Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ancient Greece During its "Classic" or "Golden Age" Focus on the city Athens and its Acropolis

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Quick Time Line:
Geometric Period     1050 BCE - 700 BCE (700 BCE)
Orientalizing Period     700 BCE - 600 BCE (600 BCE)
Archaic Period     600 BCE - 480 BCE (600 BCE)
The Golden Age of Perikles (Classic Phase) 480-350 BCE (450)
Late Hellenism 350-30 BCE


The Acropolis, Athens, Greece.
450 BCE The Classic Era
Architects and artists: Iktinos, Kallikrates and Mnesicles were the main architects for the complex. Phidias was one of the sculptor/painters responsible for the design of much of the ornamentation.
The AcropolisContext:  Located on the highest point in Athens, Greece, the Acropolis was first constructed as a fortress/governmental palace for the king or Anaxaround 1000 BCE.  However, after the Athenian defeat of the Persian army, the city embarked on a new Classical Era and began to rebuilt the site.  The version we now know dates from 450 BCE, which is sometimes referred to as the "Golden Age of Perikles", the Athenian leader at the time.  There are many acropolai (the plural for Acropolis) in Greece; however, the one in Athens is the most famous in existence.
The Acropolis is equivalent to our modern day civic center. On it there were galleries, temples, a bank and at its base was a marketplace and two theaters. Temples were included because religion and patriotism were combined. There was no separation of church and state as in our government; however, like us, the Athenians were a democratic culture. At the base of the Acropolis are markets called "stoas" where merchants would sell their goods. Philosophers would rent out stoas to preach their beliefs and pass out pamphlets.
The term "acropolis" is actually two words placed together. "Acro" means high and "polis" means city: so the Acropolis of Athens is the highest point of the city. Although the Acropolis was originally established around 1000 BCE, the Acropolis and the buildings on it we are most familiar with were renovated during the leadership of the Greek General named Perikles. The Greek period we will be discussing the most is between 480-400 BCE.
Perikles, who fought as a general in the Persian War (c480 BC), returned home to find that his city and most of the Acropolis had been destroyed by the Persians in his absence. Perikles took it upon himself to rebuild the city and to do so he founded an alliance of city states in 478 BC called the Delian League. The money from the Delian League was the primary source of funding for the reconstruction of the Acropolis.
Around 480 BCE, Sparta, Athens, and Corinth formed the League of Delos(1) (equivalent to or modern day NATO). The Greek island Delos was originally the "bank" for the League; however, Perikles, a great economist, wanted Athens to be the treasury of the Delos League. He knew that the island would boost the economy of Athens and once he found the ACropolis completely destroyed, he used the money from the Delos League to rebuild it.
A good way to understand Perikles and his role in Athens is to read "Perikles’ Funereal Oration" which was recorded by the Greek historian Thucydides.  Find it in Mencher, Liaisons 49, 87-90 (Thucydides: Perikles' Funeral Oration) 


Context: The Panathenaic Procession
This next section will be in the order of the procession in which the Athenian celebration would have encountered the buildings of the Acropolis.  The term Panathenaic literally means "all of Athens." "Pan"- Means "all" and is also associated with the god of all the woods,"athenaic" - Athenian.
Although the Acropolis was home to a polytheistic (many gods) culture, the majority of the complex was devoted to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the main goddess of the city. Below is the basic plan of the Acropolis, its buildings and the two theaters at its base. Along the perimeter of the hill on which it is perched is a pathway, marked in gray. On certain festival days, every four years, the entire town of Athens came out and took the long route around the Acropolis to its top which is known as the "Panathenaic Procession." 
This procession would begin in Athens's Agora  take the Panathenaic way (see the diagram of the Agora in Stokstad) and pass by theHerodean Theater continuing on past the Theater of Dionysus all the way around the base of the hill and finally ending with entry into thePropylaia, also known as the Pinakotheke.  By moving all the way around the hill instead of just walking up, each Athenian could understand the magnificence of this sacred high point. The journey would end at the Parthenon where the Athenians who had made the trek would leave their offering to the goddess Athena.


Form: These Athenian theaters follow the same design as the theater at Epidauros (see Stokstad 5-72).  The design is a symmetrical hemisphere (half circle) that is arranged similarly to modern day stadiums and can seat nearly 12,000 people.  The stone material and the shape of the theater allowed the sound of the actors, who stood in the orchestra, to be heard throughout the theater.  The actors entered onto the orchestra from the parados (wings).  Behind them was usually a static building that was the backdrop called the skene.   This backdrop had no ornamentation or painting and was fairly simple.  In fact, props were kept to a minimum on the stage. Iconography:  The theater itself was an important place for Athenians to gather and although it was probably not designed to be a symbol of civic pride, it developed a similar meaning to our stadiums and theaters within our own towns.  One modern example would be Oakland's "Coliseum."
Context: Theater and performance of Greek Tragedy and Comedy were an important component in the lifestyle of the Athenians. The theater was a place in which stories, mythology, and cultural values were conveyed and ideas were explored. The theater also served as an important social setting and helped the economy by bringing in tourists for festivals. The fact that a theater was devoted to the god Dionysus indicates the importance of the ideas and values personified by him. Dionysus (also called Bacchus) was the god of drama and of wine. In essence he was the god of liberation.  Theater was considered a type of liberation and served as a great distraction from the outside difficulties of the ancient world.
"Ancient tragic drama was a public event done in large scale. At Athens the Theater of Dionysus, built against the steeply rising east slope of the Acropolis, was large enough to accommodate fourteen to seventeen thousand people. This group sat together on benches without divisions so that as arms, legs, and haunches touched, emotions could race through the audience. A large crowd is characteristically animal. Probably it was in reaction to the natural volatility of a crowd that the Athenian assembly passed a law making an outright and provocative disturbance during a performance a capital offense. The setting offered little form of crowd control. Performances were out of doors, in daylight, continuous, starting at dawn in a large arena where there must have been constant movement, as at present-day sporting events or a Chinese opera. People leaving to relieve themselves, hawkers selling food, these were moving elements of the panorama as much as the actors and the chorus".
(Charles Rowan Beye, Ancient Greek Literature and Society
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975 and 1987) 127-128.
One of the most important festivals in Athens focused on the performance of Greek drama. The festival named the City Dionysia or Greater Dionysia which took place in late March was an important event dedicated to the god Dionysus.


Form:  The physical form of the Greek theater strongly influenced the manner in which the plays were written and performed.  The actual components of a Greek play echo the physical form and symmetry of the theater itself.Components of Greek tragedy and the structure of the Greek tragedy  This is the order of a play's performance, how each one of the acts is structured and what it contains.
prologos (prologue) This is the opening scene in which an opening monologue or dialogue is presented.  This establishes the background information in the play and also introduces the "conflict," by outlining some events to follow.  The prologos therefore is like the skene or setting because it provides the background information.
parados  The name for the wings of the stage on which the chorus stands and comments.  The parados is also the name for when the chorus enters, chanting a lyric.  Think of the word parody from our culture.  A parody is a commentary on a text that we are usually familiar with.
episode This is similar to individual acts in a play.  These usually consist of dialogues between actors, which are complimented by choral odes known as thestasimon.  The episode is similar to the central location of the main action that occurs on the orchestra.
stasimon The choral ode that usually comes at the end of each episode.  It is a type narrative in which the chorus summarizes the action and hints at what will happen next.  This is the instant replay and contains pretty much the same information as the parados.
exodos This is the last stasimon which accompanies the action and the ceremonial exit of the actors from the stage.  This could also be referred to as an ending stasimon.
More on Greek theatre available on this site.


Dionysus in a Boat by Exekias
(black and white photo) (click for color)
Interior of an Attic black-figured kylix
c 540 BCE diameter 12"
Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich
Archaic, Black-figure
Form:  The interior of this symmetrical, yet balanced kylix (wine cup) was decorated in black-figure style with the figure of the Greek god Dionysus in a boat.  Out of the deck of the boat springs a grape vine and surrounding the ship are several dolphins or porpoises.  The figures are painted with a slit watered-down clay over the red, therefore creating that black-figure style  The ground of the vessel is the natural red of the clay and the sail is heightened with white glaze.  The scraffito technique is used as a means to bring out the details with an etching tool.Iconography: It makes perfect sense that a wine vessel would be decorated with an image of the Greek god of wine, theater and ecstatic liberation, Dionysus.  (The Romans called him Bacchus.)  The grape vine represents his role as the god of wine and the dolphins are probably transformed sailors who committed an act of hubris against the god in one of the myths that precede the story told by the Greek tragic play The Bacchae (also called the Bacchic women).  The "lucky" number of seven figures into the symbolism with seven dolphins and seven bunches of grapes.
Context: Origin of Dionysus.  (See Mencher Liaisons 49-86 (Ovid "Semele").  Dionysus's mother Semele, the daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes, had an affair with Zeus (called Jove by the Romans) who disguised himself as a shepherd boy.  Unfortunately, her family does not believe she is carrying Zeus' child.  Hera, Zeus' wife finds out about the affair and goes down to earth disguised as a nurse maid to comfort Semele. Hera, angry at her husband and jealous of the young maiden, tells Semele to make Zeus promise that the next time he appears to her it would be in all his glory (robes, thunder, etc.). When Zeus keeps his promise, his powerful presence burns the young woman to ashes and all that remains is Dionysus. Zeus picks him up and inserts him into his thigh where he is reborn. Hera finds out about Zeus' devotion to his new son and chops Dionysus into pieces. Zeus then swallows him and he is reborn a third time.
Dionysus then lives with the satyrs in the woods, away from Hera's harm.  They devoutly teach him the lessons of life and he becomes the god of liberation and goes back to his mother's land.  On  his way back to his home he comes across sailors who told the young god they would take him wherever he wanted to go.  Instead, they try to take advantage of him by using him as a slave, so Dionysus curses them by calling snakes and panthers to appear on the boat.  As the sailors jump overboard he ends the events by turning them into dolphins.  The kylix depicts Dionysus turning his boat around to go back to Thebes and take revenge upon his mother's family who did not believe that Zeus was her child's father.
The Athenian variety of gods consisted of a group of gods who exhibited extremely human characteristics: they would love like people, play favorites, steal from each other and cheat each other. In some ways, according to our culture's values, they were not very morally developed. There are many myths which discuss the exploits of the gods and use them as models to explain the faults and triumphs of human characteristics. These myths not only pass on the stories, but, transmit cultural values as well. Mythology was passed on in many forms, decorative motifs on pottery, walls, and architecture, as well through poetry and performing arts. At the base of the Acropolis are two theaters, the Herodean Theater and the Theater of Dionysus. The inclusion of these theaters as integral part of the Acropolis tells us quite a lot about the culture of the Greeks.
The Greek Orders (Also see the Elements of Architecture page 164. in Stokstad)
Greek temple architecture is designed in the post and lintel style.  The posts are the columns and the lintel is the entablature that rests on top of them.  Each one of these columns is a different style or order and has a distinct physical appearance.


The Doric:
Form:  The Doric is the simplest of the designs.  It has no base, simple fluting up the shaft of the columns and a simple capital that has no intricate ornamentation.  The entablature is divided into three sections consisting of the unornamented architrave, the frieze, which is subdivided in to the triglyph (tri- three glyph marks) and the metope.  The metope can also contain relief sculptures. (By the way, theParthenon is a Doric order.)
Iconography and Context: I was taught to look at the orders in a rather chauvinistic manner which is probably how the Greeks saw them as well.   The Doric order is the most dignified and masculine of the orders and was named after the Dorian region. 
Sometimes the Doric order will exhibit a slight swelling in the center of the column.  This swelling, known as entasis, is thought to either correct the curvature of a temple for the eyes or to show that the column is responding to the weight of the building as it is begin held up.
The Ionic:
Form:  The Ionic is more complex.  It has a base, simple fluting up the shaft of the columns and has an ornamented capital that makes it look like the letter "i".  The entablature of the Ionic order is less complex than the Doric and is divided in two sections.  These sections are the unornamented architrave and the frieze, sometimes decorated with relief sculptures.  (The Nike Temple is Ionic.)
Iconography and Context: I was taught to look at the orders in a rather chauvinistic manner which is probably how the Greeks saw them.   The Ionic order is a bit more feminine in its design because of the soft volutes of its capital.  It is a rather problematic column because it does not turn corners well as you can see from this detail of theNike Temple corner.  It was named after the Greek region of Ionia. 
The Corinthian:
Form:  The Corinthian is as complex as the Ionic but a bit overdressed.  It has a base, simple fluting up the shaft of the columns and has an ornamented capital that makes it look like a salad basket with its acanthus leaves.  The entablature is divided in two sections consisting of the unornamented architrave, and the frieze which is sometimes decorated with relief sculptures. 
Iconography and Context: I was taught to look at the orders in a rather chauvinistic manner which is probably how the Greeks saw them.  But, in a more 20th century context, the Corinthian order is the Carmen Miranda or "drag queen" of the orders with its overly ornate basket on its head.  It was named after the region of Corinth, conquered by the Greeks. 
Carmen Miranda


Know these components and these orders.


Nike Temple, (Temple of Athena Nike) c425 BCE
by Kallikrates, Acropolis Athens,
Classic Greek Ionic Temple Style
Form: The Nike Temple  is a small (27'x9') ionic order temple. The temple is amphiprostyle with four columns on both the east and west facades.  There is little space between columns because of  stone's lack of tensile strength (flexibility).  There is a continuous running frieze in the entablature. The Nike Temple faces in one direction (west), but appears to have two entrances with blank side walls. Surrounding the temple is a low wall called a parapet which contained low flat relief sculptures. On the parapet's(3) side is a bass relief carving(4) (a statue) of Winged Victory, or Nike.Iconography:  The goddess Nike is a winged female figure that represents victory.  The fact that this temple is located at the very entrance of the Acropolis could mean that victory is at the forefront of Athenian ideology.
Context:  This temple was in earlier times a type of "look out" from which Athenians could guard and foresee any intruders on the way in.


Nike from Parapet
of the Temple of Athena Nike -
A statue of Winged Victory c. 410 BC,
Marble, 42" tall
Acropolis, Athens.
Form:  This high relief carving is just one of many of the same type of winged figures in different poses.  In this sculpture the winged figure of Nike is adjusting her sandal.  Unfortunately most of the head and the wings sprouting out of her back have been destroyed but the torso and legs are well preserved.  The anatomy and carving of the figure is very naturalistically rendered; yet it struggles to maintain a certain idealized figure.  In other words, her figure adheres to the natural parts of a human body, but it also tends to preserve certain features as ideal.  This mixture of natural and ideal is heightened by the drapery that clings to her body.  The style of sculpting drapery, as if it were wet, is called the wet drapery style.Iconography: Winged figures in Greek art are personifications of victory.  These nike figures are placed about the pediment of the Nike temple in different attitudes or poses as if they are part of a parade in celebration of Athens' victory during the Persian Wars. The idealization of the female form here is probably an illustration of the concept of kalos.
Context:  Many of the male figures found on the Acropolis from all eras are nude. However, it isn't until the second century that we begin to see nude females in Greek art.  The wet drapery style is a happy medium for representing idealized women because the folds and contours can be used to highlight the ideal features of each figure.  Interpretations of the drapery covering this figure's form might be in keeping with our own taboos against female nudity.  In our culture men are allowed to reveal a larger part of their body than females yet we design fashions that tease viewers by accenting certain part of the female form.  The Greeks' use of wet drapery might fill a similar need and indicate the concept of the female form as submissive versus the male form representing strength.


Stele of Hegeso
c.410-400 BC, Marble, 5'9"
Athens. Classic
Form:  This stele is rendered in style very similar to the Nike parapet.  The two female figures are rendered in profile right against the front of the picture plane.  The figures inhabit what looks to be a post and lintel temple which gives the viewer the sense of an environment.  Each woman is idealized physically through the use of wet drapery.  The folds of each dress accent the protruding knees and fluid bodies.  The anatomy of their faces is naturalistic with some idealized features as well.  An example of this is the bridge of the noses is representing as a straight line, a minor distortion of how noses fit in with the geography of the face: the bridge is usually slightly curved at the top.  This aquiline feature is referred to as the Greek nose.Iconography:  Scenes like this are called genre, or everyday, scenes.  This is a scene of everyday life in which a maid brings a jewelry box to her mistress and she examines her trophies.  This kind of scene, which is often referred to as the "Mistress and Maid" motif is one that can also be found on vases as well as steles.  It can best be interpreted as a typical scene of upper class feminine pursuits.  The maid, the jewels, the chair, and the implied literacy of the visitors to the grave by the inscription on the lintel, are emblems of economic power that compliment the seated woman's beauty and status. (Compare this to the iconography of vases that depict two males such as in the Exekias vase.)
Context:  This stele was used as a grave marker and is probably an attempt by the artist and the people who commissioned it to make an idealized portrait of the represented, seated woman, buried in this grave. 


Lekythos with "Mistress and Maid"
theme- c. 440 BC, Athens.
white-ground and black-figure decoration
with touches of tempera,
15" tall Museum of Fine Art Boston
Form:  This stele is rendered in style very similar to the Stele of Hegeso.  The two female figures are rendered in profile view up close against the front of the picture plane.  Each is idealized physically and wearing wet drapery.  The anatomy of their faces is naturalistic but idealized as well: the bridge of their noses is a straight line which is a slight distortion of how noses fit in with the geography of the face.  This aquiline feature is referred to as the Greek nose.The white-ground technique is a vase painting technique in which the pot was first covered with a slip of very fine white clay, over which black glaze was used to outline figures, and diluted brown, purple, red, and white were used to color them.
Iconography:  This scene is a slight correction on the Stele.  In this one the maid brings the mistress a stool for her maid.  (I think it is the chest itself.)  This is also a kind of genre scene, in which a maid brings a jewelry box to her mistress and she examines her trophies.  This motif, which is often referred to as the "Mistress and Maid", is one that can also be found on vases and can best be interpreted as a typical scene of upper class feminine pursuits.  The maid, jewels, the writing and the clothes are emblems of economic power that compliment the seated woman's beauty and status. (Compare this to the iconography of vases that depict two males such as in the Exekias vase.)
Context:  Stokstad relates that this vase was used as a memorial ornament and is probably an attempt by the artist and the people who commissioned it to make an idealized portrait of the woman who it memorializes. Art is then establishing male and female roles through its depictions.
Ancient Greece During its "Golden Age" Focus on the city Athens and its Acropolis 
The Parthenon   

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 to that.


Iktinos and Kallikrates The Parthenon c450 BCE Athens, Greece
17:8 ratio
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 Doric order.


Doric Order


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
So the “cella” and the storage room on the other side of the wall have a “continuous frieze.” A continuous frieze is actually an Ionic feature that we have seen in other temples. This is not a feature of the Doric order.  The Doric order has that alternation of metopes and triglyphs and so the architects placed an Ionic style continuous frieze on the interior peristyle. You can see on this continuous frieze that there is no division between the characters or figures that are dancing across it. There are two possible stories being represented here. The favorite theory seems to be that it is the “Panathenaic Procession” that happens every four years and that this is a series of figures in a procession leading up to Athena.
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.

Lapith Fighting a Centaur,
metope relief from the Doric frieze on the south side of the Parthenon c440 BCE
eurythmic gesture
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 building.


 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

Additional Information
A term paper that is most excellent: 

William Harmon
Prof. Kenney Mencher
April 29, 2002
Art 103A
Term Paper

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 The confidence of the Athenians close relationship to their gods would be further expressed within the sculptures of the ParthenonIts 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".
Works Cited
Martin, Thomas R. "An Overview of Classical Greek History." The Perseus Project 1997. <
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 <>
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"

The Doric entablature with its triglyphs and metopes.
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.....
Julie Daniell
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 America 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 Athens - 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.
“2,500 years ago,  Athenian reformer  Cleisthenes renounced tyranny and proclaimed the birth of a radically new government, democracy” ( Fleischman 1). Athens 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.
     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. Athens 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.  “Attica, the territory in which we find Athens... [ 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.
      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.

Works Cited

Adair, Mark J. “A Dream in the Parthenon.” American Journal of Art Therapy Aug 1990: 14Ebscohost .OhloneCollege Lib., Fremont, CA. 31 Oct 2002.
Boardman, John. Greek  Sculpture : The Classical Period. LondonThames and Hudson Ltd, 1985. 106-109.
Fleischman, John. “In Classical Athens,  A Market Trading in the Currency of Ideas.”
Smithsonian July 1993: 38.  Ebscohost .OhloneCollege Lib., Fremont, CA. 31 Oct 2002.
Hamilakis,  Yannis. “Stories from Exile: Fragments From the Cultural Biography of the Parthenon  (or ‘Elgin’) Marbles.” World Archaeology   Oct 1999: 18.  Ebscohost .OhloneCollege Lib., Fremont, CA. 31 Oct 2002.
Neils, Jennifer.  “Reconfiguring the Gods on the Parthenon Frieze.” Art Bulletin. March 1999: 6.
Ebscohost .OhloneCollege Lib., Fremont, CA. 6 Nov 2002
Spivey, Nigel.  Understanding Greek Sculpture. Ancient Meanings, Modern ReadingsLondonThames and 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 . OhloneCollege Lib.,  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
Greek Classic
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.
Ancient Greece During its "Golden Age" Focus on the city Athens and its Acropolis
The Erechtheum

Erechtheum (Erechtheion) by Mnesicles
c430 BCE
Athens, Acropolis,

Context:  "The most exceptional Ionic building on the Acropolis is the enigmatic Erechtheum, to the north of the Parthenon. Built about 420 B.C., the temple was regarded with special veneration. Its site was particularly sacred, for it included the tomb of Cecrops, the legendary founder of Athens, the rock that preserved the mark of Poseidon's trident, and the spring that arose from it. In a walled area just to the west of the temple stood the sacred olive tree of Athena. The building's complexity of plans and levels can be partly understood from this complicated archaeology, as well as from its having housed not only a shrine to Athena Polias, but also altars to Poseidon, god of the sea; Hephaestus, god of fire; Erechtheus, a mythical king of Athens, who had battled unsuccessfully with the sea god; and Butes, brother of Erechtheus and priest to Athena and Poseidon. Moreover, spoils from the Persians were kept in the temple, as well as the famous golden lamp of Callimachus, which burnt for a year without refilling and had a chimney in the form of a palm tree."
—Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism. p94.
Form: This asymmetrical even confusing structure, the Erechtheum, is primarily Ionic in style.   The building is a bit schizophrenic in its form because it has porches on all sides but some of them tend to mix the ionic style with engaged columns and even human figures.  It is also not a complete rectangle and it varies in size.  The building also used to sport a natural spring and a living olive tree. 
A major feature of the Erechtheum is its Porch of the Maidens.  The caryatid figures (columns in the shape of women that supports the porch) look almost like a chorus line.  The over all symmetry is enhanced by the fact that the two figures on the left are a mirror image of the right.  (Note the order of the extended leg is reversed.)  The figures stand in contrapposto stance in which their is a gentle shift of weight at the hips that gives the bodies an "S" shaped curve..
Iconography: The function of the structure is not quite clear.  We know that based on what was housed there that the building may have served as another temple and most certainly a kind of reliquary.
The columns on the Porch of the Maidens is almost certainly meant to be iconic.  The columns on the porch are the embodiment of the concept of the column as an organic architectural component.  The woman, in their guise as physical supports for the structure, might be symbols as the pillars of the community on whose shoulders the city rests. The weight they bear is evidenced in their contrapposto stance.  The contrapposto is almost the human equivalent to the entasis of the Doric order of the Parthenon.
 Pronunciation: "kar-E-'a-t&d, 'kar-E-&-"tid
 Function: noun
 Inflected Form(s): plural -ids or cary·at·i·des /"kar-E-'a-t&-"dEz/

Etymology: Latin caryatides, plural, from Greek karyatides priestesses of Artemis at Caryae, caryatids, from Karyai Caryae in Laconia
 : a draped female figure supporting an entablature 


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.

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.