2. First Civilizations

The films in this section deal with the world's first developed cultures, those that provide the classical precedents and standards for many of our aesthetic judgments.

'Classicism' and 'the classics' are terms used extremely broadly in art. At times 'classical' means simply 'traditional' (as opposed to avant-garde or innovatory), or of a high standard as judged against some accepted canon of earlier masterpieces. At other times it refers strictly to works from, or in the style of, the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Notions of order and harmony derived from those civilizations have had an incalculable influence upon subsequent western culture - its taste, its ideas, its sense of proportion, its definitions of beauty. They inform Romanesque or 'Roman-like' architecture in the Middle Ages. Similarly the Renaissance was seen as a 'rebirth' of classical humanist arts, sciences and learning. In the later eighteenth century Neo-classicism again consciously sought to revive the forms of the ancient world in all the arts. In the modern period Classicism informed work as different as Maillol's serene statuary, de Chirico's haunted piazza scenes, Picasso's heavy, robed figures of the 1920s, Nazism's sinister 'body beautiful' monuments, and even the uncluttered functionalism of the Bauhaus.

The Graeco-Roman culture, however, was not the only one to reach supreme heights of political power, social organization and cultural sophistication in Europe and the Middle East in the millennia leading up to the advent of Christianity. The films in this section also cover the Egyptian, Babylonian and Hittite kingdoms, which have all left their own 'classical' legacies. To all these civilizations modern and future culture owes its identity. In the words of the great British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley, quoted in the first film in this section, we cannot detach ourselves from our past. We are always conscious of precedents, not least when we flout them. So we let experience shape our views and actions. This is so much the case that when tradition is absent, progress stops.