The Parthenon

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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 eurythmea
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

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