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The Parthenon from Antiquity to the Present.

The Parthenon from Antiquity to the Present

Jenifer Neils, editor.

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 430 pp. 14 color

plates, 142 black & white illustrations. Cloth $75.

After over two centuries of intense interest and uncountable publications, one might think there isn't much need for additional writings on the Parthenon. But every year more pieces of the puzzle turn up in the form of fragments that were scattered about from the Acropolis to far distant countries. Some of them have been physically returned to the building and others fitted into virtual reconstructions of its many transformations over time. In the last quarter century a new preoccupation with the postclassical Parthenon has arisen, addressing that period of time during which the temple was converted into a Church, abandoned, used as a palace, reconverted into a Mosque, blown up, and filled with a smaller Mosque. Finally it became an object of archaeological interest and a monument to itself. Beginning in the 19th century efforts have centered on clearing away the accumulations of intervening millennia and returning the Parthenon and the Acropolis of Athens to its 5th century BCE condition, as far as the remaining material allows. For the past several decades, beginning in the 1980's, the Parthenon has been undergoing ongoing and extensive repairs and reconstruction. Damage done by both man and time was joined by errors in reconstruction in the early 20th century, and all are being addressed along with the restoration of rediscovered material.

All this has inspired the production of a number of books reexamining what we know of the Parthenon. Vincent Bruno edited an anthology in 1974, before the concerns for the later phases of the building had arisen. (1) In 1982 an international symposium in Basel produced a book consisting of papers on a variety of topics pertaining to the Parthenon and reflecting discoveries made in the planning of its restoration. (2) In 1994 Tournikiotis edited an anthology titled The Parthenon and its Impact in Modern Times which followed the building from its beginning to its inspirational role for relatively recent architects, sculptors, photographers, and painters. (3) Its authors, all Greek except for one, counted among them six architects, two archaeologists, two art historians, and one writer. The emphasis was clearly on the postclassical Parthenon. In 2002 Mary Beard's The Parthenon also emphasized the postclassical periods and the reception of its many publics. (4) Such episodes as the impact of the Elgin marbles and their display in Britain on the art of later times are prominent in her book.

Jenifer Neils's anthology, The Parthenon from Antiquity to the Present, on the other hand, puts its emphasis squarely on the classical building, with only the final three chapters out of eleven, one quarter the length of the text, on postclassical times. Its authors are all distinguished scholars of architectural history, art history, classics and classical archaeology. The first eight chapters each focus on a particular feature of the building. However, in spite of the emphasis on the classical phase, each chapter includes some review of the subsequent fate of its part and on postclassical texts and modern interpretations.

The book makes good on Neils's promise in the introduction to be of use to all, from a first year student to a seasoned scholar. It accomplishes this by what must be the editor's vision and the cooperation of the authors. Although written by eleven different authors, each chapter is remarkably similar in structure and purpose. The topics flow logically from one to the next. Repeated material helps to connect each part without any real redundancy. While the body of the text can be read as smoothly as a novel, each chapter musters an overview of all major primary sources and significant recent secondary sources, producing a superabundance of endnotes, sometimes numbering in the hundreds for one chapter. Every claim or interpretation is backed by references to sources and by evidence. Unlike most anthologies, it is as if one mind conceived it, but only a superhuman intellect could have written such book alone. Technical terms are defined within the text by a brief parenthetical translation, with no need to flip to a glossary, so a neophyte would pick up terms with ease but a long-term scholar would not feel as of she is reading an introductory text. A beginning student could get very quickly to the edge of recent scholarship while a seasoned scholar would find much that is new. I have studied the Parthenon for twenty-two years and learned much from this book. It is useful as a stepping-off place for future research.

This wide appeal results from the broad context in which each chapter envelopes its principle material. Kenneth Lapatin's introductory statements in his chapter on "The Statue of Athena and Other Treasures in the Parthenon" suggests this interdisciplinary contextualization. He writes:
 ... we can recover some impression of the appearance
 and meanings of the objects stored and displayed
 in the various rooms of the temple by scrutinizing
 archaeological, art historical, and textual
 evidence--by examining and interpreting related
 physical remains, ancient representations in other
 media, the writings of Greek and Latin authors,
 and official Athenian inscriptions. (p. 262)

This exhaustive search for all the evidence serves to dispel illusions about what we think we know. How often are we reminded when reading of the Parthenon that there were other octastyle temples that predate it? (Barletta, chapter 3). Or that other ancient writers, Greeks even, wrote of optical adjustments prior to Vitruvius? (Haselberger, chapter 4) The following chapter descriptions can only touch upon some of the content.

Chapter One by Jeffrey M. Hurwit, "Space and theme: the Setting of the Parthenon", weaves together old and new knowledge to create a careful and vivid description of the building's surroundings. It transports the reader imaginatively to the site's heyday, showing echoes of sculptural themes on the Parthenon in all the spaces, shrines, and sculptures around it, tying it to its place through "a web of allusion and cross-references," a metaphor that aptly describes much of the rest of the book as well.

Chapter Two, "Wealth, Power, and Prestige: Athens at Home and Abroad" by Lisa Kallet, situates the building in the political and social milieu. The question of funds for the building is given thorough review, with all the remaining evidence cited and analyzed. The chapter culminates in a very thoughtful discussion of the relation of vision to power in Greek culture. It makes clear the significance of financial and political contexts in relation to the viewer's response to the monuments while comparing remarks by Perikles (in Thucydides), Thucydides, and Herodotus. How much, I am left wondering, do our estimations of worth or power of a culture rest on the impressive qualities and beauty of the stuff they left behind.

Chapter Three by Barbara A. Barletta examines the classical Parthenon and its architects. As in all chapters, statements usually presented as facts are end-noted with references to all the ancient evidence. A conspicuous exception to this is the author's acceptance of the widely held idea of the 4:9 ratios. She assumes as fact that the column diameter to interaxial distance "is as 4:9" (p. 72). Given the greater than normal corner contraction and the variety of interaxials as well as some difference in column width this doesn't seem plausible. Where do these claims of 4:9 proportions come from? I know of no ancient sources, and this otherwise copiously referenced book points to none. (Haselberger in the next chapter also accepts the 4:9 ratios and references 20th century scholars.) Chapter three is also very strong in identifying influences from Cycladic-Doric, Cycladic-Ionian, and Ionian architecture as sources for the Parthenon's unusual features.

Chapter Four, Lothar Haselberger's "Bending the Truth: Curvature and Other Refinements of the Parthenon", is the most technical chapter. It is relieved in the middle by a most curious imaginary conversation between the designers of the building. This doesn't disrupt the scholarly tone, but leads into a discussion of the meaning of the refinements. It relates the design of the Parthenon to all other buildings on the Acropolis and to historical aesthetic debates. Most interesting is his discussion of the optical adjustment theory of Vitruvius, which states that the upward rising curves, and leaning columns and vertical surfaces of Greek temples were to correct for optical illusions. With references to Philon's Belopoiika of the late 3rd century BCE and to Heron of Alexandria a bit later, and in comparison with analyses of curved temples both before and after the Propylaia (including of course the Parthenon). Haselberger demonstrates that Vitruvius's theory is both correct and wrong. It applies to the Propylaia and later buildings, but not to the Parthenon and earlier examples. Philon calls the latter "former times" when one "could not tell the reasons for what was done" when Vitruvian theory "did not yet apply" (p. 141)

Haselberger does have his own theory quietly tucked into the chapter. He believes that the refinements in the earlier buildings are an extension of the idea of entasis to other parts of the building. It is a "strategy to express the inner vigor and vitality, the dynamic tension, of a building" (p. 103). This puts him into the group denoted by J. J. Pollitt as the 'artistic temperment' theorists. This theory arose in the 19th century among Romantics, which is treated in chapter eleven. To argue for this Haselberger relates the use of entasis in a column to the human figure, specifically to the use of contrapposto as seen in the Doryphoros of Polykleitos. This comparison was made before by Mavrikios (5) but with nowhere near as complete an analysis or contextualization.

This chapter intrigued me the most since it is a topic of my own research. I have never read so thorough and careful a discussion of the 'refinements' in terms of their use elsewhere and of their relation to Vitruvius's theory.

Chapter Five by Katherine A. Schwab is on the metopes. She alerts us to the various debates in recent scholarship. Most interesting is her analysis of the dynamic compositions and how both metope and pediment figures broke quite daringly beyond their respective frames. She lets us see how unusual the design was compared with other Greek temples' sculptures. The ghostly images of severely damaged metopes, rarely published, can nonetheless be read. They evoke the Parthenon's own battles with later unappreciative conquerors. What I would like to see, after reading this chapter, is a complete set of the remains of the metopes, however badly damaged. This chapter has given me a better sense of how to imagine the missing parts.

Jenifer Neils, the editor, wrote Chapter Six on the Ionic frieze (often called the Panathanaic Procession). As she identifies who each person or group may be, she sends the reader to the sources where the arguments were made. She presents the history of its interpretation and also points out what has not received scholarly attention. Especially interesting are her analyses of the spatial and temporal organizations throughout the frieze and of the treatment of women. In this chapter Neils sends the reader to well over a hundred sources, so none are reviewed in any detail. So much has been written on this frieze that a review of the literature could easily fill another book. In fact, Neils has written a book on the frieze, titled The Parthenon Frieze, also published by Cambridge.

Chapter Seven treats the pediments and acroteria of the Parthenon. Olga Palagia enumerates many later imitations and art inspired by these sculptures as well as a history of the 'repairs' from Roman times forward. Up to this point little has been said of the post-classical Parthenon despite the promise of the title of the book. This chapter begins to address that. Among the interesting topics she treats are estimates of the cost of the pediment sculptures using ancient records of payments and a comparison to other temple pediment contracts and to typical daily incomes of several professions. The result indicates that the Parthenon's pediment sculptures were an extraordinarily expensive undertaking.

Palagia then considers the pediment's iconography. From Pausanius she finds evidence that Pheidias invented the idea of framing the scene with the cosmological images of Helios and Selene (the Sun and the Moon), as seen on the East Pediment. These divinities, she points out, show up frequently on vases soon after the sculptures were completed. One has to wonder, however, about earlier Persian use of sun and moon imagery and whether this is yet another reference to the recent victory.

We often hear of the contest between Poseidon and Athena for the patronage of the city, the subject of the West Pediment group. Palagia identifies several ancient accounts of the story, and one is surprised to find that Athena stole the victory (in one version). In another, men and women voted, and since women outnumbered men in Athens and they mostly voted for Athena, that's how she won. The gender gap in politics, it seems, has a long history.

In Chapter Eight, Kenneth Lapatin discusses "The Statue of Athena and Other Treasures in the Parthenon". Since all these objects are missing, he must evoke their presence through ancient eyewitness reports, inventories, and artworks representing through imitation the contents of the Parthenon. Livened by touches of humor, he manages to do this and to assess the meaning of the treasures by such feats as seeking out the ancients' notions on the meaning of gold. We are also treated to explanations of how ivory is shaped, bent, and molded to create a chryselephantine statue, with illustrations, and why the pool in front of the statue was necessary; it's the glue in the joined strips that needs the moisture.

Chapter Nine, by Robert Ousterhout, begins the postclassical account of the Parthenon. In spite of its taking up only a small part of the whole, the postclassical period is treated in much greater detail than in other sources that I have read. It includes a wider context, describing the later fates not only of the Parthenon but the Acropolis, the Agora, the city and its walls.

Especially well covered is the relation of Christian attitudes to Pagan sites. Many changes and redesigns are described in detail; for example Ousterhout provides a context for the destruction of the metopes treated in an earlier chapter. Texts from Byzantine times warning against looking at or destroying Pagan sculptures might explain how some works survived waves of Christian iconoclasm. While declaring that there is a rarity of comparisons between Athena and the Virgin Mary he cites several examples. Metaphors of weaving, sacred cloaks, virgin birth, and other parallels give later Christian writers opportunity to justify the transformation of the Parthenon into a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but Ousterhout cautions that this was not the point of these comparisons. The temple had lain unused for a while before conversion, and the parallels were used more as antitheses, pitting the 'false virgin' against the real one.

Just as Christians left some Pagan images, later ages left remains of the Christian conversion even when it was made into a Mosque. "As late as 1970, details of a figure riding a scaly monster could be seen" (p. 315) from the Byzantine Last Judgment, reminding us that it is easy to forget how recent was the stripping of the remains of the postclassical renovations.

In Chapter Ten, Andrew Szegedy-Maszak presents a history of photographing the Parthenon. Actually, he treats only the 19th century's photography, starting with the first daguerrotype. He focuses on popular images that shaped the public's imagination, beginning with a brief discussion of drawings and prints (without illustrating them) (vi). He then recounts the introduction of photography and how interest in Antiquity promoted its development. He suggests that photography played a significant role in shaping some of our judgments about Western culture and civilization, then proceeds to give details of the later 19th century's images.

The last chapter (Eleven), by Richard A. Etlin, gives a brief view of the Parthenon's influence in modern times. It begins with 19th century architecture inspired by it, then reviews 19th century theories of the Parthenon's curves and inclinations in a context of taste for the 'picturesque'. This does not repeat the more technical treatment of the refinements in chapter four that emphasized ancient sources, rather it illuminates the context of Haselberger's own 21st century discussion. After considering controversies very briefly, Etlin discusses the question of site planning for the entire Acropolis. Was it for aesthetic reasons or for ritual function? He clarifies the distinction between Neoclassicism and Greek Revival styles, and ends with examples of 20th century buildings inspired in different ways by the Parthenon.

The production quality of this book as a whole is high. I found only twelve typos, and only one might confuse the reader. On p. 39 Miltiades becomes Militades, a transposition of two letters. The other typos consist of missing words, transposed letters (e.g. from/form), and doubled words (and and) The page arrangement and typeface are very comfortable to read and the clay-coated paper is somehow matt surfaced, reducing the glare that often comes with it. The high quality binding falls open at any page without having to struggle to hold the book open. The twenty-six page bibliography is a treasure. The illustrations are mostly small black and white, but they are well printed and clear. Some are unusual. I especially like the acroteria and the damaged metopes. Katherine Schwab's drawings of some of them are works of art in themselves. They are evocative of the fragility of civilization and the mysterious nature of our knowledge of the past.

When you consider that the time during which the Parthenon was used for purposes other than to enshrine Athena is much longer than the original function, it is a bit odd that a book with this title would put so much emphasis on the classical building, but this does reflect the traditional western bias. For more on the later ages and for lots of large and colorful pictures, look to Tournikiotis. If you don't have much time to devote to the Parthenon, Mary Beard's excellent little book will give you a good overview. But if I could have only one book on the Parthenon in my library (fortunately not so!) I would choose Neils.

(1.) Vincent Bruno, ed., The Parthenon (Norton Critical Studies in Art History, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1974).

(2.) Parthnon-Kongress Basel: Referate und Berichte 4 bis 8 April 1982 (Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, und Basel: Archaeologisher Verlag, 1984).

(3.) Panayotis Tournikiotis, ed., The Parthenon and Its Impact in Modern Times (New York: Abrams, 1994).

(4.) Mary Beard, The Parthenon (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002).

(5.) A. Mavrikios, "Aesthetic Analysis Concerning the Curvature of the Parthenon" (1965), reprinted in Bruno, op. cit.

(6.) For drawings and printed images from the Renaissance through the 18th century you could look at Tournikiotis.

Beth Ellen Stewart

Mercer University
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Author:Stewart, Beth Ellen
Publication:Southeastern College Art Conference Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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