- The Parthenon Enigma: A Journey into Legend by Joan Breton Connelly
The author develops here in greater detail her interpretation of the Parthenon’s frieze as recalling Erechtheus’s sacrifice of his daughter to save Athens, set beside the later “event” of a great Athenian parade before the gods. Connelly identifies the west frieze maiden as the young Prokris handling her shroud, not a motif apparent to anyone elsewhere in Greek art. A more standard interpretation has it that a girl arrhephoros is handling the goddess’s peplos robe, which we know was an event at the great Panathenaic festival. Erechtheus was certainly important on [End Page 528] the Acropolis—he has his own temple. But the Prokris episode does not resonate at all in Athenian art, except in one play by Euripides. The crucial scene, the handing over of Athena’s peplos, is here, I would judge, attended by all the gods, by the usual Panathenaic attendants including veterans, and by the 192 heroized horsemen who represent the 192 Athenians killed at Marathon, where Athens virtually saved Greece—for a while—and laid the foundations of her “empire.” To accommodate all of this activity, the usual end friezes were extended to run also along the long sides of the building. Elsewhere on the Parthenon, the subject is supported by scenes of Greeks defeating other barbarians and foreigners (on the metopes—centaurs, Amazons, Trojans, gods defeating giants) and, in the pediments, of Zeus and all the gods celebrating Athena’s winning of Athens.
In other respects, Connelly gives us an excellent account of the construction of the Parthenon and the role of the Acropolis. And she predictably also mounts her case for the return of the Elgin marbles to Athens. There is a further argument against, not generally aired. The original marbles were naturalistically painted. All color is now gone, so it matters little whether their remaining surface is viewed in marble or plaster, as on the excellent casts sent by the British Museum to Athens and displayed there in their appropriate places beside the by now more damaged originals that Elgin did not take.
Sir John Boardman is Lincoln Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology emeritus at Oxford University and a fellow of the British Academy, which awarded him the Kenyon Medal in 1995. Editor of the Oxford History of Classical Art, his other books include The Greeks in Asia; The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity; The Greeks Overseas; The Triumph of Dionysos; The History of Greek Vases; and The Relief Plaques of Eastern Eurasia and China: The “Ordos Bronzes,” Peter the Great’s Treasure, and Their Kin. He received the inaugural Onassis International Prize in Humanities in 2009.