How does the architecture and sculpture of the Parthenon represent the ideals of Periclean Athens?


(Quotations from Pericles' Funeral speech are given in inverted commas)

1. Belief in civilisation - emphasis on Reason, Knowledge, Order.

(a) Lapiths (= civilisation) fight centaurs (= disorder) on metopes.

(b) Athene gives the olive tree to Athens (skill in farming and handicrafts were the foundation of civilisation, the Greeks thought) in West pediment.

(c) Athene is born from head of Zeus in East pediment (Athene = skill, thought, wisdom). "I declare that our city is an education to Greece"

(d) The building, though fine does not depend on lavish expenditure and grandeur, but on proportion and composition. "We cultivate beauty without extravagance."

(e) Much mathematical knowledge, technical skill and craftsmanship (eg in refinements contributed to the building's success.

2. Belief in democracy - "Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people."

(a) The frieze shows contingents from different walks of Athenian life, led by democratically chosen magistrates.

(b) Hundreds of workers, skilled and unskilled, made the temple and the sculptures, says Plutarch in his life of Pericles. "Working people are very well-informed about politics." Pheidias was an ordinary citizen.

(c) But the restraint (sophrosune), considered by Pericles and his friends to be essential to an orderly city-state democracy, is shown in the demeanour of horsemen, etc. "We keep to the law because it commands our deep respect."

3. Patriotism - "You should fix your eyes every day on the greatness of Athens and should fall in love with her."

(a) Athens is celebrated in both pediments and in the frieze.

(b) Erechtheus King of Athens judges between two gods competing for the devotion of Athens in West pediment, while Athenian heroes and river-gods look on.

(c) The frieze showing the Panathenaic procession.

(d) Greeks v Trojans theme on metopes shows Pan-Hellenic patriotism.

(e) Emphasis on manly courage and military skill in Lapiths on metopes and in horsemen and charioteers on frieze. (NB: theory re 192 Marathon dead).

4. Enlightened religious beliefs.

(a) Gods shown as intelligent (Athene from the head of Zeus).

(b) Gods help human beings (Athene gives olive, Poseidon a spring).

(c) Gods on frieze seem much like Athenian ladies and gentlemen, and very human (they are on holiday and have come to Athene's birthday feast).

(d) The subject-matter of the frieze is mainly secular in the sense that ordinary men and women are shown. This is novel in temple sculpture and reflects current humanism and exemption from superstition.