Humanism is a way of thinking that acknowledges the value of human beings as individuals or as a group, versus a way of thinking that places gods as more important. Humanism also values rational thought and empiricism while solving problems, and acknowledges basic human needs.
Greek art celebrated culture heroes such as Hercules and Odysseus, characters that everyday people could more easily project themselves into than the carvings of kings and gods in the Middle East and Egypt. The Greeks had a whole pantheon of gods to pray to, but their gods were portrayed with human fallibility, which I think is how they held a balance between the importance of heaven and earth. I think the advent of human celebrities such as Pythia and that Greeks believed that the gods could be bargained with were both developments in humanism that allowed for greater freedom of individuals. In this vein, I found it interesting that sanctuaries such as the one of Apollo could be entered by individuals seeking asylum — which seems like a leap in the concept of justice.
A lot of art was focused on showing off the human body as something beautiful. They were particularly into abs. The warrior figures on the Temple of Aphaia were beautifully posed, even as they were dying. The movement toward the classical era of art shows a change from symbolic shapes of the ‘ubermensch,’ and simply showing one guy as bigger than another to denote power differential – toward worshipful appreciation of the human form. The movement was also from statues of specific aristocrats toward state-commissioned statues of general ideals of beauty. I found it very interesting that Greek art would celebrate friendship between people, such as the amphora with Ajax and Achilles.
There was definitely sympathy in Greek art for basic human needs. Statuary of warriors was like a beautiful ad campaign to entice young men into dying for their country. Wounded warriors were carved as beautiful and brave. The Sarpedon krater dealt with people’s fear of dying alone by showing agents of Zeus showing up to carry the body of a dying warrior.
In developing mathematics and geometry, the Greeks took on some of the power of their gods, in that they were able to understand their world in a highly detailed way that they couldn’t before. Instead of being subject to the order created by the gods, they could now impose order themselves. There was also a self-esteem bump provided by conquering the Persian army. Statuary became more relaxed and confident in its realism after the Greeks prevailed in war. The development of Athletic games was important for the glorification of the individual, because competitive games are a symbolic version of war. A lot of classical period art celebrates young athletes competing in Greek games, such as Myron’s Discobolus.