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THE SCULPTURES OF
HEN the Parthenon stood forth complete on the
Acropolis of Athens in or about the year 438 B.C., there was no other building in the whole of Greece comparable even in the mere extent and variety of its sculptures. Imagine a frieze 522 feet in length sculptured all along with figures nearly half life size, in many parts densely crowded till the marble could carry no more, the whole in very low relief and executed with marvellous detail. Above the columns externally and round all the four sides of the temple were ninety-two metopes, each consisting of a group of two figures two-thirds life size, in the highest possible
1 Plutarch, Pericles, xiii., speaking of the buildings then being erected in Athens under the auspices of Pericles, including, of course, the Parthenon, says, “As the buildings rose, stately in size and unsurpassed in form and grace,
the workmen vied with each other that the quality of their work might be enhanced by its artistic beauty. Most wonderful of all was the rapidity of the construction." (H. Stuart Jones, Selected Passages, etc.)
relief, and full of the most beautiful workmanship. Within each of the two pediments or gables was an immense group of statues, the smallest equal to life size, the central figures colossal. Lastly, inside the Parthenon was the stupendous statue of Athenè herself in gold and ivory by Pheidias. It was he who directed the whole of the work.1
The greater the extent and variety of the sculptures the more urgent was the need of a unifying purpose to bring the whole together into one scheme. The Parthenon was a new temple to the goddess Athenè. To her the sculptor necessarily turned for inspiration. Her birth, her influence on the civilisation of mankind, her special services to Attica, and the consequent gratitude of the Athenians, these were the themes which naturally arose in his mind. Accordingly, in the east pediment, the most conspicuous place externally, he gave the birth of the goddess. In the metopes we have a long series of combats with barbarism, in which we may trace the state of things which she was born to rectify. In the west pediment she herself encounters her rival, Poseidon, and defeats him. All this is shown on the external sculptures. Within the colonnade the whole frieze is occupied with solemnities in honour of the gods, while inside the Parthenon itself the gratitude of the Athenians was seen culminating in the new colossal statue of gold and ivory.
To borrow the language of the drama, the east pediment may be called Act i., representing the surprise of the birth of
1 Plutarch, ibid., távra de Delte kal τούτου δημιουργός εν τη στήλη είναι πάντων επίσκοπος ήν αυτω [Περικλεί] γέγραπται, πάντα δ' ήν σχεδόν επ' αυτά Φειδίας, and again, ο δε Φειδίας ειργά- και πασιν, ώς ειρήκαμεν, έπεστάτει ζετο μεν της θεού το χρυσούν έδος και τους τεχνίταις διά φιλίαν Περικλέους. .