egypt and Rome. The meeting of the International Congress of Classical Archaeology, held in Boston on Aug. 23-26, will include a special session on Greek childhood, and its participants will be invited to visit the exhibition immediately after the conference.


  • Hood Museum of Art: Aug. 23-Dec. 14, 2003
  • Onassis Cultural Center, New York: Jan. 19-April 1, 2004 (A smaller version of the exhibition with an additional special section entitled The Olympic Spirit)
  • Cincinnati Museum of Art: May 1-Aug. 1, 2004
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles: Sept. 14-Dec. 5, 2004


This exhibition has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA) is also a major supporter of the exhibition, the catalogue and the symposium. The presentation of this exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art is supported by the Philip Fowler 1927 Memorial Fund, the Marie-Louise and Samuel R. Rosenthal Fund, the William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. J. Hall Fund, the Friends of Hopkins Center and Hood Museum of Art, and the Fannie and Alan Leslie Center for the Humanities at Dartmouth College.

- Sharon Reed

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