On the Parthenon (1)

The Parthenon (Παρθενών), the most magnificent and finest of the buildings in the Acropolis, dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos, the patron of Athenas, was a temple of classical characteristics and one that represented best, both aesthetically and socially the Classical Greece conception of democracy in the times of Pericles.  Built between 447 –when Athenas was at the peak of its power- and 438 BC, as part of the greater Periclean building project boosted by this Greek politician, this so-called Periclean Parthenon (Parthenon III) replaced an earlier marble temple (Parthenon II), begun after the victory at the battle of Marathon at approximately 490 BC and destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. This temple had replaced the very first Parthenon (Parthenon I) of c. 570 BC. The Periklean Parthenon was designed by architects Ictinos and Callicrates, while the sculptor Pheidias supervised the entire building program and conceived the temple’s sculptural decoration and chryselephantine statue of Athena. For a time, it served as the treasury of the Delian League, which later became the Athenian Empire.

The first instance in which Parthenon definitely refers to the entire building is found in the writings of the 4th century BC orator Demosthenes. In 5th-century building accounts, the structure is simply called ho naos (“the temple”). The architects Ictinos and Callicrates  are said to have called the building Hekatompedos (“the hundred footer”) in their lost treatise on Athenian architecture, and, in the 4th century and later, the building was referred to as the Hekatompedos or the Hekatompedon as well as the Parthenon; the 1st-century-AD writer Plutarch referred to the building as the Hekatompedon Parthenon.

Parthenon_7

The Parthenon, thought to be the zenith of the Doric order, is a double peripteral temple with several unique and innovative architectural features. The temple proper is divided into pronaos, cella and opisthodomos, with a separate room at the west end, and is surrounded by a pteron with eight columns on each of the short sides and seventeen columns on the long ones. The columns had the same width as those of Parthenon II, so that use was made of the material prepared for it, even though the new temple was much broader than its predecessor. The interior demonstrates an innovative approach to both new and old elements: inside the cella a double pi-shaped colonnade established a background for the gold and ivory statue of Athena Parthenos, which showed the goddess in full armour carrying Nike to the Athenians in her right hand. The west room, where the city’s treasures were kept, had four Ionic columns. The two-sloped wooden roof had marble tiles, marble palmette-shaped false antefixes along the edge of its long sides and false spouts in the shape of lion heads at the corners. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art. These marble statues adorned the corners of the pediments and large, ornate palmettes their apex. The pediments were decorated with sculptural compositions inspired from the life of the goddess Athena. The east pediment depicted the birth of the goddess, who sprang from the head of her father, Zeus, before an assembly of the Olympian gods, while the west pediment showed Athena and Poseidon disputing for the possession of the city of Athens before the gods, heroes and mythical kings of Attica. Ninety-two metopes alternating with triglyphs were placed above the epistyle of the outer colonnade and under the architrave. All of them were adorned with reliefs, the earliest sculptures of the Parthenon. Their themes were derived from legendary battles: the Gigantomachy was depicted on the eastern side, the Trojan War on the northern side, the Amazonomachy on the western side and the Centauromachy on the southern side. The frieze, an element of the Ionic order, brilliantly added to this Doric temple along the top of the cella, pronaos and opisthodomos, depicted the splendid procession of the Panathenaia, the greatest socio-religious festival of Athens in honour of her goddess patron.

Without any doubt, it is one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments and one that is surrounded by controversial issues nowadays.

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Author: Jesús L. Vieites

Welcome to my blog! If you are viewing this is because, perhaps, you share the same interest in this issue as I do. Though trained as a teacher (I taught both English and Spanish in the UK) my main concern nowadays is to find any suitable job (either in Spain or abroad) Private classes alone will not suffice and I’ve got to make ends meet. I promise to keep writing in this blog regularly, time and circumstances permitting! Jesús L. Vieites

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