Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.03.09


Jenifer Neils, Goddess and Polis. The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens. Hanover: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 1992. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. Pp. 227; 94 figures, 71 plates. ISBN 0-691-03612-8 (hb). ISBN 0-691-00223-1 (pb).


Reviewed by Michael B. Walbank, University of Calgary.

This book is the catalog of a touring exhibition prepared for the Hood Museum of Art by Jenifer Neils, designed to illustrate all the stages of the Panathenaic Festival at Athens. The Catalog is accompanied by six essays, by Neils and others, on different features of the Festival, preceded by an introduction and preface. This format creates some problems of overlap and repetition, but has the virtue of providing as full a compendium of what is known about the Panathenaic Festival, its antecedents, its context, and its setting as can be achieved today.

The people of Athens celebrated the Panathenaia in honor of their patron-goddess Athena annually at the end of the month Hekatombaion (our July), culminating in a great procession through the city to take to the cult-statue of Athena Polias a new and richly-woven robe (peplos), and to sacrifice a hecatomb of cows upon her altar on the Akropolis; every four years this festival was held on a much greater scale, with musical competitions, poetry-recitals, athletic and equestrian events, dancing in armor, torch-racing at night, boat-races, and even a male beauty-contest (13), a festival designed to rival the four great Panhellenic festivals, the Olympia, Pythia, Nemeia, and Isthmia.

The Catalog (143-191) comprises 71 objects, mostly pottery (including 21 Panathenaic or Panathenaic-shaped amphoras), drawn from North American collections; six of these (coins, a skyphos, and a bronze weight) are unpublished. Each entry includes one or more photographs, physical description and commentary, and a bibliography. The purpose is to illustrate, not merely the Panathenaia, but also the career of Athena. This Catalog is supplemented and extended by the six essays, which are amply illustrated, not merely by objects in this exhibition, but by photographs of an extremely wide range of objects from collections the world over. Thus, every feature of the Panathenaia is covered and illustrated.

The six essays are: "The Panathenaia: An Introduction" (13-28); "Panathenaic Amphoras: Their Meaning, Makers, and Markets" (29-52), both by J. Neils; "Mousikoi Agones: Music and Poetry at the Panathenaia" (53-76), by H. A. Shapiro; "The Panathenaic Games: Sacred and Civil Athletics" (77-102), by D. G. Kyle; "The Peplos of Athena" (103-118), by E. J. W. Barber; and "Images of Athena on the Akropolis" (119-142), by B. S. Ridgway. Abbreviations and Notes to the essays follow the Catalog (192-215), a somewhat cumbersome arrangement, which makes the notes difficult to use. The Catalog is the work of Neils, with some material provided by W. Rudolph and G. Ortiz. The volume is completed by Suggestions for Further Reading, a Glossary, and an Index (216-226).

In Neil's first essay she attempts to establish the "facts" about the origins of the Panathenaia (13). She accepts the evidence of inscriptions that suggest that the Greater Panathenaia ran for eight days (15). She suggests plausibly that the famous Black-Figure scene by the Amasis Painter of women spinning and weaving may represent the actual weaving of Athena's peplos (17), a suggestion overlooked in Barber's essay (108), where this scene is treated as evidence merely of current Athenian workshop practices. Another useful suggestion is that Agrippa's Odeion was "perhaps not coincidentally" built exactly on the site of the Classical Orchestra in the Agora, where the musical contests of the Panathenaia took place (20). This essay was composed too early for her to be aware of Joan Bretton Connelly's brilliant reinterpretation of the Parthenon frieze ("The Parthenon Frieze and the Sacrifice of the Erechtheids: Reinterpreting the Peplos Scene", a paper read at the meeting of the AIA in New Orleans in December, 1992, an abstract of which will shortly appear in AJA, vol. 97, 1993), but her discussion of the frieze (23-24) is not altogether rendered void by Connelly's conclusions. In this context, an unfortunate misprint places the Battle of Marathon in 480 BC, not a Greater Panathenaia year either (26). Incidentally, the name of the festival in Greek is plural, ta Panathenaia, not singular (13 and passim, not merely in Neils' essay). In sum, this is a useful discussion, but, despite her best efforts, much remains obscure about the origins, historical development, effects, and cultural and artistic impact of the festival.

Her second essay is meatier. The sports represented on the reverses of Panathenaic prize-amphoras are realistically presented in the style of their time (34), unlike the obverse scene of Athena armed between two cock-columns, which remains more consistently archaic. N. sees this obverse scene as perhaps representing "an outdoor statue actually set between columns" (37), but Ridgway, in her essay, discounts this: she follows G. Ferrari Pinney in seeing this as Athena dancing the Pyrrhic Dance, not a specific statue of Athena. In any case, there is too much variation in Athena's accoutrements for the artists to be copying a specific statue (127). N. believes that the cock-columns at either side of Athena in these scenes are a reference to Zeus, who is closely linked to his daughter's festival (38). She notes that the capacity of Panathenaic prize-amphoras varies very little and is always very close to the official Athenian liquid measure, the metretes of 38.88 liters (39). Their shapes are distinctive and likewise change little over time: they appear on Athens' earliest, as well as her latest, coinage, and also on official bronze and lead weights (51), serving as a potent symbol of the Festival. Pseudo-Panathenaic jars provide interesting material: the larger ones, lacking inscriptions, may have been used to ship surplus Panathenaic oil for the Etruscan market (44), and the miniatures could have served to ship scented oil, the Panathenaikon (45). The shape, then, would be a kind of trade-mark and guarantee of the purity of the contents. At all times, the Panathenaic prize-amphoras themselves were regarded as objects of value, as their frequent occurrence in tombs and sanctuaries, both at home and abroad, attests (48-50).

Shapiro makes the point that it is no coincidence that the earliest Black-Figure paintings highlighting the integral role of music occur just after the reorganization of the Panathenaia in 566 BC (54). However, he seems to be indulging in wishful thinking when he says that the sacrifice shown in fig. 53 is "not certainly showing the Panathenaia" (54): the presence of a boar, along with an ox and a ram, makes it clear that this scene must represent a sacrifice for a different cult of Athena. S. rejects the argument that Perikles reintroduced musical contests to the Panathenaia; rather, he "reorganized the musical games ... officially enacting the new program as a law" (57). The same misunderstanding of the sources applies to Hipparchos' supposed introduction of rhapsodic contests. Rhapsodic contests are depicted on Panathenaic-shaped amphoras from before the time of Hipparchos (74), and, in fact, S. argues, Hipparchos merely "weeded out" the mass of material previously performed and ensured that only the two poems certified genuine by the Homeridai were now regularly performed at Athens (73). S. shows that flute contests were introduced in 566 BC (63), in imitation of the earlier introduction of such contests at Delphi (64), and that what the aulodes performed was elegy, specifically long narrative poems (65). Contests for kitharists and kitharodes may have occurred by the mid-sixth century, but nearly a full generation after those for the flute (61). Where these musical contests were held before the construction of Perikles' Odeion remains a mystery (70).

Kyle sets the antecedents of athletic contests in earlier funerary ritual. With this in mind, he interprets the scene on the Late Geometric Cleveland amphora (fig. 52) as a representation of "boxers and chariots" taking part in funeral games (79), but certainly in the photograph printed here no boxers appear, nor can I discover any evidence that they appear on the other face of this vase (see J. N. Coldstream, Greek Geometric Pottery, 1968, pp. 58-64). The chariot-procession is more likely to be just that, not a race. Athletic contests seem to have been private or clan-related, rather than civic, in the 7th century (79), but the tyrants converted the Panathenaic festival into "both an ethnocentric and an international festival" (80) in the 6th century. This essay was written before the debate over "matters of lanes and turning-posts" (83) was settled, at least so far as Corinth is concerned (see David Romano, "Athletics and Mathematics in Archaic Corinth", a paper read at the meeting of the AIA in New Orleans in December, 1992, an abstract of which will shortly appear in AJA, vol. 97, 1993: the dromos in the Athenian Agora should now be reexamined for similar evidence to that discovered at Corinth). K. suggests plausibly that the contest of "manly beauty" (euandria) may have been a contest in moral and physical beauty (kalokagathia) in the form of a pageant or procession, unlikely to have involved acrobatics (96). Tribal contests should postdate the reforms of Kleisthenes, and the contest for ships, in particular, may follow "the Themistoclean development of the Peiraeus" (97). "Athenian athletics arguably remained elitist rather than egalitarian in practice", but "in the fifth century there was a significant shift from an elitism of birth to one of wealth" and "no revolutionary popularization of athletic competition took place at Athens" (98). Nevertheless, popular enthusiasm for the athletic contests of the Panathenaia remained high throughout the history of the festival, and "almost everyone shared in and appreciated the thriving athletic life of Athens" (101).

Barber's is a fascinating essay, drawing much of its material from her recent book on Bronze Age textiles. She poses several questions about the peplos of Athena (103): Who wore it and how often? How big was it? How ornate was it and how was it designed? How was it used? Which statue of Athena did it adorn? She emphasizes the Bronze Age background, and the techniques that survived, as attested in the Homeric descriptions (104). Weaving was a household craft of great antiquity, having strong religious associations. The warp-weighted loom employed at Athens meant that the peplos was not true tapestry but pattern-weaving (109), and the loom, too, determined the dimensions of the peplos, probably not more than 4-6 feet in either direction (110). The quantity of wool required for such a cloth would have been, at most, 3 pounds, the yield of two sheep. Modern spinning experience suggests that the spinning process would have necessitated about "a month for one person to clean, comb and spin the wool for a peplos", and setting up the warp would have taken two persons about a week (110). Since the peplos of Athena was elaborately figured, it would have required "a huge amount of time", and each figure would have "to be darned in carefully by hand", thus taking up the full nine months that the sources speak of for the manufacture of the peplos. This process required "extra little filler-ornaments" to anchor the thread. Such filler-ornaments appear in the background of Attic Geometric vase-paintings: clearly the painters were copying textiles. The appearance of this filler-ornament on Geometric vases also means that "the use of weaving by Greek women for telling stories predates the beginning of Geometric Greek art" and must be a survival from the Bronze Age (111-112). The much larger sail, described as a "peplos", that rode in the Panathenaic procession, may well have been a true tapestry, designed to be hung behind the cult statue in the Parthenon: this feature was probably introduced after the Persian Wars (114-115). Vase-paintings and sculptures imply two different methods of decorating the smaller peplos, either "successive scenes in a series of horizontal friezes going the entire width of the cloth", or "square panels in a ladder-like arrangement going down the front of the garment" (115); the former was cheaper and B. suggests that it may have been used in times of financial exigency (116). I wonder whether the more expensive version may have been reserved for the Greater Panathenaia. The choice of colours, saffron with sea-purple decoration, and the ritual of the making of the peplos may have their origins in the Bronze Age, "when women's cloth-rituals had far more economic importance than they did in Classical times" (116-117). B.'s comments regarding the evidence from paintings for the role of Crete in Bronze Age weaving now need amplifying in light of the recent discovery of Minoan paintings of the 17th century BC in Egypt and the Levant.

Ridgway, like Barber, draws heavily upon John Mansfield's work (The Robe of Athena and the Panathenaic "Peplos", PhD diss. Berkeley 1985). She attempts to trace Athena's "sculptural imagery through time, but primarily in the main period of the Akropolis' greatness, from ca. 700 to ca. 400" (119). A Geometric temple seems to have existed to house the ancient wood statue that was the focus of the Panathenaic festival; the accoutrements of this statue are listed in fourth-century inventories, making it almost "tangible" (120), but whether it was seated or standing is unclear. It is likely to have been quite small and therefore portable (122). In early Classical times the naiskos now identified as having existed in the north pteron of the Classical Parthenon may have housed another image of Athena, perhaps the Parthenos, "different from the Polias, even if not as venerable" (125), while the Polias itself may have been housed in a temporary wooden structure "for which vague traces may remain" to the north of the Parthenon; after the building of the "Erechtheion", it was placed in the east part of this structure (126-127). Small bronzes of ca. 530-470, instead of representing the Parthenos or the Promachos, were inspired by the Gigantomachy pediment and by vase-paintings, and may represent the Pallas, which Athenians believed to be the Palladion taken from Troy and which lived somewhere else in the City (129-130). The "Hekatompedon" Temple may have been the first on its site, so that any cult-statue of the Parthenos would have been made for the occasion: R. believes that at least two of the Akropolis korai, the Antenor Kore of ca. 530-520 and Akropolis 669, may represent this type, the former helmeted in a manner seeming to anticipate the triple-crested helmet of Pheidias' Parthenos (131-133). Another image of Athena is that of the Nike Bastion, which may be represented in the "Pomegranate Kore" of ca. 560-550 (135-137; R. believes that the Akropolis Korai all represent divinities, not humans). Other images discussed briefly are the Hygieia, Ergane, Mourning and Lemnia Athenas (137-141), the latter perhaps represented in the current exhibition on an amphora by the Berlin Painter (Cat. 15) and by the Medici Athena (Cat. 59). Some of this discussion, despite its undeniable value, seems out-of-place in the context of the Panathenaia.

Many of the objects discussed here have previously figured in general histories of Greek athletics and of the Olympic Games. Indeed, in this field, as in almost every aspect of Classical Greece, the evidence from Athens predominates. It is good to see the Panathenaia at last being given their due.