Athena Parthenos, Olympian Zeus, and Cult Statues Made by Classical Greek Sculptor Phidias
November 30, 2001 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Athena Parthenos, the cult statue made by Phidias, once in the Parthenon: here rendered by the Franch Beaux Arts architect Benoit Loviot. Slow but worth the wait, with more inside.
posted by y2karl (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We see the ruins of ancient Greek temples and imagine them whole in pristine white but, in fact, the ancient Greeks painted statues and temples. The Loviot renderings are from the Greek Civilization Art Museum, a slow but wonderful site.
Phidias’ Athena was a chryselephantine—one of my favorite words—statue, that is, made of gold and ivory. Here are two examples of chryselephantine statues--an Apollo and an Artemis--from the Delphi Museum, unearthed at an archeological dig there. Both statues are in the Archaic style, that is, from the period of the Persian wars, immediately preceding the Classical era. Note both have the famous Archaic smile.
Here, courtesy of Mary Ann Sullivan, are views of the Parthenon of today,with the pediment sculptures, metopes and friezes from the Parthenon Project. Here, from the Miller Project at Iowa State University, is a virtual Parthenon. There are two Parthenons: one in Athens and one in Nashville. I have seen the latter. It is not on a hill but in a city park, with an F-86D Sabre Dog jet fighter on a lawn across the road, at least in 1970. In 1993, the city of Nashville dedicated an copy of Athena Parthenos.

Phidias also made another colossal chryselephantine statue for the Temple of Zeus in Olympia. Pliny said it added something to the concept of the religious. It was a seated figure 43 feet high., so large that it would burst through the roof of the temple if standing--an inspiration for Lincoln’s statue in the Lincoln Memorial. Here at the Museum of Unnatural Mystery, you can play Spin-the-Zeus-of-Olympia in the Virtual Cyclorama.
posted by y2karl at 5:57 AM on November 30, 2001

As you enter the temple that they name the Parthenon, all the sculptures you see on what is called the pediment refer to the birth of Athena, those on the rear pediment represent the contest for the land between Athena and Poseidon. The statue itself is made of ivory and gold. On the middle of her helmet is placed a likeness of the Sphinx…and on either side of the helmet are griffins in relief… The statue of Athena is upright, with a tunic reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medusa is worked in ivory. She holds a statue of Victory about four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear; at her feet lies a shield and near the spear is a serpent. This serpent would be Erichthonius. On the pedestal is the birth of Pandora in relief. Hesiod and others have sung how this Pandora was the first woman; before Pandora was born there was as yet no womankind.

Guide To Greece
2nd Century AD
posted by y2karl at 6:02 AM on November 30, 2001

Athena, I invoke your wise counsel.
Aithua, bird of the sea, fly above me on my journey.
Ergane, inventor of weaving, guide my hands.
Glaukopis, beloved grey eyes, watch over me.
Gorgonis, terrible-faced woman warrior, stand at my side.
Halea, lady of the sea, be my boat in stormy waters.
Hippia, who bridles the wild horse, help me rein in my impulsiveness.
Hygeia, guardian of health, work with me and my physician.
Nike, bringer of victory, inspire me to fight for what I know is right.
Pallas Athene, cherish me as you do your beloved Amazon.
Pandrosos, giver of the olive tree, encourage my generosity.
Polias, defender of the city, protect my home.
Promakhos, leader of troops, armor me against attack.
Tritogeneia, reborn in Lake Tritonis, open me to other ways.
Zeus’ own child, remind me that men can be allies.

My poem in honor of Pallas Athena (I own this reproduction).

y2karl: your post was a wonderful way to begin my day! Thank you.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:18 AM on November 30, 2001 [1 favorite]

There are two Parthenons: one in Athens and one in Nashville.

There's also an unfinished one in Edinburgh.
posted by rory at 6:51 AM on November 30, 2001

Wow, y2karl. Best post-post-post I've ever clicked on to!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:24 AM on November 30, 2001

Nice! Excellent research, rich resources, unusual topic for conversation and beautful imagery.

I remember going to Athens a few years ago. I was there a day, then I fled to the islands to escape the chaos. (You don't leave one chaotic city—New York—only to vacation in another chaotic city). In that short time, I had no trouble imagining that monument on the hill as a beacon or landmark for all eyes. It reminded me of the World Trade Center or the Empire State Building, and at the time I wrote, What we don't undo, time undoes for us.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:38 AM on November 30, 2001

it's really sad that most cult statues did not survive to our day, owing to their construction which was often from wood. what we've got left is truly amazing, however.
posted by moz at 8:32 AM on November 30, 2001

To get the effect of garishly painted statuary in a religious context today, you can visit any Roman Catholic church built before 1950. The one I attended as a child was filled with statues of saints and the Virgin, done in the Greek style, and painted in vivid, life-like colors -- right down to the arrows and blood. In Moz's posting about the cult statues, it talks about how the ancient carvings were washed and dressed by their devotees. At the Catholic school I attended, we dressed and washed statues of the Infant of Prague, a baby Jesus dressed in an outrageous 15th Century costume, holding aloft an orb and cross.
posted by Faze at 10:23 AM on November 30, 2001

No need for a Wayback Machine to see cult statues in 2001: just visit New Mexico! El Santuario de Chimayo: The Lourdes of America, for example.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:45 AM on November 30, 2001


It was Quintilian, not Pliny, who said ‘the beauty of which seems to have added something to traditional religion; to such an extent is the majesty of the work equal to the majesty of the god’. And that, apparently, about the Athena Parthenos, not the Olympian Zeus.

And I forgot Loviot’s east facade of the Parthenon.

Why, Carol Anne---::blush::--I did hope it would pass your muster. No surprise, that Athena—Thought—would be a deity of appeal to you.
I had the Perseus Project treatment in mind with the post—here’s their version--scroll down to [5]--of the passage of Pausanias. He’s one of my favorite writers—does he ever digress…
I was going to use the big picture but was afraid I’d scare off the faint of heart. This is one of my favorite Athena's.
posted by y2karl at 10:51 AM on November 30, 2001

And for Carol Anne, Ancient Greek Hymns to Athena.
posted by y2karl at 11:27 AM on November 30, 2001

y2karl, efcharisto!
posted by Carol Anne at 12:49 PM on November 30, 2001

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