Page images

could only be recognised gradually as the visitor passed along, looking up, at a very sharp angle. In these circumstances it would no doubt have been more convenient for the visitor as he passed if the subject could have been broken up into isolated groups, presenting much the same effect as we find on the nearly contemporary temple of Zeus at Olympia, where metopes take the place of frieze within the colonnade at each end. But on the frieze of the Parthenon that was impossible, because of the nature of the subject—a public procession of ordinary mortals on their way from one quarter of Athens to the Acropolis, where there was to be a magnificent sacrifice to the gods, with much ceremony, such as the bestowing of prizes on the athletes who had been successful in the Panathenaic games just finished. That was the subject in general terms. The continuity of the procession could not be broken up to oblige visitors.

As we have already indicated, a visitor reaching the Parthenon from the Propylaea in the ordinary way saw first the west frieze, representing that section of the procession which was the most rapid in its movement and was therefore the last to start, viz. the last of the young men on horseback.

It is altogether a scene of preparation and starting. These young men on their fiery horses, or preparing to mount, will soon overtake those who had started before them on foot, carrying vessels for sacrifice, leading cows and sheep, playing music, or in chariots, like heroes at the war of Troy. As we have previously explained, the difficulty for the sculptor was how to get this continuous subjeet on to a four-sided building. What he did was this : He placed on the west side, which was the part first visible to spectators, the start of the last section of the procession. On the east side, which was the actual front of the temple, he placed the culminating point, where the gods are present to witness the sacrifices. But on the two long sides he represented the middle part of the procession in duplicate, so that a visitor beginning at the west end could choose whichever of the two long sides he preferred to pass round by, and in either case be able to follow the sculptured procession from start to finish. We saw much the same principle of duplication employed in the metopes of the long sides. We do not mean that the north and the south friezes are strictly duplicates one of the other, but the various groups or sections correspond much like a procession sketched from two sides. If we imagine the procession at some particular stage of the journey dividing into two halves, the one turning to the right, the other to the left, each half arriving from an opposite point at the meeting-place, we shall be able to realise in a measure what Pheidias was compelled to do to get his procession with its three points of start, middle and head, on to a four-sided building. Imagine the two long sides of the frieze set back to back, and you have the middle of the procession in a solid body, seen from both sides of the road. The long sides of the frieze are full of movement, and in most places crowded with figures, while on the short ends there is less action, on the east almost none at all; instead of crowding, there is an abundance of space round all the figures.

The total length of the frieze was over 522 feet 10 inches. Of this something less than the half, 240 feet 6 inches, was brought home by Lord Elgin. From the


west frieze he removed only one slab and a figure close to the angle; the rest of it remains in its place on the building, exposed to the weather, which is often severe in Athens during the winter. That the west frieze has suffered greatly on this account is plain from a parison of the plaster casts which Lord Elgin had made from it with the new casts made some years ago (1872). The two sets of casts are placed side by side in the Elgin Room, so that it is easy to see the extent of the damage done within a period of about seventy years. Every year seems to add fresh injury. The French ambassador, who was Lord Elgin's colleague in Constantinople, carried off a fine slab from the east frieze--the one now in the Louvre --representing a group of the girls who walked close to the head of the procession (49-56). At the same time he sent to Paris a cast of the slab immediately preceding this one. Very fortunately so, because that slab was subsequently much destroyed. One figure of an old man, 46, was chipped off entirely; other parts were broken off and split in pieces. A large piece was sent home by Lord Elgin ; a small fragment has been found on the Acropolis of Athens, and another in the Museum of Palermo in Sicily. Possibly some day the rest may be recovered. Meantime we are able to put these fragments into their right places and to reconstruct the slab by means of the cast in Paris.

These things happened about the year 1800. Since then several slabs of the frieze, more or less perfect, have been found buried on the Acropolis. They had fallen from their place before any great injury had been done to them. The best preserved is a slab from the east frieze containing a group of seated deities (vi.). Equally well preserved is part of a chariot group from the north frieze (xvii.). Casts of these and of many smaller pieces which have been recovered in comparatively recent years from all sorts of odd places will be found let into their true positions among the original marbles in the Museum, as shown in our plate. So that what with originals and casts, we can put together now 415 feet out of the entire 522 feet, leaving about 107 feet to be accounted for. Of this fully 60 feet is known from drawings by Carrey and Stuart, while 47 feet has totally disappeared. It will be noticed in many of the slabs that angle pieces have been broken off. The cause of this was the excessively fine joints of the slabs, which allowed of no play when the building was subjected to any strain as during the gunpowder explosion or under a slight subsidence of the foundations.

The frieze, as we see it in the Elgin Room, has two disadvantages. First, it is there illumined by light from the top instead of from below. The consequence is that on the west side of the room, where there is a long cavalcade of young horsemen, it is the legs of the horses which are most conspicuous. The heads of the horses and the riders are deprived of their due amount of shadow, and at some hours of the day the effect is disagreeable. Another disadvantage arises from the fact that the frieze being placed nearly on the level of the eye can be seen broadside on, so to speak, instead of at an acute angle high above the level of the eye.

On the other hand, there is an immense gain in being able to study every detail closely, as can now be done; and this gain does far more than counterbalance the disadvantages just referred to.

But these remarks on the present condition of the frieze do not affect the main question we have to consider, which is, how the sculptor conceived and represented a procession through the streets of Athens which took place in his own lifetime

four years. The people of Athens knew very well what the actual procession was like. They knew that the head of it consisted of a ship on wheels, bearing, as a sail, a new robe intended for the rude wooden image of Athenè on the Acropolis. The new robe? had just been embroidered by a number of girls chosen from the wellto-do families of Athens. While engaged on their task they had to live within the precincts of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis, under the charge of the priestess of Athenè. When the robe was carried through the streets, spread like a sail, these girls walked in procession behind it, and are so represented on the east frieze, conventionally separated into two groups, as if approaching the meeting-place of the gods from both sides. Pheidias has omitted the ship on wheels, and has chosen rather the culminating act in which the robe, having been taken down from the ship and duly folded, is being handed up to the priest by a boy. This final incident he has placed in the most central spot of the whole frieze, directly above the great doorway of the Parthenon. The ship was drawn by a crowd of men pulling at a rope or hawser, we are told, and we can see what it may have looked like from a painted vase in the Museum of the sixth century B.c. with a ship on wheels. But the


1 The robe is figured on the Panathenaic vases as richly embroidered. On one of these yases in the British

Museum it has a border of figures, which do not appear to represent a Gigantomachia, as would be expected.

« PreviousContinue »