An International Interdisciplinary Colloquium
Brought to you by new programs in International Studies, Classical Studies and Gender Studies. For more information on these programs:
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|Continuous 9:00 am - 4:00 pm: Art Exhibit of Paintings by Michael Aakhus|
The Parthenon Project is an International Interdisciplinary Colloquium serving the USI community, students, faculty and staff. The Colloquium features lectures and exhibitions from various disciplines on September 24, in Carter Hall, following the Summer Olympics in Athens.
Each session will begin on the hour from 9 am to 12 pm, and from 1 until 4, including two 20 minutes lectures, with 10 minutes for questions. All students, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend as many sessions as possible. Refreshments will be provided.
On that day twelve USI faculty will give presentations, including historian Dr. Michael Dixon, Director of Classical Studies, who will speak on Athenian imperialism, providing an historical-political background for the building of the Parthenon, John Gibson, British national and professor of Latin at USI, reading from a collection of original poems about Lord Elgin’s acquisition of the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum; Josephine Kiteou, a Greek Cypriot and USI Humanities teacher, will discuss the multi-cultural background of the Parthenon; Dr. Richard Mussard, Professor of Philosophy will discuss Plato and the Ideal Form, sociologist Dr. Steven Williams, Director of Gender Studies and will talk about Amazons and popular culture, Dr. Thomas Wilhelmus, Professor of English, will speak on Robert Altman’s Nashville, deconstructing a classical American icon. Virginia Poston, Art Historian, will examine the mysterious narrative of the frieze, Dr. Sherry Darrell, Professor of English, will discuss Athena in drama and myth, English Prof. Eric von Fuhrmann, will consider pre-Parthenon religious ritual and architecture on the Acropolis, and German Professor Dr. Donald Wolfe will talk about the poet Rilke’s work on the Parthenon. Paintings of the Parthenon frieze by Prof. Michael Aakhus will be exhibited, as well as photographs by Patricia Aakhus, Director of International Studies.
The Parthenon stands today as a visible reminder of the Athenians’ accomplishments during their Golden Age. It is an architectural and artistic embodiment of Athens’ cultural achievements and its democracy. As one of the most recognizable monuments in the world, it serves as a constant reminder of Classical Athens’ greatness.
What is too often overlooked, however, is how the Athenians came to possess the means by which this greatness was attained and the Parthenon constructed. The discovery of silver mines at Laureion in the early fifth century supplied the Athenians with an unlimited sum of money. While slaves mined the silver, the Athenians used the proceeds to construct the most powerful fleet in the Greek world. With it, the Athenians were able to fend off the Persian attacks and to establish an empire. The Athenian treasury was now augmented by annual tribute from the member states of this empire. Through the democratic process, the Athenian statesman Perikles persuaded a majority of Athenians to use this imperial treasury to beautify their city through the construction of the Parthenon and other monuments.
While the Parthenon’s importance in celebrating the Western Tradition cannot be denied, one must not forget that it was the product of an imperial society that was built on the use of slave labor. Imperialism and slavery, therefore, are two features of Athens’ Golden Age that remain as much a part of its legacy as its democracy and other cultural achievements.
Among the outcrops of rock which run beside and across the Attic plain are others higher and more striking than the Acropolis. But it was not chosen for its great destiny on account of its picturesqueness, but because of the suitability of its shape and position. The flat top of the enormous rock, which fall sharply away on three sides and can only be ascended by a steep path to the narrow western peak, seemed predestined to carry a fortress and a sanctuary.
But we see the Acropolis with other eyes than the people of ancient Athens. For us, too, it is a sanctuary, but a sanctuary of aesthetic and historic interest, while for them it was a religious centre and a symbol of political power. If we wish to understand it in its entirety we must endeavor to see it with their eyes and souls. What did they believe? The changes of the modern world make it difficult for us to recapture the spirit of the time. Our vision is different from that of classical men and women.
It was only after a long and chequered career at about the time of the building of the Parthenon that the Acropolis became a sacred precinct; but the goddess of the citadel was worshipped here from the earliest times, for from here Athena, the city received its name. The cult of the warrior maiden, armed with spear and sword, was perhaps instituted here even before the Greeks took possession of the country, and it survived all the stress and turmoil of race migrations. The Acropolis was the obvious place of refuge for the inhabitants of the Attic plain, possibly the habitation of their rulers, and it was therefore natural that the goddess of the tribe should have her sanctuary here. Usually a cult remains faithful to the place with which it is first associated. The time-honored objects of veneration, in historic times, were inside and near the present site of the Erechtheum. According to the old legend, Poseidon struck the rock with his trident and salt spring gushed out; then Athena, under the eyes of King Cecrops, planted the first olive tree in the rock itself, and was proclaimed patroness of the city. There, by the marks of the trident, the salt spring, the tomb of Cecrops and the olive-tree, was the primitive centre of worship. There was no temple, no idol, and only a wall separated the small precinct with its sacred objects from the houses which huddled together, covering the face of the rock. When, in the second half of the second millennium, Mycenaean civilization reigned supreme in Greece, the Acropolis became the home of the king. The principal palace was evidently built immediately beside the sacred enclosure, a little to the south, on the spot where later stood the early temple of Athena, and it seems probably that a temple attached to the palace was dedicated to the worship of the patroness of the city.
Over silent centuries the Athenian community was built before a single name emerges. Tradition held that Cecrops was the first King of Athens, but regarding him there was nothing reliable. Some authorities asserted that he came from Egypt or Crete, which seems to associate him with the older civilizations farther south. Possibly he had been the leader of a prehistoric invasion—possibly. Some modern investigators have insisted that he was not a man at all, but the derivative eponym of a tribe of primitive residents about the Acropolis, the Crecropes. Others have distinguished him as a local deity metamorphosed into a legendary hero. It is hard to know what to make of one described as a lizard-man, serpent below the waist. In spite of such drollery the Athenians of after days took him very seriously, believing that the famous contest which Athena won over Poseidon for the sponsorship of the city occurred in his reign. The goddess’s gift of the office tree, symbolizing cultural attainments and the arts of peace, was judged better than Poseidon’s offering. Thus was forecast the future role of the city. Inferentially its name was given at that moment, and henceforth its citizens were all, metaphorically, at least, the “children of Athena.” The modesty of the virgin Goddess would not be compromised by a figure of speech. And the tangible tie with divinity meant much to people who believed.
The sculptures of the Parthenon have inspired much admiration but also much controversy. While much of the latter is politically based, I will be examining some of the issues surrounding the interpretations of the content of the architectural sculpture, particularly that of the continuous frieze. Most humanities and general art history textbooks present the frieze as a representation of the Panathenaic procession and visible example of the humanism of fifth-century BC Athens. The basis for this view is the so-called "peplos scene" on the east frieze, which is, most reasonably, seen as the handling of the peplos that was regularly given to the ancient statue of Athena Polias as a present from the people of Athens during the Panathenaia festival. The rest of the frieze would then seem to be the procession that culminated in this action. There are, however, major problems with this. Over the years, attempts to address these problems have led to a dizzying array of scholarly opinions, and I will summarize some of the primary objections, possible solutions, and ramifications for study of Greek art and culture. I will then present my own reading of the frieze, paying close attention to its visual relationship to the other sculpture on the building and to the environment, both physical and political, of the Parthenon itself. For those who are interested, I can provide an extensive English-language bibliography of works that specifically address various interpretive issues regarding the frieze.
In Eumenides Aeschylus moves us from bloody Argos, through a quick stop in Delphi to collect Apollo, to glorious Athens. At line 397, Aeschylus the Didaskalos and Mythmaker brings in Athene who—standing in the orchestra among chorus, jury, and other characters—represents justice and wisdom, ideals for an exemplary polis ruled by just and wise laws and magistrates. From this line on, Aeschylus draws on Solon’s law, contemporary politics, traditional lore, three Athene cults celebrated on the Acropolis, his faith in citizenship and democracy, and his remarkable imagination to create an Athene worthy of a Parthenon.
In this play, performed during spring 458 BCE, in an orchestra adjacent to the acropolis which, till 480, held some temple structure devoted her, Aeschylus’s Athene became, dramatically, the city’s protector and patron as Athene Polias and Athene Promachos. With her, Aeschylus creates a foundation myth for the Court of the Areopagus and for the Eumenides themselves. In the red robes with which Athene invests the Eumenides, Aeschylus celebrates her role in bringing blessings and blessed ones to her city and simultaneously reminds audiences of her role as Athene Ergane, a goddess of handicrafts celebrated especially by those metics who wore red robes in the Panathenaea.
Aeschylus’s poetry, stagecraft, music, and heady idealism combine, in the finale of Eumenides, to assert “overarching and powerful justice” and to emphasize the polis’s annual and quadrienniel celebrations devoted to Athene.
Although constructed during the Golden Age as a testament to Athens’ greatness, the Parthenon suffered the wrath of the gods possibly more than any other structure in history. In the aftermath of its defeat in the Peloponnesian War, Athens never again reclaimed its position as one of the most powerful Greek city-states. The city reached such desperate straits that in 295 B.C. the Athenian politician Lachares had the cult statue of Athena Parthenos stripped of its gold. Thus began a slow process by which the Parthenon ceased to resemble its former splendor.
When the Herulians sacked Athens in A.D. 267, much of the Parthenon’s roof was lost and many of its sculptures were destroyed. Following its restoration and repair, the Parthenon suffered further damage at the hands of Alaric’s Visigoths in 396. Having endured extensive damage by the hands of men, the gods fought for possession of the Parthenon as well. Deserted by the ancient Greek gods, the Parthenon was next transformed into a Greek Orthodox Church, only to be converted again into a Catholic church by Frankish crusaders in 1206. Following its Christian phase, the Parthenon also became the place of worship for the Ottoman Turks. In addition to functioning as a Mosque, the Turks also stored ammunition within the Parthenon. In 1687, following two days of constant bombardment, one Venetian cannon ball struck the Parthenon destroying much of the structure.
The Parthenon has always captured the imagination of those who behold it. Today, its odyssey reminds us of the human struggle for identity. Enchanted by its splendor, we continue to claim the Parthenon as our own.
Despite the ravages of time and the presumption of man, few who have seen the Parthenon would consider it a damaged structure, a remnant of its former majesty. Instead we stand awed before it – before the striving of its artists to reveal the Classical ideal of symmetry, or harmony and of unity to the whole. In a real sense, the Parthenon sees us, reaching across the ages to reveal is perfect balance of flesh, spirit and intellect, and we leave transformed by its indelible image.
This perception of the power and beauty of the Parthenon can help us to understand Rilke’s sonnet “Archäischer Torso Apolls”, for the poem is about perception – the way art sees us – and transformation – the power of art to change our lives. In developing this idea, I will briefly discuss Auguste Rodin’s challenge to Rilke to “see” into every object, to chisel into words its eternal truth. Rilke described this process as “in-seeing, in the indescribably swift, deep, timeless moments of the divine seeing into the heart of things.” If the artist has succeeded in this task, then we share in that “in-seeing” through his creation that has touched our eyes and our souls.
In the discussion of “Archaischer Torso Apollos”, I will explore Rilke’s use of light as a key to understanding the sonnet; for, despite the damage to the original statue and the loss of Apollo’s head and eyes, its creator has sculpted into stone the perfection of Apollo – the God of Light. And, it is that light which emanates through every perfect part of the remaining torso. It “glows still” across the ages, and “sees” the poet, and ultimately us through Rilke’s poem. The last line of the sonnet (“you must change your life”) is an imperative. Rilke and we have been touched and transformed by the power and beauty of the “Archäischer Torso Apollos”, and his life and our lives can never be the same.
The Parthenon is the great building that so much symbolizes the greatness of Athens. However, the ancient Greek Philosophers most closely connected in time to the period of its construction and steadfastness before ruin, have been very silent about it. The giant figures of Plato and Aristotle say nothing directly about its meaning or the circumstances of its construction. What, it is fair to ask, were the Philosopher’s doing and thinking in the Periclean Age (460-429BCE) while the Parthenon was created and thrived? In general terms, the philosophers were not now much occupied with the great cosmological questions of the Presocratic era: What is the stuff out which everything is made and what is the process by which that basic stuff is changed into the multiplicity of things encountered in common experience? The Philosophers of this era were, rather, busy asking Socratic questions centered on moral matters and engaged in defending, or attacking, the rival claims of the Sophists. Eventually they formed competing philosophical schools and turned to the systematic study of the whole range of philosophical questions concerning Metaphysics, Nature, Logic and Ethics. They did so at the Academy, at the Lyceum, at the Stoa, and at the Garden of Epicurus. What did their teachings imply about the purposes and construction of the Parthenon? How should the philosophers be judged for what the said or failed to say about it? Did they think that the Parthenon’s religious purpose of exalting the deities of their myths philosophically justifiable? Plutarch, a latter philosopher and priest of Apollo, was convinced that it was. This was made evident to him by an incident he reports in his life of Pericles:
A strange accident happened in the course of building, which showed that the goddess was not averse to the work, but was aiding and co-operating to bring it to perfection. One of the artificers, the quickest and the handiest workman among them all, with a slip of his foot fell down from a great height, and lay in a miserable condition, the physicians having no hope of his recovery. Pericles was in distress about this. Minerva appeared to him at night in a dream, and ordered a course of treatment, which he applied, and in short time and great ease cured the man. And upon this occasion it was that he set up a brass statue of Minerva, surnamed Health, in the Citadel near the altar which they say was there before.
Is this representative of philosophical thought on the matter?
Moreover, what should be said about the use of the common funds of the Delian League to build the Parthenon in Athens? What about the use of slaves to help build the Parthenon? Does the monumental beauty created justify these means or is some apology in order? If so what form should such an apology take? A Hegelian apology will be considered?
Phi (Φ=1.618033988749895…), an irrational, non-repeating decimal, is better known by many names, golden ratio, golden mean & divine proportion among them (Herz-Fischler, 1998). Names for Phi may change but a myriad of interesting mathematical properties for the number have been described for millennia. Phi can be derived mathematically by solving the equation, n2-n1-n0 =0 which can be rewritten as n2=n+1. This results in two properties that are unique to Phi, namely that if you square phi, you get a number exactly 1 greater than phi and if you divide Phi by 1 you get a number exactly 1 less than Phi (2.61804 & .61804 respectively). Originally known by the Greek letter tau (τ), Phi became associated with the irrational number in honor of Italian mathematician Fibonacci who made yet another connection to the seemingly ubiquitous number. Fibonacci’s contributions are many but he is most often associated with a sequence of numbers which bears his name. A Fibonacci sequence is one in which following two “seed” values, each subsequent number is the sum of the two preceding numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…). Amongst many interesting properties of such sequence is that the ratio of any two adjacent numbers in the sequence equals the reciprocal of Phi (.618…).
The impact of phi has not been limited to mathematics alone. One such application, the connection of aesthetics and numbers, is not a modern creation. Plato’s Timaeus suggests that the essence of the universe itself can be found in numbers and that the beauty of numbers is in some way an innate characteristic of nature. Pacioli (1509) proposed that the golden section was the fundamental proportion in aesthetics and so began a long line of research into the role of phi in aesthetics. One methodology investigating the importance of phi has shed light on the presence of phi in works of art and architecture. Indeed, the golden section can be identified in a number of beloved works of art including the Parthenon. A second methodology, most often associated with Gustav Fechner (1876) has attempted to quantify the extent to which humans have a propensity for identifying figures created from Phi as more attractive than shapes created with different ratios (McManus, 1980).
Both lines of research are to be discussed with special focus on the extent to which humans “prefer” forms based upon the golden section. Is the great frequency with which Phi can be seen in art a reflection of the “divinity” of the proportion, an innate beauty taken advantage of by artists for millennia or simply the powerful ability of the human mind to impose the order of patterns upon the world around them?
As Athens comes to dominate the Delian League, tribute money is used to construct the Parthenon. On one of the metopes is found what is usually interpreted as a mythological reference to the war between Athens and Persia. The “Persians,” however, are not present. Rather, the Greeks are seen locked in battle with a mysterious and fearsome tribe of female warriors - the Amazons. Amazons belong to the very earliest period of Western mythology, mentioned even in the Homeric epics. From this point on, and particularly in the Hellenistic period, a strange and ambivalent relationship exists between the Greeks and Amazons. Viewed as dangerous barbarians, yet also the source of endless fascination, their representation in art and sculpture evolved and mutated. Yet their very existence is uncertain. When historical Greeks reached the Black Sea region and found no Amazons there, their absence was explained as the result of a Herculean labour. Like a tantalizing mirage, their homeland was subsequently assumed to be always just beyond Greek borders. The mythology of the Amazon has persisted for almost 3,000 years and has taken countless forms. Alternately flouting and pandering to shifting norms of femininity, a source of inspiration to women, titillation to many men, the Amazon continues to fascinate. In this paper I trace the various permutations of Western civilization’s representation of the Amazon and the degree to which it has both challenged and been subsumed by patriarchal hegemony.
The final scene of Robert Altman’s 1975 movie Nashville takes place at a political rally and country-and-western music festival staged at the world’s only full-scale replica of the Parthenon, a concrete reconstruction built in 1897. The scene is rich with ironies for students of what the Parthenon is, was and doubtless will continue to be. The movie creates a complex interplay of politics, entertainment and greed in a city that describes itself not only as “Music City, U.S.A.” but also as “The Athens of the South.” Purists may complain that it is a cynical appropriation of a famous icon of Western culture by a renegade filmmaker who is out to denigrate some of our finest traditions, but the evidence is that, historically, the motives surrounding the Parthenon’s creation both in Athens and in Nashville seem always to have mixed noble ideals with crass realities which, in this case, it is the object of the filmmaker to satirize.
Historically, Nashville’s taste for classical architecture was a self-conscious act of image-building on the part of citizens unsure of their standing on the American frontier. Stuck out in a wilderness, Nashvilleans wanted symbols they could rely on, and the ones they chose mirrored those of American founding fathers, particularly Washington and Jefferson, who themselves chose an architectural style borrowed from classical models (and the notebooks of Palladio) because they symbolized Athenian democracy and also because they created an atmosphere of monumentality and calm at a time when the American republic was new and unsettled and was in a good bit of commercial and financial turmoil. A culmination of that tradition, the construction of the Nashville Parthenon, one hundred years after the city’s birth, was meant not only to commemorate the city’s survival but also to bolster its then-sagging economy all in the name of progress and well-being.
Such a mixture of commercialism, politics, and boosterism, however, appears to have been not all that different than the motives that led to the construction of the original Parthenon in 449 B.C. at a time when Periclean Athens needed a big, civic project not only to celebrate its victory over the Persians but also to brush up its image and revitalize its economy. Greek temples, whose architecture was meant to be imposing from the outside, provided an “outward and visible” sign of prosperity and health no matter what internal mysteries they might actually contain. In similar fashion, classical architectural styles proved useful to Americans for whom outward appearances were more important than inward realities. It is important to note in this regard that both the Greek and Tennessee economies were originally based on slavery, an illness that made them inherently vulnerable to satire and self-doubt.
Altman’s decision to use the Parthenon as a backdrop is, therefore, replete with ironies in keeping with his cynical view of the American past and his view of how America actually works today. American history is a drama of images staged in front of the hoi polloi to promote social, political and commercial ends, whether those ends are noble or not. A complex symbol itself, the Parthenon is one of those images that anyone—politicians, songwriters, even filmmakers—may use to appeal to a gullible public for whatever ends they choose.
(Excerpt) The weather in London is shocking. It’s over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit; the underground has halted and in every shop chocolates are dripping from the shelves. Upstairs in the British Museum the poor Lindow man, garroted, stabbed and drowned, sunk in his cool bog for two thousand years, is in trouble. The temperature dials in his glass coffin move into the red zone. What will become of him? Crowds come in waves with flashing cameras like schools of iridescent fish, turning this way and that, simultaneous and brief in their adoration of the Lindow Man, the Rosetta Stone and the great basalt pharaohs. They move on.
Downstairs, the gallery of the Elgin Marbles is cool and deserted. The horses are frozen mid-air, hooves poised to come down and strike the ground. I hear the thunder of their canter, neighing and snorting. Their hooves strike earth, not the reverberant marble of the exhibition hall. It’s a bright autumn morning with blue skies overhead and a light breeze, the scent of olive trees and fluttering pale leaves. Here, inside the cold grey room they circle round and round, shouting and calling to each other to move out in order. Each circuit is the first. Their long history is unknown to them: broken, stolen, shipwrecked, held for ransom, stowed in the London underground while bombs fell into the museum. Far away the temple still stands where horse and rider once looked down upon a city, and across the valley to a mountain made of their flesh. But these things are not of their world, which is eternal.
Their story is a mystery. Perhaps they are heroes who died at Marathon. Then Hermes has touched their cold flesh with his golden wand; now they are riding into Elysium. He has called down the gods as he taught the magi of Alexandria, drawing them down into stone. For all matter is a receptacle for the divine, as Plato taught. In the broken stones from the pediment, Persephone sleeps upon her mother’s breast; in the frieze Hera lifts her veil to look at Zeus, but they are not in England, nor in the world. Time does not exist for them. They were not nor ever shall be, but are for eternity, like the olive tree of Athena that sent a living green shoot from the blackened stump.
The end of the late eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century saw an intensification of interest in the Greek classical world, which reached its peak in the frantic search for relics of antiquity notoriously associated with the activities of the British ambassador to the Porte, the Scottish peer Lord Elgin. Although Elgin and others claimed that their depredations were undertaken to improve the condition of the arts in Britain and to preserve what was in danger of being lost for posterity. Their high-minded professions of cultural and aesthetic intentions are subverted by the language of a dubious commerce, their concern with status, their contempt for the local population, and the methods they used to acquire their plunder. Moreover, what happened in Greece and the Near East during those years was to a large extent shaped by the Anglo-French rivalry of the Napoleonic Wars. The actors in this drama are many: Turkish officials such as the Voivode and Distar of Athens, Elgin’s agents, his wife and her parents, the Dilettanti Society of London, le Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier, and the countless, nameless workers – Greek porters, British sailors, Greek farmers, members of the House of Commons Select Committee – who were involved with or affected by the antiquarian project. Since I have no intention of emulating, still less competing with, Keats and Byron in writing about “the glory that was Greece,” I plan to write a series of monologues in the voices of some of the actors in that not altogether glorious time. Interspersed with these narrative voices will be one or two reflective sonnets in my own voice.
Mary Beard. The Parthenon. Harvard University Press. 2003.
Jeffrey Hurwit. The Athenian Acropolis. Cambridge. 1999.
Manolis Korres. The Stones of the Parthenon. J. Paul Getty Museum Publications 2000. ISBN: 0892366079
Jennifer Neils. The Parthenon Frieze. Cambridge University Press. 2001. ISBN: 0521641616
Robin Rhodes. Architecture and Meaning of the Athenian Acropolis. Cambridge. 1995
Margaretha Rossholm Lagerlof. The Sculptures of the Parthenon: Aesthetics and the Interpretation. Yale University Press 2000. ISBN: 0300073917
William St. Clair. Lord Elgin and the Marbles. Oxford 1998. ISBN: 0192880535
Panayotis Tournikitotis. The Parthenon and its Impact in Modern Times. Harry N. Abrams. 1996. ISBN: 0810963140
Pat Aakhus, Director of International Studies