THE human figure occupies a central place in Greek art and particularly in Greek sculpture. In the earliest works a diversity of beasts and monsters are depicted, but the range soon narrows to a few domestic animals such as dogs and horses-a trend reflecting the anthropocentrism of Greek thought, history and character.
The Greeks believed profoundly in the value of man. This conviction underlies Aristotle's statement that the city-state is the ideal political institution. For Plato "Man participates in the divine" and is "related to the gods". The great lyric poet Pindar wrote that "Gods and men have a single mother, only our strengths are different". At the dawn of Greek civilization Homer sang of a world where the gods not only mingled with men but-except that they were immortal and all-powerful-felt and behaved like them.
The gods are thus almost always represented in human form. The human body is a constantly recurring motif in Greek art. Soaring temple columns with their finely-chiselled lines recall the slender bodies of Greek youths, and the name for the capital of a column (kionokranon) means head. In paintings and sculptured reliefs the beauty of the human form in repose or in action stands out against a neutral background. Only later, during the Hellenistic period, do we find some rather clumsy attempts to represent man in a natural setting.