Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.01.25


SYMPOSIUM: Athens and Beyond (Dartmouth College: Oct. 23-24, 1992)


Commentary by Margaret C. Miller, Department of Fine Art, University of Toronto

In the past fall Dartmouth College's Hood Museum of Art housed the special exhibit Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Athens. In conjunction with the show's inauguration, the Hood sponsored the symposium Athens and Beyond on October 23-24, 1992; both exhibit and symposium were planned by guest curator Jenifer Neils. The benefits of intradisciplinary dialogue were more than evident in the variety of perspectives presented at the symposium.

Goddess and Polis should be seen by anyone interested in classical Greece or museum design. Neils explained on her gallery tour that the Berlin Painter's magnificent Panathenaic amphora in the Hood's own collection served as a catalyst for her choice of theme. In addition to a number of Panathenaics, the exhibit features a wide range of carefully-selected material bearing upon aspects of the Panathenaia and borrowed from thirty-six public and private collections. The aim was to provide a context for the prize amphoras, which are so often severed from their native milieu -- witness their frequent appropriation for illustration of the Olympic Games or as evidence for the history of sculpture. Both uses in effect deny the Panathenaic's true identity. One of the great accomplishments of the exhibition was to re-integrate the Panathenaics into the social culture of archaic and classical Athens, where they can be viewed as part of a prominent religious celebration with important ideological implications.

A beautifully-illustrated and reasonably-priced catalogue puts the exhibit in perspective through a number of informative and occasionally innovative essays. Neils wrote the introduction and "Panathenaic Amphoras: Their Meaning, Makers, and Markets." In addition, there are essays by H.A. Shapiro ("Mousikoi Agones: Music and Poetry at the Panathenaia"); D.G. Kyle ("The Panathenaic Games: Sacred and Civic Athletics"); E.J.W. Barber ("The Peplos of Athena"); and B.S. Ridgway ("Images of Athena on the Akropolis"). Few mechanical slips mar the catalogue but one sometimes has difficulty tracking bibliographical citations.

Erika Simon gave the symposium's keynote address on "Theseus and Athenian Festivals." Drawing on her encyclopedic knowledge of art and text, she explored aspects of the complex role attributed to Theseus in the foundation of Attic cults and rituals. A hero whose tales derive from the Bronze Age / Mycenaean (Ionian) past, Theseus' naval rather than terrestrial connections distinguish him from the "land-lubber" Herakles. His links with Volos and Ionia relate to the period of Mycenaean emigration to Anatolia. The "Cretan adventure" with its seemingly clear reflection of the world of the Bronze Age Aegean provides the earliest stratum of the Theseus myth. Many of the cults in the Attic festival calendar are associated with sacrifices and events connected with Theseus' departure, journey and return. Erechtheus was generally deemed the founder of the Panathenaia; but the unification of Attica by Theseus was a prerequisite for the festival's existence, and details such as the offering of the robe are believed to be Bronze Age in origin (see Il. 6.269-311). In mythical and historical terms the festival was often refounded.

The first session of the symposium focused on the origins of the Panathenaia. Noel Robertson's "Myth and Ritual at the New Year's Festival" provided a case-study for his views about the importance of magic in Greek ritual. Starting with the presumption that the cult of each generation reflects sources of contemporary anxiety, he strove to sort out the religious stratigraphy of the cult of Athena from the perspective of a reconstruction of the concerns of each era. In the Bronze Age, Athena presided over the production and storage of goods. Her helmet and robe symbolize her jurisdiction over the two most important industries of its palace economy: metal-working and textile-production. This environment produced the Plynteria and the torch race which brought fire to the Acropolis; appropriate aetiological myths for both exist. The uncertainty of the Dark Age yielded the Palladion, whose aegis and gorgonion offered magical protection. The Orientalizing period contributed the gift of the robe to the statue; the custom is Eastern and elaborately-woven textiles originate in the Near East. The presentation ceremony was modified in view of the large size of the robe. It was taken to the goddess as a sail on a ship and deposited on a stool beside her statue, one of the stools visible on the Parthenon East frieze.

Continuing the theme of the woolen Panathenaic peplos, in "The Peplos of Athena and the Transmission of Bronze Age Information by Women" Elizabeth Barber applied the fruits of her researches on early textiles to the case of Athena's robe. There is ancient testimony that it was dyed with sapphron; the other colour-fast dye, sea-purple, was probably also used. Technically, the custom of giving clothes to Athena could go back to the fourth millennium BC, by which time sophisticated pattern-weaving had been developed; but only in the period 1500-1200 BC can a fashion for elaborate figural designs produced in complex weaving techniques be documented. In non- or semi-literate societies figured textiles ("story-cloths," as Barber eloquently named them) play a role as a mnemonic device to retain historical knowledge, functioning essentially as the women's equivalent to the epic poetry of men. Why then did the Gigantomachy remain the unchanging subject-matter of Athena's robe? Barber suggested that it served to retain the memory of collective salvation from a great threat. Interpreting mythical giants as metaphors for natural forces, she argued that at the time of the eruption of Thera, gratitude for having been spared from the path of destruction caused the people of Athens to promise Athena an annual gift of a textile decorated with the symbolic narrative of their salvation.

Alan Boegehold started the second morning session, on agonistic aspects, with a discussion of "Group and Single Competitions at the Panathenaia". After a brief summary of the different events, team and individual, gymnastic and equestrian, with suggestions of the possible periods of introduction, he focused on the contest in EU)ANDRI/A. Its proximity to the PURRI/XH on a fourth-century list of prizes suggests that there was some similarity between the two (IG ii2 2311). Whereas the PURRI/XH was a single-entry event, the EU)ANDRI/A was a team event based on phyle division. The EU)ANDRI/A was no beauty contest, but a contest in precision-dancing with movements such as a hoplite might make. Ancient confusion in nomenclature arose from the strong similarities between the two events: the EU)ANDRI/A might also be called a pyrrhic dance. The base dedicated by Atarbos on the Akropolis (AkrM 138), with its shield-bearing men dancing in unison, may be used as evidence. In the discussion period, Boegehold explained that in his view the group pyrrhic differed from the EU)ANDRI/A in being a war dance while the EU)ANDRI/A emphasised synchronized movement.

In "Gifts and Glory: Panathenaic Prize Amphoras and the History of Greek Athletic Prizes," Donald Kyle addressed the cultural rationale of the practice of giving various prizes for athletic victories. In origin, prizes were valuable items offered by wealthy aristocrats for funeral games in a relationship of reciprocity akin to gift-giving ritual; in return for their "gift" of prizes, aristocrats gained the prestige of sponsorship. When late in the eighth century athletic contests started to serve as a form of worship to Zeus at Olympia, wreaths rather than value-prizes were introduced not because the region was poor (note the bronze tripod votives) but because in the communalization of sponsorship no one aristocrat was willing to let another gain the prestige of giving. The athletic competitions associated with the Panathenaia were reorganized in the earlier sixth century, as part of a general trend. Whereas the Panhellenic sanctuaries gave cultic symbols (wreaths), the Athenians joined other states in introducing a combination of symbolic prizes and value-prizes. In offering olive oil for prizes the Athenians adopted the common practise of awarding local produce, but in offering the oil in distinctive amphorae on which inscriptions specified Athens as the source of the prize, the Athenian state laid claim to the prestige traditionally owed to the aristocratic bestower of rich prizes.

Leslie Kurke discussed what she called the talismanic power of the athletic victor in "E)/STAQI KUDAI/NWN: Victor Statues and Epinikia as Reenactments of Ritual." Drawing on ancient references which seem in military contexts to attribute special powers to victors of the crown games, she argued that in the expression that one can win KU/DOS for one's people, KU/DOS means not "glory" but a talismanic power of protection. Epinikia and agonistic inscriptions equate STE/FANOS with KU/DOS, showing that the crown is the vehicle of conveyance; the dedication of the crown at home shares the talismanic power with the whole community, creating what might be called an "economy of KU/DOS." Within this symbolic economy, the erection of the victor's statue in the sanctuary where the victory was won allows the eternal reenactment of the moment of crowning: the sculptures are rendered to depict the athlete at the moment of victory, wearing only the victory fillet (i.e., before the actual crowning). The inscription on the statue's base acts with the statue to recreate, whenever read aloud by the passer-by, the moment of victory. The victor's votive statue plays a major role in the "economy of KU/DOS." Such constant renewal of victory immortalises the victor and reaffirms the talismanic power of the crown for his city.

The first afternoon session addressed the political and historical context of the Panathenaic festival, whose physical location within the heart of the polis shaped much of its social significance. Robert Connor discussed the ideological framework of the Panathenaic procession in a paper on "Civic Representation in the Panathenaia." He argued that it is necessary to avoid the "fallacy of origins," the belief that if the origin of a ritual is found, its meaning will become clear; the accretive tendency of ritual is too strong for origin to provide a useful interpretative basis. The Panathenaic festival and procession, in contrast to other Attic festivals, includes all social strata, citizen and non-citizen, and even foreigners. But the image of inclusivity is not to be misunderstood as the ultimate in democratic expression. The many degrees of status in classical Athenian society were all affirmed in the parts played in the pompe; of particular interest is the act of bearing something in the procession. What was borne reflected the bearer's worth, although the symbolism is not always clear. Handsome old men (citizens) carried boughs, probably olive. Metics carried oak, which arguably symbolized their own marginal social status. Laurel boughs were evidently carried by citizens, but with uncertain significance. Having highlighted social divisions in the form of the pompe, the festival provided a means of reintegration. The distribution of meat by deme at the common feast after the sacrifice undercut the stratification of the pompe and created symbolic unity.

With "Women in the Panathenaic and Other Festivals" Mary Lefkowitz outlined the literary and epigraphical evidence for the role of women in Greek cult; it was her contention that the significance of women's role would seem to contradict their generally cloistered lifestyle. Passages from tragedy attest to women's awareness of their own cultic importance. For the Panathenaia in particular, many of the primary activities related to the preparation and delivery of the peplos to Athena rested in the hands of women, and their contribution here as elsewhere was rewarded in a variety of ways. The priestly offices of a number of major cults were held by women and mythic paradigms existed for their cultic activity. The potentially dangerous mothering role may be reflected in the Erichthonios myth in which the mortal daughters of Kekrops went mad in reaction to their contact with a frightening aspect of divinity. On the civic and political plane, mothers were believed to contribute to the welfare of the city in bearing sons for its defence. Lefkowitz found it difficult to reconstruct how Athenian women perceived their role in the Panathenaia, and whether they believed that their participation helped the city. Playing a role in the Panathenaia certainly brought greater honour than participating in other Athenian festival processions; one might contrast the Eleusinia, during which all the initiates walked to Eleusis together.

The final session was devoted to art in recognition of the importance of the Panathenaic festival in the sponsorship or inspiration of much of the art of archaic and classical Athens. In "The Panathenaia, the Parthenon and Procession," Matthew Wiencke outlined his support of the common but not universally accepted interpretation that the Parthenon frieze represents the Panathenaic procession. His sensitive reading of the frieze highlighted its function as a reflection of the ideal humanity of the citizens of classical Athens.

In his paper "The Visual Impact of the Panathenaia on Classical Greek Art," Jerome Pollitt considered reflections of the festival in Attic vase-painting. The historian of the Panathenaia can reconstruct shifts of response to, or short-lived modifications in, the specific festival events by studying fluctuations in painters' choice of subject-matter. The popularity of rhapsodes in painting ca. 520-490 may reveal the new prestige of rhapsodic competition after Hipparchos' innovations, which are otherwise difficult to trace. Similarly, the florescence of scenes with Nikai crowning kitharodes from about the mid-fifth century may reflect the Periklean intervention in the music contests reported by Plutarch. According to Thucydides, Perikles in his funeral speech attributed Athens' strength to the strength of her institutions, including her contests and sacrifices; Nike presides over both activities in classical Attic red-figure. Pollitt views the Parthenon frieze not as a depiction of the Panathenaic procession but as a visual epitome of the entire Panathenaia and other festivals; it includes all the components that in Periklean ideology made Athens great. The Periklean vision had a tremendous long-term impact on art, as can be seen almost immediately in funerary relief sculpture. Every subsequent generation of artists had consciously to respond, whether in acceptance or rejection, to the atemporal ideal vision of the classical Athenian art, now best exemplified by the Parthenon frieze.

Brunilde Ridgway concluded the symposium with observations about the Periklean akropolis, stressing in particular the many areas of interpretative difficulty that remain. However one understands the Parthenon frieze (whose location on the temple results from the architectural need to unify the building visually), a fundamental principle of Greek temple sculpture must be that it projected eternal meanings that transcended quotidian values and short-lived concerns. In Ridgway's view our difficulties in understanding the Parthenon frieze may arise from lack of the whole system of decoration: the recent discovery of evidence for a second frieze above the east door of the Parthenon may indicate the missing "key." Thanks to the ongoing work of restoration on the Akropolis, it is now clear that all the buildings were visually and programmatically interrelated. Study of the Panathenaia as imported into Pergamon and Magnesia might usefully cast new light on the Athenian model.

By restricting the theme of the exhibit and symposium to a recurring event in one city for which the evidence is widely heterogenous, Neils encouraged the integration of several methodologies and perspectives -- social, cultural, historical, and archaeological. Though not every paper was equally convincing, their collective value emerged indisputably, yielding a clearer vision of what to classical Athenians was probably the most important public spectacle of the festival calendar. En passant, the symposium illustrated the continuing need for specialists of the traditional subcategories of the discipline to remain in close contact with one another. Differences of opinion often exposed the interpretative difficulties that arise from our need to integrate disparate evidence. With the amount of material now available, it is impossible for any one person to be omniscient but unconscionable to use that fact as an excuse for ignorance. Too often practitioners of text-based research show ignorance of or lack of respect for archaeological evidence; the fault is reciprocal. It is to be hoped that this symposium and exhibit may mark part of a new trend in the scholarship of classical antiquity.

Those who were unable to attend the symposium will be glad to know that the participants have agreed to submit their papers for publication; and those who could not see the exhibit at Dartmouth College (which closed on Dec. 6) will have opportunities at subsequent installations throughout 1993: Tampa Museum of Art (Jan. 9 - Apr. 16); Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (May 11 - Aug. 1); Princeton Museum of Art (Aug. 31 - Nov. 28).


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