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Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece
Explores Need for Superhuman and Mortal Heroes in Society

NASHVILLE, TENN. – (December 4, 2009) – Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece, an exhibition exploring the human need for heroes through the arts of one of the oldest and most influential cultures in history, will open in the Frist Center’s Upper-Level Galleries January 29, 2010, and remain on view through April 25, 2010.

More than 100 works, including statues, reliefs, vases, bronzes and jewelry made between the sixth and first centuries BCE and drawn from prestigious U.S. and European museums illustrate the lives of Greek heroes including their tasks, adversaries, challenges, failures and private moments. Heroes are sometimes portrayed as superhuman protagonists while at other times as average people who rise above the ordinary. Included are both mythological heroes, among them Herakles, Achilles, Odysseus and Helen, and mortal heroes, including warriors, athletes and rulers.

The exhibition comes to the Frist Center from the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece demonstrates how the term “hero” applied to a broad array of figures for the ancient Greeks. The lives—and deaths—of individual Greek heroes and heroines could be quite different from one another, but all were believed to have supernatural powers they could use for good or evil after their deaths. This belief inspired Greeks to worship them through rituals and offerings.

In contemporary society, the word “hero” means something quite different than it did in ancient times. Altruism, self-sacrifice, disregard for danger and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for a great cause are hallmarks of the modern day hero. These traits might be possessed by ancient heroes in their mortal lives; however, they were understood as heroic only in terms of their death—as people who continued to exist and served as objects of worship.

“Whether in ancient Greece or in modern times, heroes help define and shape the values and goals of a society,” said Frist Center Executive Director Susan H. Edwards, Ph.D. “With this exhibition, we are able to explore the roles heroes have played in creating society’s norms and influencing behavior. This exhibition allows us to go back to the seminal notion of hero to help understand how our current heroes relate to heroes in ancient times. In antiquity, for example, heroes were celebrated with offerings, rituals and monuments. Today, our own contemporary heroes are acknowledged and many times created by the mass media, a kind of latter-day monument.

“There is wonderful interactivity with this exhibition and the programs planned over the course of this exhibition will invite people to examine and discuss our own heroes, from superhuman to the everyday,” she concluded.

Exhibition Overview
Heroes is divided into three sections. The first, Mythological Heroes, presents the lifecycles of four major heroes: Achilles, Herakles, Odysseus and Helen. Each had distinctive characteristics and unique tales. Greek artists humanized these figures through depictions of their parentage, birth, education, marriages, exploits and deaths. Their triumphs and setbacks are shown, revealing both their glory and their vulnerabilities. The four epic heroes do not share a common mold and illustrate how different the qualities of a hero could be.

The second section, Worship of Heroes, explores the worship of heroes as practiced in communities throughout ancient Greece. After their deaths, heroes were thought to live on with powers they could use for good or evil. Thus, they needed to be venerated in order to be appeased. Hero worship was highly ritualized, and many of the images in this section provide visual illustration of how heroes were honored through the offerings left and the banquets that were held.

Here, a site of hero worship will be reproduced using special installations. A large-scale photo mural of Messene will allow visitors to experience the sites and monuments where devotees placed offerings and said prayers in honor of a hero or heroine, enlisting their support or expressing gratitude for help received.

The final section, Emulation: Heroes as Role Models, considers heroes and heroines as role models for the ancient Greeks, in particular warriors, athletes, women and rulers. While an ancient Greek could not become a hero until death, heroes and heroines provided a means by which they could measure their achievements and a way of distinguishing heroic from non-heroic behavior. Like Achilles, a Greek soldier knew he had to risk his life for honor and glory. The strength and prowess of Herakles served as a paradigm for Greek athletes in training and competition. Odysseus exemplifies a hero who used his intellect, not his strength, to achieve success. Finally, Helen, though an ambiguous heroine, was revered for her remarkable beauty and divine birth. She was emulated in particular by brides depicted in wedding scenes.

With the rise of Alexander the Great during the Hellenistic period, we see leaders appropriating Greek heroes for their own veneration and propaganda. Alexander likened himself to Achilles and Herakles, and various types of heroic representations were developed for Hellenistic rulers based on existing models from the Archaic and Classical periods.

Many other heroes, only some of whom are known to us through art and literary sources, were venerated in ancient Greece. Prominent poets, physicians and others whose names are now lost were worshiped as heroes.

Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece will be accompanied by an adult gallery guide and an MP3 iPod audio tour available to rent at Visitor Services or download at no charge from the Frist Center Web site, The exhibition is also accompanied by a catalog featuring essays by leading scholars in the field. The book draws on recent archaeological, literary and art historical research to explore such issues as gender, cult and iconography, as well as overlooked aspects of familiar and unfamiliar heroes.

The Visitor Experience
At the beginning of the exhibition, computers will be set up and visitors will be able to take a “personality quiz” to discover which hero or monster they are most like. Icons on labels will help visitors follow their hero throughout the exhibition.

After an examination of the Greek concept of a hero, visitors can then reflect on who we make heroes and how we define heroism within the context of our own society. In the galleries, there will be several areas where visitors can make a personal connection to the exhibition by responding to questions. In the hero worship section, visitors will be asked what they would ask of their hero. Then, at the end of the exhibition, visitors can write who their modern day heroes are.

Exhibition Credits
Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece has been organized by the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, in cooperation with the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the Onassis Foundation (USA), New York.

The planning and implementation of this exhibition have been generously supported by grants from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
The exhibition catalogue received a leadership grant from the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA).

Exhibition-Related Programs

Friday, January 8 Films at the Frist: Superman
7:00 p.m.

Heroes are coming to Nashville! On Friday, January 29, 2010, the Frist Center opens Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece. A four-part film series designed in conjunction with the exhibition will examine what it means to be a hero. This series begins before the exhibition opens, continues through April 2010, and presents a diverse group of heroes. It will start with the iconic hero in the red cape in Superman, delve into the eternal beauty of the woman who was the impetus for the Trojan War in Helen of Troy, examine the strength and bravery of Ancient Greek warriors with the movie 300, and will finish with the everyday hero Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

About Superman:
When the greatest scientist on the planet of Krypton, Jor-El, is unable to convince the council that their planet is nearing a fatal shift in orbit, he assumes the duty of preserving the Krypton race. Only moments before the planet is destroyed, he sends his infant son, Kal-El, to earth in a starship. Raised on a farm by the Kents, the young boy is given a new name (Clark Kent). As he grows, Clark realizes he has superhuman powers that set him apart from those around him. The Kents advise him to use his powers wisely, and once Clark leaves home, he discovers how he can use his abilities to protect Earth in memory of his home planet Krypton. As an adult in Metropolis, Clark assumes the role of a reporter for the Daily Planet, while secretly transforming and protecting the city as Superman. Starring Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, and Margot Kidder. Directed by Richard Donner, 1978. 143 minutes. 35mm. Rated PG.

Friday, January 29 Curator’s Perspective: “Heroes and Mortals in
6:30 p.m. Ancient Greece”

Dr. Regine Schulz, director of international curatorial relations and curator of ancient art at the Walters Museum of Art, will explore the integral cultural role heroes played in ancient Greek society. Their stories created norms, defined trends, and shaped behavior. Our English word “hero” is derived from the Greek word heros, which represents the earliest concept of heroes in human history. Although they were not gods, but mortals who lived and died, the ancient Greeks believed that heroes had superhuman powers, especially after death when they had power over the living. As a consequence, they were worshiped alongside the gods.

This lecture will present the lifecycles, distinctive characteristics, and unique tales of some of these heroes, such as Heracles and Odysseus, and will also ask the question: did the famous Helen really have the qualities essential to being a heroine? And although they were not heroes in the Greek sense, the admiration of musicians and dancers will also be discussed since they served as role models for society and were similar to our contemporary heroes.

Wednesday, February 3 Art Making in the Grand Lobby: Sgraffito Designs
10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Grand Lobby

Drop in, be inspired, and create your own work of art in the Grand Lobby throughout the day. Featured activity: Join us at the Frist Center to design your own Greek-inspired scene using scratch art paper and the sgraffito technique, which was often employed by the ancient Greeks to design of some of their vases.

Friday, February 3 ARTini: Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece
7:00 p.m.
Meet at the information desk
Free with purchase of gallery admission

Join Anne Henderson, director of education and outreach at the Frist Center, as she leads an informal conversation about one or two works of art in this exhibition. Complete your evening by relaxing in the Grand Lobby with beverages from the café, including special ARTinis, visiting with friends and enjoying free Music in the Grand Lobby.

Tuesday, February 9 ARTini: Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece
12:00 p.m.
Meet at the information desk
Free with purchase of gallery admission

Take a break from your day and join Anne Henderson, director of education and outreach at the Frist Center, as she leads an informal conversation about one or two works of art in this exhibition. Complete your visit with stop in the café or gift shop.

Friday, February 12 Films at the Frist: Helen of Troy
7:00 p.m.

Helen of Troy, the second of a four-film series, delves into the eternal beauty of the woman who was the impetus for the Trojan War. Upcoming films examine the strength and bravery of ancient Greek warriors with the movie 300 and the everyday hero Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

About Helen of Troy:
After being shipwrecked on a peace-seeking mission to Sparta, Prince Paris of Troy is washed up on a beach, where he meets and falls in love with a woman he thinks is a slave girl. Determined to carry out his mission and deliver the peaceful intentions of his king, Paris soon leaves the woman to make his way to the Spartan Palace. There, he meets King Menelaus and soon realizes that the woman he loves is actually Queen Helen of Sparta. Menelaus, in turn, quickly recognizes the feelings Paris and Helen have for each other and has the Prince of Troy arrested. Not wanting any harm to come to him, Helen decides to help Paris escape and ends up fleeing Troy with him. This impetuous action is the one that launched a thousand ships and became the impetus for the Trojan War. Starring Rossana Podestà and Jacques Sernas. Directed by Robert Wise, 1956. 118 minutes. 35mm. Not Rated.

Thursday February 25 Off the Wall Lecture Series: “The Places of the Gods
6:30 p.m. and Heroes in Ancient Greece”

The gods and heroes occupied every aspect of life and place in the world of the ancient Greeks. God and heroes were worshiped in major sanctuaries and small shrines. They appeared in the agora (civic center) and oversaw the passage of laws. Even houses were protected by gods and heroes.

Barbara Tsakirgis, Ph.D., associate professor of classics and art history and chair of the Department of Classical Studies at Vanderbilt University, will present an illustrated lecture that introduces the audience to Greek city life and examines the role of gods and heroes in the daily lives of the ancient Greeks.

Friday, February 26 Adult Workshop: Art Bites: Heroic Foods
4:30–8:00 p.m.

Saturday, February 27 Adult Workshop: Art Bites: Heroic Foods (repeated)
10:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
Frist Center Studios
$70 members; $80 non-members. Cost includes all food, supplies and gallery admission. Participants may bring their own lunches or purchase them in the Frist Center’s café. (Registration fee includes both days of the workshop.) Call 615.744.3247 to register.
When thinking of the ancient Greeks, cooking may not readily come to mind. The Greeks, however, were the first to think of cooking as an art form. Join Maite Gomez-Rejón of ArtBites in reading ancient texts and discovering the role of food and wine in antiquity while exploring Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece. Then prepare—and enjoy—a meal fit for a hero!
Gomez-Rejón has a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin, an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Grande Diplome from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Since 1995 she has worked in the education departments of such renowned museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, LACMA, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and has also worked as a private chef and caterer. In 2008 she founded ArtBites (, a program combining art and culinary history with hands-on cooking instruction, which she has taught at the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Villa and Center sites, the Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, LACMA and Norton Simon Museum in Los Angeles, and the 92nd Street Y and Isamu Noguchi Museum in New York City.

Friday, March 12 Films at the Frist: 300
7:00 p.m.

This is the third of a four-film series. 300 examines the strength and bravery of ancient Greek warriors.

About the movie:
Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel by the same title, this American action film is a fictional retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae that took place in 480 BCE. Through larger-than-life scenes, 300 depicts the heroic and borderline impetuous Spartan Army and their struggle to preserve freedom and democracy. Led by King Leonidas, the small Spartan army of three hundred launches a battle against the much larger Persian military. Despite knowing their fate, the Greeks, who are joined by seven hundred Thespians, stand against the Persians for as long as they can in order to give the rest of Greece more time to prepare for the invasion. Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, and Rodrigo Santoro. Directed by Zack Snyder, 2007. 117 minutes. 35mm. Rated R.

Saturday, March 13 Kids Club: Hero, you brighten my world!
10:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m.
Frist Center Studios
Call 615.744.3357 to reserve a space.

Designed for 5–10 year olds, the Frist Center Kids Club offers exciting opportunities for children to discover, explore, and create art. Free membership includes a Kids Club card, rewards for participation, hands-on activities in the Martin ArtQuest Gallery and monthly projects in the art studios. Featured activity: Show appreciation to your real life hero by telling a colorful story of what makes your hero so special!

Thursday, March 18 Off the Wall Lecture Series: “Heroes Ancient 6:30 p.m. and Modern: Toward a History of an Idea”

The word hero has a different meaning in our contemporary world than it did during the time of the ancient Greeks. Dr. Timothy F. Winters, professor of classics at Austin Peay State University, will focus on the way ancient writers thought about heroes, while offering examples of them. He will also explore the evolution of the word “hero” into its current usage, which connotes something very different than it did in ancient Greece.

Friday, April 9 Films at the Frist: To Kill a Mockingbird
7:00 p.m.

This last film in the four-part Films at the Frist series, which was planned in conjunction with the exhibition Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece, examines what it means to be an everyday hero. Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of 1960 by the same name, To Kill a Mockingbird introduces us to Atticus Finch, a lawyer in a racially divided town in Alabama during the 1930s. When a black man is accused of raping a white woman and set to go up against an all-white jury, the odds seem stacked against him until Finch, a deeply principled man, puts his career on the line to defend him. Through the eyes of Finch’s six-year-old daughter Scout and her adventures with her brother, Jem, and a friend named Dill, the story of a small southern town unfolds to reveal its true heroes and their dignified courage in the face of racial prejudice and violence. Starring Gregory Peck. Directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962. 129 minutes. 35mm.

About the Frist Center
Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., is an art exhibition center dedicated to presenting the finest visual art from local, regional, U.S. and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features more than 30 interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Gallery admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and younger and to Frist Center members. Starting Jan. 2, 2010, Frist Center admission is $10.00 for adults and $7.00 for seniors, military and college students with ID. College students are admitted free Thursday and Friday evenings, 5–9 p.m. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation by calling (615) 744-3247.The Frist Center is open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. and Sundays, 1–5:30 p.m., with the Frist Center Café opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting our Web site at

Please consider supporting the Frist Art Museum with a donation. Your gift is essential to our mission of serving the community through the arts and art access in particular. We truly appreciate your generosity.