Greek yogurt has elbowed its way onto dairy shelves. Greek mythology is now, more than just a school subject, a standard part of children's fantasy fiction reading and movie-going.
So why not heighten the stakes with a “blockbuster” museum exhibition showcasing artifacts and culture from ancient Greece?
That's the aim of “The Greeks: From Agamemnon to Alexander the Great,” an exhibition of almost 600 priceless Greek cultural treasures, many of which have never before left that country, that will be on display at the Field Museum beginning in Nov. 2015.
“Part of developing this show this time was to really hit a home run, to really bring in a blockbuster show that has no precedent in the United States, in North America, about ancient Greece,” said Bill Parkinson, the Field archaeologist who is curating the show with the Canadian Museum of History, the National Geographic Society and the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports.
“I will tell you that some of my colleagues in Greece have actually said that ‘you're emptying out some of the finest parts of our museums,’” said Parkinson, for the show that will premiere next June at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, before making its U.S. debut at the Field.
Museum officials, in partnership with those at Chicago's National Hellenic Museum, announced the show Monday afternoon at the Field, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive. It will make four stops in all during its two-year lifespan, including at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.
Adjacent to the podium was a table displaying four Greek artifacts from the Field's own collection, including ancient — but pretty contemporary-looking — gold earrings, a coin with Alexander the Great on one side and Zeus on the other, and a “Ceramic Kylix with Athlete,“ a handled tableware bowl from the 4th century BC.
Objects such as those, from the Field's collection, will be on display in a complementary exhibit at the National Hellenic Museum, 333 S. Halsted St., and the lectures and programs associated with “The Greeks” will also take place at the NHM.
“We get to funnel that energy, the interest, the support, the enthusiasm of the entire Greek community, which is a really important part of the city, through the National Hellenic Museum into this effort,” said Richard Lariviere, the Field's president.
Lariviere first broke news of “The Greeks” during a talk at a City Club of Chicago luncheon in January, which prompted a National Hellenic Museum news release about it. Monday’s event was the institutions’ official joint announcement and had more details than were previously available.
John Calamos, the Greek museum's board chairman, said he is hopeful the exhibitions will educate youth about Greek culture, “to have them stop tweeting and start learning.”
Billed as the largest exhibition on the topic in North America in a quarter century, the primary show, featuring “some of the most iconic artifacts from ancient Greece,” should certainly turn heads, said Parkinson, who does his fieldwork in the region.
“I can't emphasize how big this show is,” he said. “Most traveling shows have 100, certainly fewer than 200, objects in them. Here we're dealing with 570. It's a massive, massive show.”
And the goal will be to tell stories of people, ideology and culture over 5000 years, from the Neolithic periods, through the development of societal hierarchy and the Minoan and Mycenaean city-states, up through the rise of imperialism under Alexander the Great.
“This is not just another ancient Greek exhibit with a bunch of classical pots in it,” Parkinson said. “By focusing on individuals like Agamemnon and Alexander the Great, the exhibit literally lets the visitor come face to face with the past.”
Many of the artifacts come from burials and tombs, including that of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. But the goal throughout, he said, as details of the displays are being planned now, will be to keep the text to a minimum, to try to “let a lot of the objects do a lot of the talking for us.”