Now we are going to look at the main and most important building on the Acropolis that is called the Parthenon. As you leave the entrance, you see it on the right-hand side facing you. It is meant to represent the home of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. We know a lot about this building because there were actually records left from that time including; how it was paid for, who worked on it, etc. The main architects for it were Iktinos and Kallikrates. The main sculptor who worked on it was a guy named Phidias. It really is a “magnum opus” (one of the greatest works we will look at) because it is the schema building for all the future buildings we will be studying, both in architecture and design/ornamentation.
The story is that “Athena,” who is the goddess of wisdom, is also the patron goddess for this building. I think it is kind of important that this building represents her main attributes which are wisdom and also chaste values, meaning she is a celibate goddess that is very dignified, very logical and very powerful. She is also the main goddess who supports Odysseus in the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Remember Zeus gave birth to Dionysus?
Well, he also gives birth to Athena, and this is how it
happens. One day he has a terrible headache and the God of the Forge; Hephaestus,
or you may know him by his “Star Trek” or Roman name, “Vulcan” comes and
cuts his head open with an ax and Athena springs from his head like a fully
formed idea; fully armed, clothed and ready for battle in her weaponry
and all her glory. I also think that there is a little bit of that weird
idea that she also springs out of his head from a headache, (I guess some
parents feel like their kids are headaches) so you can draw your own conclusions
Iktinos and Kallikrates The Parthenon c450 BCE Athens, Greece
Pythagorean ratios 6:8, 9:12
The building represents “symmetria,” “kalos” and a lot of the irrational and rational ideas concerning numbers that we discussed before. So first off, when you are approaching it; you actually approach it from the West side. It is canted at a slight angle so you get to see two sides of the building. The West side is the short side facing you and it is not the entrance; it was actually used as a storage room. And remember, we talked about the Pythagorean idea concerning the ratio of 8 to 17; that it is a beautiful and kind of a strange irrational number, but also how it makes the building look about three times longer? So when you travel down it, you get the sense that the building is extra-large because you get to see the entire length of the building as you bring your goods to Athena who is housed inside.
When you step up closer to the building you see that it seems to be completely square, logical and level, but I think one of the most interesting things that a lot of people have taken a look at and find particularly interesting, is that it actually has a bunch of curved lines. In the base it actually, I think, rises a couple of centimeters in the center and in the entablature; and the columns themselves kind of tilt in a little bit. Those sorts of weird little distortions that are not squared off and do not seem completely logical, are actually quite logical. If you did not have that rise to compensate for the curvature of the eyes and some weird things that happen in terms of how we see things, it would probably look like it was sort of leaning out and kind of bubbling in a strange way. So those distortions in the foundation, the rise of the building and the columns canted back, are meant to actually compensate for irrational things that happen with the structure.
Overall, it is a “Doric” order temple and that means it’s the most masculine order of temple. I think it is also interesting that they chose the most dignified (for them) and the most masculine order, to house a female goddess; who incidentally is a virgin goddess. The term “Parthenos” means “virgin.” Do you remember the term “parthenogenesis” means “virgin birth” from biology class? This is the virgin’s “cella” or chamber.
If we look at the Doric order and we analyze a little bit more closely using these diagrams, I think you can see some things that are important. So notice that it does not have a base and that it is a simple column that goes straight into the “stylobate.” Remember when I told you that the term for column is “stylos” and the term for base is “bate”? So, “stylobate” means “column base” and we also have the term “steriobate,” which means “second base.” And that’s probably the original “stylobate” and “steriobate” foundation for that structure. They started a temple in about 490 to Athena. Then when the Persians came and decimated the Acropolis, all that was left (more or less) was the foundation; so it (or parts of it) were used to construct the Parthenon.
If we zoom in on the frieze of the entablature, you will
see that there is also an alternation between what are called “triglyphs”
and “metopes.” For “triglyph,” the term “tri” means “three,” meaning it
has three marks. The “metopes” actually made up the end parts for the original
wooden structures of that time; and would have been used to keep animals
(such as birds) from getting in through the roofline. They were originally
made out of “terra-cotta tiles.” Now all of the elements that we see for
this building are made out of this almost solid stone and emulate or mimic
the original wood structure. So a lot of it is just left over style. For
example: like how in some cars the hubcaps looks like they have spokes,
but now they are just for decoration compared to the actual spokes on the
original cars when they were first made in the 1920s and 30s and were actually
functional. I think a lot of the elements on the entablature of Greek buildings
are kind of like those left over vestiges that are just ornaments that
people like to have, and they are included because they are part of the
We are looking at a temple from Italy actually; because some of the best preserved temples are in Italy. What I want you to notice is that as we move up the column, we see that there is fluting, a slight swelling in the center; sort of three quarters of the way or two thirds of the way up the column, that it drops back into the echinus or “capital” of the column and that the swelling is called “entasis.” This is a way of actually making the columns appear straighter and possibly used to either make it look as if the columns are swelling under the pressure of the entablature to give an organic kind of feel to it; or the other way of looking at it, is possibly that the drop back about two thirds of the way up the columns is meant to increase the already emphasized size of the building.
Greek, Paestum Italy Basilica 550BCE
The next place where you zoom in on is the pediment of the building, which is the top. It has frame like molding or outline on it called a “cornice.” I think in Italian it is called a “corniche” which literally means “frame.”
We are going to take a look at the sculptures that were set in there. In the pediment of the Parthenon are a series of sculptures that have kind of been put up there like knick knacks on a shelf. Most of them do not actually exist anymore on the Parthenon. Most of them are in England, in the British Museum. Now we will talk about how Athena lost her marbles.
These are three of the figures that would have been tucked into the top of the pediment, and the first idea that I want to bounce off you is actually where they all went. Phidias is the sculptor and they have been there for thousands of years (more or less). Then there is the war between the Ottoman Turks and the Venetians. Around 16 CE, there is this battle where the Ottomans have munitions dumps or some powder kegs and gunpowder inside the center of the Parthenon; and unfortunately for us, the Venetians score an unlucky hit and the powder kegs explode; therefore, bursting the whole Parthenon from the inside out. So what is more or less left after that, is the metopes that are surrounding the entire entablature and a couple of the pediment sculptures, but probably a lot of the heads fell off. I also have the suspicion that some of the heads were stolen much earlier by robbers, because you could just climb up there and grab a couple of heads; you could sell them on the antiquities market.
Then we get into the 1800s, late 1700s and there is this guy named Lord Elgin; and he was a Scottish Lord, who was basically the ambassador to Turkey. He got permission to remove all of the marble sculptures from the Turkish government, bring them back and put them on his Scottish mansion in the UK. So this guy basically says he is preserving these things. He brings them back and then when he dies, he leaves them all to the British Museum. And so they are called the “Elgin marbles” because they were renamed after Lord Elgin. So if you ever want to see a really significant and great collection of the marbles from Athens, you have to go to England.
Something interesting about them is that they are finished
on the back as well as the front; even though they would have been placed
up there like knick knacks on a shelf. We do not actually know who these
three figures are. They are just kind of given the term “Three Goddesses.”
If you noticed, they are in “wet drapery” style and they show the anatomy
of the female form. Some people suggested that the pediment they
come from represents the birth of Athena and that is entirely possible.
Phidias, who sculpted them, basically seems to have had a kind of workshop
where you have a group of sculptors working for a master sculptor and mentor.
Three Goddesses? (Hestia, Dione, and Aphrodite?) (Possibly the three fates) (The Elgin Marbles)
from the East pediment of the east pediment of the Parthenon
sculptor: Phidias ? c438-432 BCE tallest figure 4'5"
If we zoom in on the corners of this, you will see that there are a couple of horses, kind of springing out of that pediment. It has been suggested that the way this is arranged shows good organization of the space by creating the sculptures to best fit the design. The horses rising on the left-hand side represent the sun God, “Helios” who is somewhat interchangeable or synonymous with, “Apollo”; and he is rising along with the sun in the East. If you move across to the right-hand pediment, there is a horse that actually does not really exist in record history. This horse has its head leaning over the right-hand side of the pediment and is possibly either Helios’ or Apollo’s lead horse or, as Jennifer Tobin has suggested, Selene, the goddess of the moon’s horse. So what you possibly have is the sun rising with Helios and setting with the moon taking over with Selene. I think a good way of looking at it would be to imagine that Helios’ or Apollo’s chariot is simultaneously launching and landing. In our view we only see the tops of the horses being shown as they ride across the sky leading Apollo’s chariot, because in some ways that would really kind of make sense. The East pediment is greeting the sun and Athena is the goddess of wisdom, Apollo is the God of rationality and the sun rising is a metaphor for enlightenment; similar to what we saw in “The Allegory of the Cave” by Plato. So all of those are ideas are about how rationality, enlightenment and intellect are part of what makes the sun shine on the planet and that the doorway that leads into Athena’s chamber is basically greeted by wisdom, knowledge or enlightenment.
Apollo's Lead Horse? (Selene's Horse?) (The Elgin Marbles)
from the East pediment of the east pediment of the Parthenon by Phidias ?
c438-432 BCE approximately 2' tall
Now these diagrams show what the façade might have possibly looked like if all the sculptures were there. I do not know if you can completely trust it, but I think what is kind of cool that it is “polychromed,” has the battles of the “Lapiths and Centaurs” and, as Jennifer Tobin has suggested, that the whole frieze depicts the birth of Athena as she was released from Zeus’s head with the rest of the sculptures being gods and goddesses that were acting as an audience or witnesses. You can see that the wind drawing is slightly different from the actual reconstruction we just looked at. I also wanted to show you a reconstruction of the metopes and how the Parthenon might have looked with its original polychromy from the encaustic wax that would have been used as paint to illustrate the series of stories around the triglyphs and metopes.
What I would like to do next is talk about the “triglyphs”
and “metopes”; as well as, the entablature for both inside and outside
because even though this is a Doric temple, it has ionic features. It has
a box within a box kind of design. The outer sequence is a purely Doric
entablature and column style. The interior has a sort of box that originally
had walls around it. It was an enclosed space within a series of
perimeter columns called a “peristyle.” If you think back to the term “stylobate,”
then think about it, a “perimeter stylos” means a perimeter of columns,
right? Then it would have the “cella” in the interior.
Pheidias Panathenaic Frieze
If we zoom in a little bit on one of the friezes, it is depicting ideal soldiers or ideal Athenian citizens who have “kalos.” I think an interesting thing is the relationship between the sizes of the riders’ bodies to the sizes of the horses because I don’t think the sizes are accurate. I think the whole point is to show that these figures are ideal or beautiful people.
Phidias? Detail of the Panathenaic Procession(The Elgin Marbles)
from the north frieze of the Parthenon
c438-432 BCE approximately 3' 6" tall
(now in the British Museum) Classic Greek
Let us look at another frieze. We see this other frieze from the so-called “Panathenaic Procession.” What you are seeing is a parade. There is no deep space, this would have been colored, and these figures are in wet drapery; which shows the female forms. These are probably figures in the Panathenaic parade that led up to Athena; and this frieze supposedly culminates into this next one.
If you look at this frieze, it shows, a “peplos” or a
sort of garment that is the thing that they would dress the figure in the
center of the Parthenon in. This leads us to the second theory about what
this might represent if it is not the “Panathenaic Procession”; and there
are some good reasons why it wouldn’t. The first reason would be that almost
all the temples that precede this one always had mythological themes and
this is actually more like a genre scene of everyday life; not necessarily
every day, but it is actual live people from that time period. It is almost
like a current event sculpture in low and high relief.
Fig. 402 Maidens and Stewards, Marble Height approx. 43 in. 447 – 438 BCE
Fragment of the Panathenaic Procession from the east frieze of the Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens.
(now in the Louvre) Classic, Greek
Another possible explanation is that it represents a little-known myth from Athens about a king named Erechthus; who had to sacrifice his daughters in order to win a battle. Therefore, the friezes themselves might represent the funeral procession; and that the gown or garment that we are looking at here, is a representation of the funeral gown that their bodies would have been dressed in. I guess you can decide for yourself about what these friezes represent, but I need to caution you that almost universally, people believe it is the “Panathenaic Procession.”
An idea to stress is that these represent godlike or ideal figures. Although the building and its sculptures predates Plato and his writings, one could still say that these figures represent a “Platonic ideal.” They have “kalos”; which means they have beautiful figures and musculature, they are powerful looking, the women are beautiful and their bodies are perfect. So this might represent in some ways the ideal Athenian citizen. And if you think about that, you can actually relate it to Pericles’s “Funeral Oration” (recorded by the historian Thucydides).
Pericles boasts that all the citizens of Athens matter,
that Athens is the model for all other cultures and that Athens has somehow
earned some kind of place of honor by being morally superior, physically
superior, intellectually superior and superior in terms of the arts. It
shows how they saw superiority as the way of measuring worth in their world/time
period. When you think about the athletic and military primacy of Athens
the idea of “kalos” might not be too far off. That, to me, really supports
that this is a representation of the “Panathenaic Procession.”
||The frieze and entablature with sculptures in situ
Now, the last segment that I want to discuss with you is on the “entablature” with the sculptures. Some are “in situ”; which means “original setting/location,” but some of them are in the British Museum. What I want to look at is the metopes and triglyphs on the outer entablature; which is really traditionally a Doric entablature. The triglyphs and metopes are basically an alteration of design motifs, and the metopes are where all the decoration begins.
Let us zoom in a little bit one of the triglyphs
for a second. They probably are a vestige that represents the ends of beams
and they have these little pegs that are in the bottom called “guttae”;
which are basically just wooden pegs or nails.
Zoom in on some of these metopes; some of which are actually
in the British Museum. They all represent the Lapiths fighting the
centaurs. We looked at this story before, so we kind of know it is a representation;
in some ways, of this idea of the bestial or uncontrolled nature fighting
the rational Apollo or Apollonian ideology. So what I am suggesting is
that this represents that battle between the Apollonian and Dionysian conflict
of the rational self and the passionate or uncontrolled ecstatic self.
I think that this really clearly represents that you can slice it down
the middle. This especially was my favorite example because it is so symmetrical.
So you can slice it down the center, it is symmetrical and half of it is
taken up by a Lapith man; the other is taken up by a centaur. If you don’t
remember the story, just go back to the “François Vase.”
Then when we see this figure, it almost looks like he is dancing. Do you remember the Band called “the Eurythmics” from the 80s? They got their name actually from an old-fashioned term called “eurythmea” or “eurhythmic gesture.” “Eurythmia” literally means the dance pose or moving in a dance like way to music. It almost looks like these guys are dancing and this guy is about to cut off the centaurs head.
I want to suggest is that the bodies are extremely beautiful,
and this represents “kalos” and the power and beauty of the human body.
So do the centaurs, but another interesting element is that the centaurs
body is actually the size of a pony. If you want to really represent a
sort of Apollonian and Dionysian conflict you can’t really represent things
to scale because if they are in true scale, there’s a sort of disproportion
favoring the bottom half that runs away with you. Remember talking about
how the centaurs got drunk, their bottom half ran away with them and they
tried to rape people? I think that is evidenced in this piece. So, we have
beautiful Lapith human figures that represent the rational human side and
then the centaurs that are being defeated by the Lapiths and rationality.
metope relief from the Doric frieze on the south side of the Parthenon c440 BCE
One of the ideas about why the battle of the Lapiths and the centaurs is represented on the exterior and the metopes of the Parthenon, is that it might also represent; in some kind of metaphorical or symbolic way, the battle between the Persians and the Athenians. It suggests that the Persians are the animal creatures that need to be defeated and that the Lapiths are the humans and, therefore, the Athenians are the rational ones. So if you think about it, it is the same kind of ideology and the same kind of propaganda that you will see in any kind of war poster. You could think about this as a combination of religion, politics and propaganda all put together.
Professor Jennifer Tobin suggested is that the faces of all the centaurs look like they are in agony while the humans all look placid and peaceful. I am not sure that is true. You might want to Google them and decide for yourself. I think they all look kind of unemotional even though their bodies are moving in “eurythmia” or “eurhythmic gesture.” I think it is more likely that, the humans represent a beauty that only humans can have and the horses are beasts in some ways.
The interior of the Parthenon has two sections. That storage room behind the cello was probably just used as a place to put the goods that were brought up to Athena. If you were walking up to the Parthenon, confronted with the West side and walked all the way down the base of the building until you ended up at the “cella,” you would see a statue of Athena inside it.
The thing is you cannot go inside the “cella.” You can
only stand in the doorway where there would be oil lamps lit up and you
can hand your goods to the priest who would set them at the base of the
sculpture of Athena. I think that is rather significant because it is a
dramatic way of affecting how you feel about Athena when you walk up to
the structure. So what I am suggesting is that after you have had this
whole Panathenaic sort of walk; even if it is not during the “Panathenaic
Procession”; you have walked all the way up to the top of the Acropolis
and down the entire length of this building to stand at the doorway; and
you can only look in. It makes you feel that it takes a lot to be able
to be in/near the presence of a god/goddess; therefore making you appreciate
them more or increasing the amount of value you place on them. And what
you see when you look inside; lighten only by oil lamps would be this statue
of Athena that stands seemingly taller than what she would be outside the
So, one of the things about the “cella” is that Kallikrates actually designed a “double tiered” structure so that there were two sets of columns on the interior. There are reasons for this design. First, if you make the columns the same size as they are outside, they would be massive and take up all the floor space. So, if you make thinner columns and double stack them; it actually takes up less floor space. I think that it was also, in part, a symbolic thing because the other thing it does is make the sculpture’s height seem doubled; even though the original sculpture has obviously been lost. The sculpture would have been; I suppose, almost 50 feet tall. In her right hand there would have been a statue of a “Nike” figure; which stands for “winged victory.” She would have had a mast or wooden structure as her core and the exterior would have been encased in gold leaf, gold sheets or ivory that would have been tinted to look like flesh. She would have been carrying a shield, holding victory in her right hand and probably standing in a “contrapposto” pose. So this would have been a cult (religious) statue that was in the center of the Parthenon and you would have dropped off your goods for that.
One of the stories that I’ve heard is from one of
Dr. Rufus Fears’ lectures that I have listened to recently. He talked about
Phidias who was the sculptor for the Acropolis. The lecture covered how
Phidias was a good friend of Pericles; the guy that got the money together
and was the patron of the arts for the Acropolis, how Phidias was brought
up on charges of impiety over putting an irreverent sculpture on the shield
of Athena and actually thrown in jail for it and that he eventually died
in prison for it. I think the sculpture actually represented Pericles or
it represented Phidias as an artist, but I am not sure which one.
So an interesting element is that we have this sculptor
Phidias, who is working with the architects, Iktinos and Kallikrates while
working on this wonderful building; that they were under the protection
of Pericles and that Pericles was not actually able to protect his own
sculptors. They were actually brought up on charges of misappropriating
funds and that kind of thing. So, I guess the same kind of contention that
exists today when we have these kinds of things existed then.
So, I will leave it at that and we will talk more about the “Erechtheion” in the next lecture
A term paper that is most excellent:
Prof. Kenney Mencher
April 29, 2002
High on the top of a hill in Athens, Greece sits the ruins of a city. The Persians in 480 BCE destroyed a once continuously developing and thriving city-state, the Acropolis. The remains of this city on the hill were to remain as a Greek memorial displaying the sacrifice made defeating the Persians. On the highest point of this devastated structure lay the remains of a sanctuary that housed an olive tree. This sacred symbol, devoted to the Goddess Athena, would be the focus point and driving force of reconstruction some thirty years later. However, a new temple would be built to house this Goddess of Athenian military power. Conforming to an architectural level of brilliant and outstanding proportions, this temple would symbolize Athenian honor to the Virgin Goddess Athena. This temple would be known as the Parthenon. The Parthenon is an example of unique and original architecture of a powerful empire that embodies the ideals of a culture that regarded itself as having a special unity between its people, government and gods. This statement will be established through contextual, formal and iconographic analysis.
Parthenon 447-438 BCE
architects Iktinos and Kallikrates
sculptor Phedias (Phidias)
view from the Northwest
marble, polychromed with encaustic
The Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Looking at the context of the Parthenon, we can see how overcoming such devastating odds defeating an enormous rival such as the Persians gave way to feelings of immense confidence to the citizens of Athens. This Greek victory set in motion an era known as the "Golden Age". This would be an era that would further Athens development of a new democracy and social environment. Influenced by an aristocrat named Pericles, various new laws were introduced setting apart Athenians from any other cultures of its time. One of these laws imposed would dramatically affect the social standing and rights of the common people. "In 451 B.C. Pericles introduced one of most striking proposals with his sponsorship of a law stating that henceforth citizenship would be conferred only on children whose mother and father both were Athenians" (Martin 9.3.1). With this new regulation came new advantages for these exclusive citizens of Athens. This privilege allowed ownership of private land while being protected under the same laws as the wealthy aristocrats (Martin, 9.3.1). You now had an equal voice that could influence decisions about your future as a citizen of Athens. This marked the way for participation in politics. Women also shared new, but limited privileges compared to men. Although women did not have a political voice or were allowed to get involved with large financial dealings, they were still protected by the law. In spite of this somewhat prejudiced ruling, the women of Athens could enlist the services of a legal male guardian and have him speak for her in court if a situation developed that needed legal assistance, such as a law suit (Martin 9.3.1). Although the new citizenship standing had some shortcomings, it still prevailed as a groundbreaking and exclusive change unique to those who were true citizens of Athens. New feelings of extraordinary stature began to develop in the mindset of Athenian culture. Defeating a tremendous enemy such as the Persians was proof that the gods favored them during this "Golden Age". The next step during this era of great wealth and prosperity would not only show Athenian unity of its people and government, but pay homage to their Goddess of military power. The wealth and brilliance of a united and powerful empire would soon be echoed through outstanding architecture and sculpture. The construction of the Parthenon would not only express Athenian honor to the Virgin Goddess Athena, but also make a bold and distinctive statement about its culture.
The formal design of the Parthenon would enlist the skills of architects (Iktinos and Kallikrates) and sculptor (Phidias) whose brilliance in their fields would allow success in achieving the immense task of creating a temple of monumental proportions. They would be innovators of new design while making bold statements of unity between the people and its gods. No expense would be spared for this massive undertaking. Twenty thousand tons of marble would be used for its construction alone. The Doric style of architecture would have changes made in its symmetry. Instead of the usual six columns across it would have eight, making the structure 230 feet wide. Seventeen columns in width would give the Parthenon a length of 100 feet. Since perfectly straight lines would make the structure look curved to the human eye, the architects intentionally put slight curves and entasis style columns throughout the architecture giving the building an appearance of being perfectly straight. "By overcoming the distortions of nature, the Parthenon's sophisticated architecture made a confident statement about human ability to construct order out of the entropic disorder of the natural world" (Martin 184.108.40.206). The confidence of the Athenians close relationship to their gods would be further expressed within the sculptures of the Parthenon. Its unique and innovative style of sculpture would be a distinctive form executed through the skills of Phidias. While the temple used standard Doric features, which included pediment sculptures, one particular area of the complex incorporated a continuous frieze done in the Ionic order. Combining an Ionic frieze to a Doric temple would attract attention, which of course it was meant to do. The sculptures would embrace Athenian deities, as well as the Athenians themselves. The low relief style carving of the Ionic frieze included 114 separate sections that when combined measured 524 feet in length and 3 feet in width. The combined classic architecture and sculpture of the Parthenon not only reflects the prosperity, originality, and artistic genius of Athenian culture, but also depicts their ideals concerning a special relationship with the gods.
Within the entablature of the Parthenon, the Ionic frieze not only acknowledges the homage paid to the Goddess Athena, but symbolizes an Athenian mind-set of their strength and unity between themselves and the deities. Extending along both sides of the temple, the frieze depicts a festival that was held every four years known as the Panathenaic procession. The frieze shows idealistic carvings of young, strong, but graceful Athenian men and women in procession. Skillful men on horseback along with sturdy, yet graceful looking women are shown in harmony during their ascent to the top of the Acropolis. The symbolic statements mirrored in this low relief sculpture reflect healthy and strong citizens who represent the "ideal inhabitants of a successful city-state" (Stokstad 192). At the head of the procession, deities await their arrival. Having been included in the presence of these deities symbolizes a prevailing confidence between the Athenians and their gods.
The Athenian culture of the "Golden Age" reflects a time in history when the defeat of an overwhelming enemy would inspire new ideals and confidence of its people. Original laws of citizenship were established that would unite the people as a democracy. Their creativity would continue to expand in areas of art and architecture unique to Athenian culture. With the profusion of wealth, the construction of the Parthenon had no limits of artistic license and would ultimately represent a powerful empire while emphasizing its independence. Combining both the citizens of Athens and their deities within the sculpture of the Ionic frieze conveyed a symbolic statement about the unique relationship between the gods and these favored citizens of the "Golden Age".
Martin, Thomas R. "An Overview of Classical Greek History." The Perseus Project 1997. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/vor?type=phrase&alts=0&group=typecat&lookup=Parthenon&collection=
Perseus:collection:Greco-Roman#Section> 17 Apr. 2002.
Neils, Jennifer "Reconfiguring the Gods on the Parthenon Frieze." Art Bulletin Vol. 81 (1999) : 16 Mar. 2002 <http://catalog.ohlone.cc.ca.us:2083/ehost.asp?key=220.127.116.11_8000__740279529&site=ehost&return=n>
Stokstad, Marilyn "Ancient Greece." Art History. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2002.
Three Goddesses(?) (Hestia, Dione, and Aphrodite?)
(Possibly the three Fates or Graces)
(The Elgin Marbles)
from the East pediment of the Parthenon
Phidias ? c438-432 BCE tallest figure 4'5"
|Form: These three reclining figures are designed
so that they would fit in with the triangular shape of the pediment.
They are meant to be incorporated into a large narrative placed on the
pediment and their position maintains their involvement. They were
placed on top of the pediment almost like nick nacks on a shelf: they were
not bolted or attached to them.
The figures were originally polychromed with encaustic paint, as were all sculptures on the Parthenon. They are idealized figures that incorporate the wet drapery style as a means to accent their perfected features.
Iconography: It is hard to comment on the iconography of the three figures without the required conclusive evidence as to their identities. Stokstad discusses the identities of the three figures on page 190. Even without their specific identities these figures represent a feminine ideal for the culture. The anatomy and wet drapery style contribute to this notion by accenting certain idealized (and erotic) features.
Context: Approximately 60% of all the sculpture from the Parthenon resides in England's British Museum. These figures and several more like them found their way to this museum through the adventures of a Scottish noble named Thomas Bruce, the earl of Elgin. Bruce, who was the ambassador to Turkey, asked the Turkish government, who controlled Greece in the mid 1800's, if he could remove some of the sculptures and bring them home. The Turkish government granted his request with a bit of hostility. Bruce then installed the sculptures within his home. After a time the sculptures came to be in the possession of the British Museum. There remains a constant struggle for the Greeks to regain ownership of these sculptures.
This kind of relocation of great works of art and the
question of replacing works such as these has been one that is hotly debated
across national lines. In the last thirty years or so, mainly because
of the theft of art and other treasures by the Nazis, a system of international
codes and laws have been enacted to protect and restore such works to their
original owners. Unfortunately, these laws are complex and somehow
the Elgin Marbles have remained in England.
Apollo's Lead Horse? (Selene's Horse?)
(The Elgin Marbles)
from the East pediment of the Parthenon
Phidias ? c438-432 BCE approximately 2' tall
|Form: This extremely naturalistic rendering of the head
of a horse would have been originally placed in the lower right hand corner
of the east pediment. As with the three female figures, its shape
is designed to maintain the form of the triangular pediment. The
horse's nose and lower lip were designed to overlap and break the framing
device of the cornice. Originally this sculpture would have been
painted with encaustic.
Iconography: The identity of the horse and its owner is still heavily disputed, but Professor Broderick of Lehman College has provided the most interesting attribution: Since the grouping resides at the entrance end of the Parthenon, which is also the end that greets the sun in the morning, Broderick suggests that the horses on the far left portion are the horses of Apollo rising in the morning. Perhaps this horse, which is at the far right, is the lead horse as the Apollo's chariot sets, making the world become dark again.
This suggestion of meaning also allows for a certain economy in terms of the symbolic narrative. Only the necks and heads of three or four horses need to be seen for the viewer to "get" the narrative. Figures simply need to suggest and the viewer's imagination can provide the rest.
Context: Recently this sculpture and the other Elgin marbles have been in the focus of the media because the British museum has been accused of improperly cleaning the Elgin Marbles in the 1930's. To complicate and compound the problem the museum has attempted to cover up its mistakes by hiding the documents that pertain to this discussion. (See Art News Magazine, Summer 2002)
Despite these accusations, it is possible that the marbles and sculptures that exist in the British Museum's collection are still better off than those that are still in situ (in their original placement.) The marble sculptures that are still in situ on the Acropolis have been severely damaged by Athens' heavy pollution.
Detail of the Panathenaic Procession
(The Elgin Marbles)
from the North frieze of the Parthenon
Phidias ? c438-432 BCE
approximately 3' 6" tall
|Form: These youthful figures on horseback are sculpted
in relief style. Originally polychromed, these sculptures are idealized
as well as naturalistic. The space that they inhabit is still fairly
flat in that the figures are placed against the front of the picture plane,
but some attempt has been made to create depth by overlapping the figures.
Depth is further enhanced by the deeper relief towards the upper part of
the scene. Remember that these reliefs are supposed to be seen from
below and it is always more difficult to see the upper parts. Therefore,
the sculpture is required to bring out those details so that no part of
the scene is lost. The diagonal of each figure drives the viewer
forward in an attempt to move through the story of the procession.
Iconography: Although Stokstad mentions that there is some debate as to the exact interpretation of these friezes, in my opinion, they represent the Panathenaic procession. We can guess that these figures are the ideal Athenian citizens who participate in the procession. These men, in particular, exhibit the qualities of young Athenian men by demonstrating control over their horses and by sustaining an obvious physical strength.
Context: The structure of the Parthenon is almost a box within a box. The exterior structure had Doric columns and a Doric entablature while the interior structure had Doric columns with an Ionic entablature. These friezes would originally have been placed in situ on the interior perimeter of the structure. As such they would have been slightly less visible than the metopes that would be on the Doric exterior frieze. (Click here to see some images.)
Yet another impressive paper.....
November 11, 2002
Art History 103A
The Athenians : “Gods Among Men” or Merely Snobs?
“There are two types of people - Greeks and everyone who wish they was Greek.” - Gus Portokalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Since the time of the Renaissance,
Europeand have been enthralled by the legacy left by the ancient Athenians. For the great Europeans of the Renaissance, it was Greek art and literature that left its lasting impression on them. Artists such as Michelangelo and authors like William Shakespeare borrowed freely from the Greek arts to create their own masterpieces. In the United States, Revolutionary leaders looked towards America - the first democracy - for ways to shape their new government. Over the years we've borrowed (and stolen) a number of ideas from the Athenians. But, does that mean they’re infallible? Hardly. The Athenians may have created the first democracy but they weren’t perfect. Indeed, the ancient Athenians were rather full of themselves. And through a formal, iconographic and contextual analysis of the frieze at the Parthenon, designed by Phidias in 432 BCE, I will prove that the Greeks weren’t as idealistic as we might have believe. Athens
“2,500 years ago, Athenian reformer Cleisthenes renounced tyranny and proclaimed the birth of a radically new government, democracy” ( Fleischman 1).
created democracy, a government for the people, but that didn’t make it an utopian nation. For one thing, they didn’t listen to everyone in the city-state. Women were still thought of possessions. Slaves were, of course, ignored. Unless you were a privileged Athenian man, democracy still meant next to nothing. Even men from different places were considered “barbaric.” And as the years passed, Athenians only began to think more and more about themselves. In 454 BCE, the building of the Acropolis, or Athenian high city, began. Originally, the area served as the last defendable resource of the city. But, while at war with the Persians, the city was burned down. When the Athenians returned from defeating the Persians, a new high city was begun. It was to be a representation of Athenian pride and greatness. But, the money used in building the new structures at the Acropolis was not even Athenian money. The great statesman, “ Pericles used the financial resources from the tribute contributed by the Greek city-states, funds which were intended to secure Athenian military projection” ( Hamilikas 2). With this stolen money, Pericles built a number of large and beautiful buildings in a show of conspicuous consumption and Athenian pride. The largest and most important of these buildings was the Parthenon, one of the temples to the patron goddess of Athens , Athena. And, one of the most interesting and controversial decorations on the Parthenon is its frieze. Athens
The Parthenon frieze, a running relief sculpture 160 meters long and built of marble, is a piece of Athenian art that has baffled historians practically since its creation. One of the major problems in interpreting the frieze is its position at the Parthenon. As to be expected, the piece was skillfully sculpted. “The compositions on the west frieze blocks are free, and ingenious... varied in pose, dress or gesture of each figure” ( Boardman, 107) Phidias created a piece that places the viewer in an illusion, even while the execution of actual depth had yet to be created. Yet, the frieze also stands apart from its audience. It is lifted 12 meters off of the ground and divided by the columns that stand 20 meters away. “...[T]he Parthenon was a work of art not specially considerate of
those wanting to see it: the frieze particularly so” (Spivey 141). Why would Phidias bother to design anything that can’t really be seen? According to Nigel Spivey, the reason for this is that “Works of art... are not necessarily bound to care whether anyone sees them or not” (141). The Parthenon frieze is an example of artistic hubris, or creating art for an ideal audience. But, it is also an example of Athenian bragging - to create a piece and not allow anyone to see it.
There is another interpretation as to why the Athenian’s hid their art.
was created by two separate stocks of men - the Dorians and the Ionians. “According to ancient Greek racism, those of Dorian stock and origin were considered the hardier, the tougher, the more manly... The Ionians, on the other hand, were those orientalized Greeks, spoiled by the wealth, feminine elegance, and soft living of the near Eastern culture” (Adair 2). Athenian art was also divided by these two cultures, with the Doric order appearing more spartan and “masculine” and the Ionic more graceful and “feminine.” Generally, the Greeks preferred the Doric style to the Ionian but the Athenians always had to be different. “ Athens Attica, the territory in which we find ... [ showed] a tolerance, even a preference, for Ionic architecture. Athens , in particular, preferred it” (Adair 2). Athens had gained a heritage from the Ionian culture - Homer (author of The Iliad,) for one, had come from the near East. And, yet the Athenians didn’t want to appear soft or unmanly. They had just won the war! Why would they want to appear as anything but powerful? So, they contrived to hide their femininity. Athens
There is also an undoubted sense of tension throughout the piece. It is generally believed that the frieze is a representation of the Panathenaic procession - a parade held every four years. At that time, a great procession of people would weave their way through Athens and to the Acropolis and “an enormous peplos [female garment] was taken to the Acropolis for Athena Parthenos (‘virgin’) in the Parthenon” (Brooklyn College Classics Department 4). Animal sacrifices would follow at the altar. But, one must notice that the peplos is never delivered. “The whole procession, from beginning to end, was a preparation” (Adair 3). The horses are unruly and the appearance of human bodies, both in the nude and through their clothing, increase a sense of anxiety. Athenians were worried about their masculinity but they refused to show it to anyone else - another picture of the Athenian superiority complex. And the Athenian pride doesn’t stop there.
Not only was the Panathenaic festival a celebration of Athena’s birthday but it was also a celebration of Athens, herself and her defeat of the Persians - the peplos was believed to be carried on the mast of a ship, a sign of the Athenian victories at sea (Brooklyn College Classics Department 4). This procession is another show of how well the Athenians thought of themselves. Granted, the Parthenon was a part of their city and built solely to accommodate Athena. But, they weren’t the only Greeks to fight the war. If they were the idols that some historians claim them to be, they would have given a little credit to the fellow Greeks who fought before them.
All in all, the Athenians weren’t as great as they would have led other Greeks, or even their own citizens, to believe. They were certain that they were the height of civilization. The problem with the Athenians is that they were impossibly sure of themselves even in the face of their own complexities. We, as Americans, can admit that the Athenians did give us a lot. But, by looking at the Parthenon frieze, we can also admit that they were often nothing more than snobs. And, we often seem to fall into this trap as well. We do tend to see and show ourselves as better and more brilliant than any other nation. But, maybe by looking at Athenian art we can change that for the better. And, by studying the Parthenon frieze in a new light and understanding the Athenians, we might be able to escape the mistakes of yesterday.
Adair, Mark J. “A Dream in the Parthenon.” American Journal of Art Therapy Aug 1990: 14
Lib., Fremont, CA. Ohlone College 31 Oct 2002.
Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture : The Classical Period.
: London Thamesand Hudson Ltd, 1985. 106-109.
Fleischman, John. “In Classical
, A Market Trading in the Currency of Ideas.” Athens
Smithsonian July 1993: 38. Ebscohost .
Lib., Fremont, CA. Ohlone College 31 Oct 2002.
Hamilakis, Yannis. “Stories from Exile: Fragments From the Cultural Biography of the Parthenon (or ‘
’) Marbles.” World Archaeology Oct 1999: 18. Ebscohost . Elgin Lib., Fremont, CA. Ohlone College 31 Oct 2002.
Neils, Jennifer. “Reconfiguring the Gods on the Parthenon Frieze.” Art Bulletin. March 1999: 6.
Lib., Fremont, CA. Ohlone College 6 Nov 2002
Spivey, Nigel. Understanding Greek Sculpture. Ancient Meanings, Modern
. Readings : London Thamesand Hudson Ltd, 1996. 140-148.
Wilford, John Noble. “New Analysis of the Parthenon’s Frieze Finds It Depicts a Horrifying Legend.” New York Times.
4 July 1995: 11. LexisNexis . Lib., Ohlone College . Fremont, CA 7 Nov 2002.
Lapith Fighting a Centaur,
metope relief from the Doric frieze
on the south side of the Parthenon c440 BCE
British Museum, London
|Form: These idealized and naturalistic figures inhabit
a square picture plane that is still fairly flat. The fabric draped
around the body of the male figure effectively frames his muscular torso
and follows the movement of his outstretched body. The composition
is arranged symmetrically so that the human Lapith inhabits the left section
and the Centaur the right. Some attempt has been made to create depth
by overlapping the figures.
The poses the figures take in these and other metopes that represent the centauromachy are somewhat artificial. It's almost as if the figures are "vogueing" or dancing. These kind of dance, or art poses are referred to as eurythmea or eurythmic gesture.
Iconography: This relief tells a story about Greek mythology, a centauromachy (a battle between centaurs and humans). In this myth the Lapiths and centaurs do battle after the wedding of Pirithous, king of the Lapiths. The centaurs, drunk after the celebration become unruly, and attempt to rape (in this case it means sexually and to abduct or steal them) the young boys and young girls. The human men help their kin by fighting back, but Apollo stops the battle and sends the centaurs home.
The concept of symmetry or symmetrea is reflected in the centauromachy, whose main antagonists are half-man half-beast, represent the struggle against man's bestial nature. This is reflected in the symmetrical layout of the composition and the equal proportion of man to horse in the centaurs' bodies.
This metope demonstrates the desire of the Greek artist to move towards a more naturalistic or realistic style. Nevertheless, the figures and their bodies are still idealized and perfect looking. Naturalism, and specifically depicting the male human form accurately, is linked to the fact that the Greek gods take a human form. Man for the Greeks was created in their gods' image and therefore it is almost a form of representing the divine if the work is naturalistic. (By the way, this is similar to the Judeo-Christian notion that man is created in God's image.)
The figures are also beautiful and this is an icon of goodness for the Greeks. In Greek epic poetry the hero is always described as handsome or beautiful and their physical appearance is a reflection of the character's virtue. The idealism or beauty of the Greek figure is linked to the concept that you can judge a book by its cover. The Greek term for beauty is kalos (calos). The term kalos can also be interchanged with and is synonymous with goodness. Therefore, to call someone or something beautiful also means that that thing is also "good." Interestingly enough, this concept remains throughout art history.
Compare the metopes to the Francois Vase.
1. 1Delos is a small island off the coast of Greece. This is where the original treasury was to be kept.
2. 2(Charles Rowan Beye, Ancient Greek Literature and Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975 and 1987) 127-128.
3. 3 According the Dictionary of Architecture, "a parapet is a low wall, sometimes battlemented, placed to protect any spot where there is a sudden drop, for example, at the edge of a bridge, quay, or house top."
John Fleming, Hugh Honour and Nikolaus Pevsner, "parapet," Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition ed.: 237.
4. 4Bass- base or low relief -relieved or pushed out from the wall.