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idea is even much older than that. It occurs as a seal on a Babylonian tablet as old as the seventh century B.C.
The Athenians of those days knew that the cows and sheep which were being led along in the procession were to be sacrificed in honour of the gods. They supposed that the gods were not indifferent in such matters, but it may be doubted whether many of the Athenians then actually believed that the deities were invisibly present at this great sacrifice. Yet that is the view which the sculptor has taken. He has introduced into the frieze two groups of deities (24-30 and 36-42) whom he means us to understand as invisibly present on the Acropolis at the moment when the priest is receiving the new robe. They would remain so till the sweetsmelling sacrifice which they loved was offered to them. We are familiar in older Greek bas-reliefs, as in those at Delphi, with this artistic convention of invisible deities. It is conspicuous also on the frieze of the Theseum, which is only a very little older than the Parthenon. There we may see a warrior rushing into a group of seated deities, as unconscious of their presence as was one of Homer's heroes when a deity approached him wrapped in mist or disguised.
To every Athenian, whatever his faith, these two groups of seated figures in the central part of the east frieze were manifestly deities. First of all, they are the only seated figures in the whole frieze, yet, though seated, their heads reach as high in the frieze as the mortals who are standing beside them. They are therefore exceptional in size and
dignity. There are but two figures among them which are not seated, and they are remarkable in another respect also, for they both have wings (28 and 42). That is a final and conclusive proof that these two figures at least are not mortals. The great deities did not have wings, and did not need them; but their messengers—like Victory, Iris, or Eroswere winged. The presence of two such figures implies that the seated groups are gods. The one, 28, is a winged girl who stands close beside the goddess Hera, and is obviously a divine messenger, such as Iris or Nike. The other, 42, on the extreme right, is a winged boy, even more obviously the god of love, Eros, leaning idly against the knees of his mother Aphroditè and carrying her parasol open over his head.
It seems odd that he should be holding up a parasol, and this may appear contradictory to the theory of invisibility. But we must remember that certain accessories were necessary for the identification of certain deities, and that in the case of Aphrodite the parasol was one such accessory. That she allows her son to hold it, and at the same time directs him with her hand towards the approaching procession, is a very just observation of mother and child. Let us add that the figure of Eros is plainly that of a young boy. We may bear this in mind when we read that it was only in later Greek art that he took this very youthful form. As regards the assembly of the gods generally, we must remember the passage in Homer (Iliad, i. 423), where the gods are said to have gone in a body to a feast among the “blameless Ethiopians.” Pheidias may very well have had that passage in his mind,
In the second place, these seated figures are recognisable as deities by their bearing and their attributes. Zeus, 30, the chief of them, is distinguished by the chair or throne on which he is seated. He alone has this mark of dignity. His form and attitude are those of an exalted being ; they separate him from the others. Every Athenian would know him at a glance. On his right sits his consort Hera, 29. The veil over the back of her head shows that she is a wife. Her action in pulling it aside means, no doubt, that she is taking a lively interest in what is transpiring. In Greek art a matron usually has a girl servant beside her to attend to her personal wants; that is the function of the winged girl Iris close beside Hera. What the action of the left hand of Iris is precisely, we do not know. But she clearly shares the sudden interest which has made her mistress pull aside her veil. The action of Iris must mean something of that kind. But now we must notice a singular thing. The great triad of deities was Zeus, Hera, and Athenè. We see Zeus and Hera side by side, but Athenè, 36, is separated from them by a group of mortals—a priest and priestess with two girl attendants, receiving the new robe or peplos from a boy. But the explanation is simple. The sculptor had to show that the gods were invisibly present in the atmosphere which surrounded the mortals on the Acropolis, and he could hardly have shown that better than by interjecting a group of mortals among the deities, appearing to separate a triad which was believed to be inseparable in assemblies of the deities. Observe that Athene does not wear her helmet.
Even her aegis is not on her breast, but lies
crumpled on her lap, as it would seem. Still, she has held a spear in her right hand—we can see that from the holes in the marble for its attachment-if the action of the hand were not alone sufficient. The spear had been of metal, probably gilt bronze. .
Just as Athenè appears without her helmet, so Hermes, 24, instead of wearing his characteristic cap or petasos, holds it on his knee; in fact, all the gods are uncovered, and probably that is meant to illustrate their custom at a feast. Hephaestos, 37, would have been more easily recognisable if he had worn his pointed cap, but his attitude of leaning on a staff, the indication of his clubfoot, and the fact of his sitting beside Athenè would have made him easily identifiable to an Athenian. If the figure clasping his hands round his knee is Ares, 27, the god of war, as he is thought to be, we are not surprised that he is not characterised by helmet, cuirass, and shield. The gods were here not only invisible, but they were present at a festival held in their honour. The sculptor had therefore a doubly difficult task. He had to respect the invisibility of the deities, and at the same time he had to dispense as far as possible with the accessories or symbols characteristic of each. One of the consequences is that with regard to several of these figures there is much uncertainty as to who they are. We recognise Zeus, Hera, and Iris, Demeter, Persephonè, or Artemis, with her torch, 26, and Hermes in the left group--Athenè, Hephaestos, Poseidon, 38, Aphroditè, 41, and Eros in the right group; we are not sure about
But that they are the twelve gods, six in each group, is absolutely plain.
The men standing apparently in two groups at each extreme of the gods, 18–23 and 43-52, represent several classes of officials who were bound to be present on the Acropolis to receive the procession, to superintend the sacrifice and the giving of the prizes which had been won in the games just concluded. They do not present an even number in each group. At first sight there seem to be six on each side, but looking closer we find an additional two on the right, mixed up more or less with the approaching group of girls. There are no two men similarly disposed in the group on the left; but a knot of men standing promiscuously, and waiting perhaps eagerly the approach of the procession, would not naturally break up into symmetrical groups. In theory they are only one group, and we think that this very irregularity confirms the theory. It is different with the girls ; they walked in the regular order becoming to a solemn procession. The group at one end ought to balance the other, marching close together with quiet demeanour and carrying vessels for the sacrifice. Such is, in fact, their general aspect, but with infinite differences of detail. The group on the right consisted of thirteen figures, of which the two at the end are lost and known only from drawings (Pl. XVII., Fig. 5); that on the left of fifteen. If we follow these figures one by one, we shall find under an apparent uniformity an extraordinary fertility of invention in the variety of details, and that is one of the striking characteristics of Greek art in the best age. With all their gifts of imagination, the Greek artists kept continually returning to favourite types or conceptions of their own day, as if trying to exhaust every possibility of them. But let us add, as regards the two groups of maidens,