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detail from Greek playing cards manufactured by Grafika Teknai Aspioti-Elka of Athens

Ancient Greece was the birthplace and cradle of European civilisation.

Greek mythology has, of course, featured in the design of playing cards and "Ancient Civilisation" games in many parts of the world since at least the seventeenth century. Card playing is not as popular in Greece as it is elsewhere and the uptake has been slower than in other parts of Europe. Greek card players today use either the Anglo-American or French National pattern, but a number of tourist souvenir packs are produced featuring Greek Mythology, Ancient Lovers or photographs of Greece. Belgian or Genoese style cards have also been used. In the 1920s the manufacturers Paignioxartopoeion e Elpis of Corfu made a pack with Venetian format and Greek mythological figures on the court cards. This pack disappeared after the Italian invasion in 1939. Grafika Teknai Aspioti-Elka of Athens introduced a national French-suited pattern, also with classical figures on the court cards, which remained in production for many decades.

Greek playing cards manufactured by Grafika Teknai Aspioti-Elka of Athens

Above: deck manufactured by Aspioti Elka A.E. "Elleinikon Monopolion Paienioxarton. Klasis A Koina", 52 cards + 2 Jokers, 1960. The court cards portray ancient heroes of Greece  see more

Standard Anglo-American playing cards manufactured by Aspioti-Elka of Athens

Above: standard Anglo-American playing cards manufactured by Aspioti-Elka of Athens  see more

Greek Mythology

The myths of the early Greeks have given world literature some of its greatest inspiration, while the dramatists set the pattern on which drama has developed ever since.

Greek Mythology playing cards published by Michalis Toubis S.A., 1995

Above: Greek Mythology playing cards published by Michalis Toubis S.A., 1995. The courts show double-ended images of Greek Gods, with Anglo-American indices, 52 cards + 3 Jokers in Box. See also Cyprus Souvenir published by Michalis Toubis S.A.

Above: Greek Mythology playing cards published by Panco-Carta Editions, 2011. Cards courtesy Sean Parry.

More Greek Mythology playing cards

Greek Mythology playing cards published by Greko Editions, Athens, c.1990 Greek Mythology playing cards published by Greko Editions, Athens, c.1990

Above: Greek Mythology playing cards published by Greko Editions, Athens, c.1990. 52 cards + 3 jokers in box. The court cards show double-ended drawings of Greek gods with a Greek warrior on the reverse.

Greek Mythology playing cards published by Greko Editions, Athens, c.1990

Souvenir of Greece

Greek Souvenir playing cards are produced in various styles, ranging from colour photos of Greek scenery to photos of artefacts in museums celebrating ancient Greek civilisation. Some editions of "Greek Playing Cards" are a standard English pattern with a cheerful colour photo of a Greek Island on the reverse, made by a local manufacturer such as Dama Pica Ltd. see example here. Advertising decks for Greek shipping lines or other businesses are often produced by foreign manufacturers rather than national ones.

Greek Souvenir playing cards

Above: Greek Souvenir playing cards with a colour photo on each card, published by Adam Editions, 1998. The reverse shows a white rooftop, chimney and blue sky. 52 cards + 2 Jokers.

Eurocard, c.1980

Eurocard playing cards Eurocard playing cards

Above: Eurocard playing cards No.207, c.1980 • Souvenir of CreteSouvenir of KosSouvenir from Zakynthos

Greek playing cards

Above: cards from a double boxed set of “Greek Playing Cards with photos of the most beautiful Greek places” published by Dimitri Haïtalis, Athens, c.1980.

Eros

The ancient Greek works of art were closely related to the practical or religious purpose for which they were primarily designed. Classical Greek art is an art charged with meaning that appeals as much to the intelligence as to the sensibility. A large number of Greek painted vases have survived, and these often used the human figure as part of their ornamentation. The images are often striking in their accurate and vivid observation, taken from life. The human body was drawn at the peak of its youth and strength with explicit anatomical detail. Aphrodite was often venerated in vase painting, surrounded by Loves and Graces, beautiful nude young women and finely shaped youths.

Antique Lovers playing cards published by Editions Panco-Carta Greek Lovers playing cards

Above: four cards from "Antique Lovers" playing cards published by Editions Panco-Carta, 54 cards with images of Greek Ancient Lovers. Cards courtesy Sean Parry.

Left: Many works of art which decorated Greek pottery contained allusions to everyday life with all its delight in athletic sports and its passionate love of youth and beauty. The "Greek Lovers" playing cards shown here feature erotic scenes from Ancient Greek art on every card, published by Michalis Toubis S.A., 1995, 52+3j in Box.

Some Greek artists loved youthful bodies in slightly languid poses, often depicting the softness of flesh, engaged in carefree leisure. Other artists strove to depict idealised beauty as promoted in Platonic teachings. The many facets and phases of Greek art provide a rich source of imagery for Greek tourist souvenir playing cards.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.


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