Greek tattoos can refer to several different things. The first is tattoos that represent Greek life, like fraternities and sororities. These tattoos can be of the Greek letters that denote the individual organization, like Delta Chi or Delta Beta Epsilon, or they can be of the organization's mascot, motto, or crest. Greek life tattoo designs would obviously appeal most to members of that fraternity. College is a popular time to get tattoos, so it makes logical sense that those active within Greek life might choose a symbol to represent their activities. In college, students are over the age of 18, experiencing great independence for the first time, and developing as individuals. These three factors all contribute to the desire to get tattooed, which is a way to exhibit all three traits at once.
The second form of Greek tattoos are tattoos of words or phrases in the Greek language and alphabet. Greek is an ancient language and one of the oldest in the world. Like most languages, there are several variations of Greek, some of which are antiquated and lost. Modern Greek is often used to create alphabet tattoos and Greek tattoos, but Classical and Hellenistic Greek are sometimes used, too. Because the Greeks have always been prolific writers and some of the greatest thinkers, much of these languages have been studied and preserved by modern scholars, although pronunciation has been lost.
Greek word tattoos are often of personally meaningful words like “wisdom,” “purity,” “brother,” or “hope”. Phrases chosen are much like phrases and lettering tattoos in any other language, and are often a personal motto or motivational phrase. Unfortunately, the Greek language is not as widespread as others, with about 20 million speakers worldwide, so Greek tattoos are often misspelled or incorrect. It is very important when choosing a tattoo design in another language that you seek out someone who is educated in that language. Online translators are not accurate enough to safely translate subtle meanings. Furthermore, there may not be a direct translation of the message you want your tattoo to convey, so finding someone who can discuss the specific and connotational meanings of different words is vital.
The third Greek tattoo design is tattoos that depict Greek mythology. Although Roman mythology is sometimes better known, most of it is based on stories and gods developed by the Greeks. Greek culture was very advanced long before most other cultures and, as such, their traditional stories have a long and significant history. Most Greek tales portray events in which the pantheon of gods intervened or tell stories of the origins of these gods. Like other societies, notable people are often mentioned in stories, like great warriors or kings. In some parts of ancient Greece, arts and theater were highly valued. Because of this love of culture, there are Greek plays that still exist today. Greek plays often portray the stories of popular mythology.
Some of the most popular Greek tattoos depict Greek gods, like Poseidon (god of the sea), Ares (god of war), or Aphrodite (goddess of beauty, fertility, and sexual love). These gods, as well as most others, have direct Roman equivalents, named Neptune, Mars, and Venus. Some of the tales associated with these gods, however, do vary by culture. Fans of mythology may choose to get the Greek representation of a favored god or goddess in order to display their preference for the origins of the deity. Furthermore, Greek god tattoos symbolize characteristics that the person finds important or of value. Athena, patron of the ancient city Athens and the god of wisdom and the arts, is often chosen as a tattoo design by lovers of theater or philosophy. Likewise, Poseidon is the god most often chosen by swimmers, sailors, or lovers of the sea. Just like the ancient Greeks chose to worship specific gods that represented aspects of their own life, modern people designing tattoos prefer gods with a personal significance.
The fourth Greek design is derived directly from Greek artwork. Pottery was extremely important in Greek culture and large pieces, like amphoras, were often decorated before the piece was fired in a kiln. In fact, the Greeks were pioneers in this art form and much of their work exists in museum today. Greek artists who worked thousands of years ago are the inspiration for another Greek style tattoo. There are two common features seen on ancient Greek pottery – images of gods or heroes and registers. Registers or keys are decorative, geometric bands that circle the vase or amphora. Both of these features have become common designs for tattoos. Register tattoos are usually done around a limb, like the wrist, biceps, or ankle. These tattoos are bold and geometric, usually done in a heavy black line like the Greek inspiration.
The tattoos that mimic the illustrations on the pottery are often direct copies of the masterwork. These, too, are primarily done in black. Ancient Greek artists had few colors of glazes they could use, so there pallet was decided limited. Greek tattoos reflect this attribute by using the same basic colors. Popular amphora tattoo designs depict the trials of Heracles (or Hercules as he is better known), the death of the warrior demi-god Achilles, or the suicide of Ajax, another Greek hero who killed himself because he was shamed after battle.
The last Greek tattoo motif is biblically derived. In the Bible, God is referred to as the Alpha and the Omega. This comes directly from the Greek alphabet, where Alpha is the first letter and Omega is the last. The meaning, here, is that God is the beginning and the end, that he is all encompassing and beyond measure. Tattoos of Alpha, Α, and Omega, Ω, which often incorporate other religious symbols or imagery, represent a faith in God and are most often used by those of evangelical Christian denominations. These tattoos can be stylized or simplistic, done in a variety of colors and intricately detailed or minimalistic and without embellishment.