In the 400s B.C ., the Greeks had somewhat vague ideas about their immortality, assuming some sort of “shadowy” existence after death. Greek funerals did not involve priests, hymns, or prayers. They emphasized the memory of the deceased. The Greeks erected steles, or stone slabs, to commemorate their dead permanently and publicly. Many steles were elaborate, with stylized figures symbolizing how the dead person had lived and worked-for example, as a soldier, a farmer, or a politician. By 400 B.C. simple scenes showing the deceased with their families, in courageous feats, or preparing for death decorated steles.
The Grave Stele of Hegeso is from the late 400s B.C. It captures a lovely Athenian woman as she carefully selects a precious jewel from a jewelry box held by her servant. Perhaps Hegeso is planning to wear the jewel on her journey to the next world. The stele is set inside an architectural frame, typical of the classic style. Symmetry and balance, so important in Greek art, are evident in this stele. Hegeso’s right hand is located precisely in the center of the relief. In keeping with the Greek idealization of human beings, the unknown sculptor suggests that Hegeso was beautiful in spirit as well as in body.