What is the Parthenon ?

It was built to replace two earlier temples of Athena on the Acropolis. One of these, of which almost no trace remains today, stood south of the Parthenon (between the Parthenon and the Erechtheum). The other, which was still being built at the time of the Persian sack in 480, was on the same spot as the Parthenon. We know the names of the architects (Iktinos and Kallikrates) and also of the sculptor (Pheidias) who made the massive chryselephantine cult statue of the goddess.

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The Temple

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Optical Illusion parthenon-3

1 : the way we see it

2 : the way it should be if straight

3 : the way it has been built

The Frieze

The Parthenon frieze runs around the upper edge of the temple wall. Its relatively small size (3 feet 5 inches tall) and placement (inside from the triglyphs and metopes) made it fairly hard to see from the ground. Unlike the metopes, the frieze has a single subject on all four sides. On three sides (north, west, and south) it depicts a procession of horsemen, musicians, sacrificial animals, and other figures with various ritual functions. On the east side there is a scene centered on a child handing a folded cloth to an older man. On one side of them seated gods and goddess are in attendance; on the other, two girls are carrying something. Although the state of preservation is poor, the interpretation of the subject has hotly debated. Most scholars agree that it represents the Panathenaic procession, but some think it is a mythical, « original » procession, while others believe that it is the procession which took place in the same period as the temple was built, and that this illustrates the (over-)confident spirit of the Athenians, who dared to put themselves where ordinarily only gods and heroes might be found.

The statue

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Roman reproduction

End of the Parthenon ?

Lord Byron — The Curse of Minerva

  • “Mortal!”—’twas thus she spake—“that blush of shame
  • Proclaims thee Briton, once a noble name;
  • First of the mighty, foremost of the free,
  • Now honour’d less by all, and least by me;
  • Chief of thy foes shall Pallas still be found.
  • Seek’st thou the cause of loathing?—look around.
  • Lo! here, despite of war and wasting fire,
  • I saw successive tyrannies expire.
  • ’Scaped from the ravage of the Turk and Goth,
  • Thy country sends a spoiler worse than both.
  • Survey this vacant, violated fane;
  • Recount the relics torn that yet remain:
  • These Cecrops placed, this Pericles adorn’d,
  • What more I owe let gratitude attest—
  • Know, Alaric and Elgin did the rest.
  • That all may learn from whence the plunderer came,
  • The insulted wall sustains his hated name

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