Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.4.29


Worshipping Athena: Panathanaia and Parthenon,. Neils, Jenifer, 1996 University of Wisconsin Press, Madison: . Pp. 249, figs. 35. 0-299-15110-7.


Reviewed by Susan I. Rotroff, Dept. of Classics, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130, srotroff@artsci.wustl.edu.

In 1992-93 the exhibition Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens circulated to various American museums, focusing scholarly interest on that central festival of the Athenian calendar, the Panathenaia. Curated by the energetic Jenifer Neils, the show was accompanied by a splendid catalogue, presenting the objects themselves along with a series of substantial essays situating the festival in the matrix of Athenian life (J. Neils et al., Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens, Princeton 1992). In addition, two of the venues (Dartmouth and Princeton) hosted colloquia at which the festival, the goddess, and monuments of the city were investigated more widely. The book under review, however, is not the usual conference proceedings. Rather, Neils has selected seven of the papers (about half of the total) and added to them a translation of an article by Michalis Tiverios and an essay by Alan Shapiro. Neils does not reveal the criteria she followed in making her choices, but she seems to have been aiming at a more focused and highly organized presentation than acta normally allow, while avoiding overlap with essays published in the catalogue. One scholar whose colloquium presentation was not included (Joan Connelly) has complained in print that her views were omitted (Lingua Franca 7:2, p. 28); but since her ingenious interpretation of the Parthenon frieze has received repeated publication everywhere from the AJA to the NYT, reiteration here would not have enhanced the present volume, which, as far as I am aware, includes only scholarship that has not been published elsewhere in English.

The nine essays are arranged in three sections: Myth and Cult; Contests and Prizes; and Art and Politics. Myth and Cult leads off with a brief chapter by Erika Simon, investigating festivals associated with Theseus--all of them, she finds, with roots in the Mycenaean period. Although her tendency to write about the hero as though he were a person who actually existed is disconcerting, her gathering of a suite of divinities closely associated with Theseus (Apollo, Poseidon, Artemis, and Aphrodite in the literary sources, Athena in the visual ones) may explain the grouping of those figures together on the east frieze of the Parthenon.

The second chapter--by far the longest and most, well, exhilarating, is Noel Robertson's, which presents a radical revision of the topography of the Acropolis, along with a reconstruction and analysis of what he sees as the three major festivals of the goddess (Plynteria, Skira, Panathenaia). It is a typically Robertsonian tour de force, bristling with facts and testimonia brought into provocative juxtaposition. Among other things, Robertson concludes that the temple we usually call the Erechtheion has been misidentified. A close (and colorable) reading of the relevant passage in Pausanias reveals that the shrine of Erechtheus (1.26.5) and the temple of Athena (1.26.6-27.1) are not one and the same building. Robertson identifies the former with foundations at the far southeastern extension of the Acropolis. He explains the unusual shape of the "Erechtheion" as ancestral, deriving from an archaic predecessor with porches on north and south, to which an eastern extension was later added; and he decorates it with the small archaic limestone pediments usually assigned to treasuries (though of course these must have been added at different times). The archaic Hekatompedon is to be located on the limestone foundation just south of the "Erechtheion"--there was no archaic temple on the site of the Parthenon. Elsewhere on the Acropolis, Robertson reads the sculpture of the Nike balustrade as sacrifices at the Skira and identifies the striding Athena of the Panathenaic amphoras as Athena Hygieia. Finally, he suggests that the early route of the Panathenaia took it through the old, southeastern quarter of the city. Few, I suspect, will be able to swallow this whole, but thoroughgoing renovations of accepted reconstructions have an important place in scholarship, reminding us to reconsider our axioms. Robertson solves some problems with his reconstruction, but his solutions raise others (it is necessary, for instance, to create a second olive tree). A number of his suggestions are attractive, however, and this study is likely to produce lively controversy.

In the third chapter of this section, Mary Lefkowitz stresses the importance of women in ancient Athenian cult and life, pointing not only to rituals in which female participation was indispensable but also to women as paradigms of heroic civic sacrifice. Women, although not so visible publicly, were not without power, status, and respect in the ancient city.

There are four chapters in the section on Contests and Prizes. Alan Boegehold focuses on the Euandreia, suggesting that it may have been a cyclic chorus, perhaps to be recognized on the Artabos base in the Acropolis Museum. David Kyle turns to the prizes themselves, investigating the differences between prize and reward, between crowns and "crematitic" or money prizes. While it is generally assumed that monetary prizes carried less prestige, Kyle demonstrates that they are seminal to the notion of prize giving, growing as they did out of very ancient customs of gift giving. Such prizes reflect the glory of the donor as much as that of the receiver; the prize amphoras, like Attic coinage, served as "articulate packagings of valuable commodities" (p. 122) and, as such, were potent advertisements for the greatness of the city This point is supported by figures collected by Richard Hamilton in the appendix to his chapter, which demonstrate what a remarkably small number of prize amphoras have been found in Athens itself. No matter how and why they traveled, they were indeed bearing their message overseas. Hamilton's chapter examines the flip side of the amphoras, where the athletes themselves appear. A statistical study of the age of the competitors and the competitions represented suggests that these are a poor guide to what actually went on at the games. One possible explanation is that an athlete may have received amphoras depicting various events, not just the one in which he had competed successfully. One might add that (as Michalis Tiverios notes in his chapter, p. 171) the extant vases probably represent less than 1% of the total produced; how likely is such a sample to represent the whole accurately? The chapter by Tiverios, a translation of an article that appeared in Greek in 1990, seeks to explain the shield devices of Athena as pictured on the Panathenaics. Tiverios argues against Boardman's contention that the devices specified workshops responsible for producing amphoras and were used to make sure that the each workshop had indeed produced the contracted number of vessels. He conjectures instead that they designated the owners or lessees of the land on which the sacred olives grew, who were responsible for turning over a certain percentage of their yield to the appropriate officials each year. The devices, then, may be the emblems of the powerful landowners who controlled most of the groves, and they provided an easy way for officials to ensure that the correct amount of oil had been tendered.

Two chapters in the final section on Art and Politics provide support for the traditional interpretation of the Parthenon frieze as a representation of the Panathenaic procession. Jenifer Neils demonstrates that the frieze fits within the established iconography of religious procession, as abundantly illustrated in Greek painting. She also draws attention to the repeated allusion to "dressing up" on the frieze, demonstrating that looking one's best was an important part of the display in such a pageant. Evelyn Harrison's contribution, subtitled "A Conservative Reading of the Parthenon Frieze," reacts to several recent interpretations (Connelly's, but also those of John Boardman, Ian Jenkins, and Blaise Nagy). Harrison is no stranger to innovative, even iconoclastic scholarship, and she has never been reluctant to revise received opinion. Here, however, she casts her vote firmly for the traditional reading of the frieze, although she also alludes to her intriguing suggestion that different sides of the building refer to different times in the Athenian past. In a final chapter, Alan Shapiro discusses the way in which the Panathenaia may have expressed the two salient aspects of Periklean Athens: democracy and empire. Praise for the city and her institutions is easy to see, but Shapiro is less convinced about overt references to empire, either in the frieze or in the procession itself. Athens' imperial program, he feels, was rather carried out by fostering cults of the city goddess throughout the empire.

Although the book as a whole is fairly accessible, it is not aimed at the general reader. A jacket blurb trumpets its usefulness for students, but in this respect the chapters are uneven. Some will be impenetrable to all but the most advanced, and some (I am thinking particularly of Roberton's) may mislead by stating conjecture as fact. Others, however, will be of tremendous use in teaching; it will be wonderful, for instance, to be able to assign Harrison's chapter along with any one of the new interpretations against which she argues. Those not familiar with the iconography of the Panathenaia will probably feel the need for more illustrations; several important pieces that are discussed are not pictured. Many of these are illustrated in Goddess and Polis , and it would be good to tackle Worshipping Athena with that volume at hand. The book includes a complete bibliography (a good guide to relevant studies), a general index, and an index of passages cited. Jenifer Neils has put together a provocative, stimulating, and useful volume that should be on the shelf of every lover of ancient Athens.