BMCR 1994.03.09

1994.03.09, Symposium on Parthenon and Panathenaia

This symposium, organized by Michael Padgett of the Princeton Art Museum and William A. P. Childs of the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, is the third and last to take place at various venues in coordination with the exhibition, “Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens.” The exhibition is organized by the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College under the guest curatorship of Jenifer Neils of Case Western Reserve University. The focus of the Princeton papers was on several categories of material evidence on the Panathenaia, including and most prominently the Parthenon frieze.

The first three papers complemented one another to a degree rarely enjoyed by symposium audiences. All focused on the Parthenon frieze, a monument which has engendered a great deal of controversy, since we have no ancient testimony as to its subject. Although virtually all would agree that it represents a sacrificial procession and most would agree that it represents the central procession of the Panathenaia, there are many details which continue to puzzle scholars. New interpretations of the subject and purposes of the frieze continue to appear, and one of the newest and most controversial formed the center of the triad of papers on the freize.

Jenifer Neils, in “Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance: the Iconography of Procession,” ultimately supports the general premise that the frieze represents the Panathenaic procession. She begins by observing the shared features among the Parthenon procession in particular, Athenian processions in general, and traditions outside of Greece. A procession to bring a deity gifts is a widespread Mediterranean and Near Eastern form of religious ritual and religious iconography; in this tradition, piety is demonstrated by the approach to the deity on foot, and the deity can be shown as larger than the worshippers. Both features appear in images of Greek sacrificial processions.

She turns then to an analysis of the frieze as seen and understood by a 5th century observer, that is, to demonstrate what constitute the elements of procession as seen in visual imagery, particularly on Athenian vases, and to connect the procession on the Parthenon frieze to that tradition. Several painted images, most on Athenian black- and red-figure vases preserve parts of sacrificial processions. A black-figure band cup of the mid sixth century (now in a private collection) is the earliest and most complete representation, and it is the best parallel for the Parthenon frieze. Athena and her priestess are at an altar, and a man leads a procession composed of a kanephoros, men with animals, musicians, hoplites and horsemen. The north section of the Parthenon frieze is similar, but the lineup is not identical. The main difference between the black-figure cup and the Parthenon frieze is that the east frieze, with seated deities and the central “peplos scene”, is not paralleled.

N. points out that few vases except the Panathenaic prize vases unequivocally show the Panathenaia. However, there are allusions to the festival on red-figure vases of prize vase shape. On one such, a boy carries a prize vase; on another there are six youths, paraphernalia and an olive tree like that of Athena’s which grew on the Athenian acropolis. Inscriptions on these vases identify historically documented Athenians as participants in the contests. Therefore, it was standard for Athenians to see the depiction in art of the activities related to the Panathenaic festival.

The presentation of the peplos to Athena was the ultimate purpose of the Panathenaia. Most scholars see this event occurring on the East frieze, where there are two females with stools, and a man helps a child fold or unfold a cloth. There are no good artistic parallels for this scene. A black-figure Panathenaic vase by the Princeton Painter may show a woman carrying on her head the peplos to Athena, and other vases showing weaving may allude to the peplos. A vase in the Louvre which shows wool-working on one side is complemented by an image of a seated Athena among other divinities on the other; N. suggests that this image may show Athena waiting to receive the peplos. Correspondingly, N. points out that Athena appears with her aegis removed and on her lap on the East frieze, and this may confirm that she is waiting to receive the peplos.

N. observes that fancy dressing is ubiquitous in sacrificial processions. A red-figure pelike in the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows Pompe dressing. This emphasis on dressing is a defining aspect of all processions and appears on the Parthenon frieze through many references to and adjustment of clothing. N., in an original and valuable contribution, goes one step further to suggest that there are so many visual references to dressing on the frieze precisely to underscore the point of this particular procession, the offering of an article of clothing. Costume is emphasized on the frieze by, for example, the men and youths who adjust their wreaths. The gods, too, seem preoccupied with adjusting their clothing. The emphasis in dressing is not only found on the frieze, but resonates elsewhere in the Parthenon: on the base of the chryselephantine Athena Parthenos, the theme of dressing is conveyed by the representation of the birth of Pandora, who required gifts of clothing. The Gigantomachy, the aition for the festival, is woven into a piece of clothing, the peplos.

N. concludes by saying that there is much in the Parthenon frieze to associate it with the entire repertory of images of sacrificial procession, and that there is much to support and nothing to exclude the view that it is specifically the Panathenaic procession. To one of the most frequently-cited objections to this interpretation—that we have no parallels for contemporaneous events appearing on temples, where myths and legends apparently prevail—N. reminds us that the sharp distinction between myth and legend and “actual events” is a modern construction and one unlikely to have been made by 5th century Athenians.

Joan Connelly of New York University, in “Parthenon and Parthenoi : Myth Religion, and the Parthenon Frieze,” offers a revolutionary interpretation of the subject of the frieze. In doing so, she holds contra Neils that ancient Athenians did make a sharp distinction between “real events” and myth and that the frieze represents early Athenian myth rather than the historical Panathenaic procession.

C. begins with a list of reasons suggesting that the evidence for designation of the subject of the frieze as the Panathenaic procession is insufficient. Such an interpretation of the iconography of the Parthenon frieze fails to account for certain conflicts between the images of the frieze and the literary testimonia for the Panathenaia. Particular difficulties are the absence from the frieze of certain elements known to have been part of the historical procession, such as a wheeled ship, female kanephoroi, and hoplites, and the presence of certain elements not documented as part of the procession, such as male water carriers and chariots. Because the metopes and the pediments of the temple depict myth, C. proposes to view the frieze similarly, as a representation of a mythical event: Erechtheus’ sacrifice of his daughters to save Athens during his war with Eumolpos. The fullest literary account of this event comes from a fragment of Euripides’Erechtheus.

The focus of the inquiry is the group of man (Erechtheus) woman (Praxithea), two girls and a small child (the daughters of Erechtheus) centered on the folding of what is commonly considered Athena’s peplos. The small child is here interpreted as the youngest daughter of Erechtheus. The sex of this child is disputed in current scholarship; anatomy seems to provide no sure indication, but C. cites the appearance of “Venus rings” on the neck and the configuration of the buttocks as evidence for femaleness. Although C. asserts that the folded cloth on the East frieze is not Athena’s peplos, she maintains that the putative maleness of this figure would be entirely inappropriate for such an interpretation: C. maintains that the male hands of a temple boy would be polluting to the goddess’ property. In any event, C. identifies the figure as Erechtheus’ daughter, and claims that her partial nudity provides a reference to her impending sacrifice. This odd and meaningful detail is a sign that the child is disrobing to be re-dressed in sacrificial clothing. It is this sacrificial clothing which Erechtheus, dressed as priest in a long ungirt chiton, is unfolding with the child’s help. Such sacrificial garb, an enveloping robe, is emphasized in accounts and illustrations of the sacrificial death of girls, notably that of Iphigeneia in the Agamemnon, and Polyxena on a Tyrrhenian amphora. The two older girls in this group are carrying stools of a type appearing elsewhere in Attic iconography—Exekias’ black-figure image of the return of the Dioskouroi—to hold and transport clothing. These girls, then, are not the Arrhephoroi bringing stools for the Archon Basileus and Basilinna, as some would maintain; rather, they bring to the sacrificial spot robes in which they will be sacrificed and which will serve them as shrouds. One girl carries an object which may hold the sacrificial knives. As is usual in scenes of sacrifice, the knife itself is not shown. C. explains that the iconography of this scene appears unconventional because it represents an extraordinary event for which there is no standard iconography. C. believes her interpretation solves some puzzles about the appearance and position of the gods in relation to the action of the frieze. First, it explains why the gods have their backs turned to the central scene; this is because of the religious prohibition on their presence when humans die. C. also believes her reading of the main action of the scene explains away a second perceived difficulty, the interjection of the divine into the purely mortal event of the Panathenaic procession. If the subject of the frieze is strictly mythical, C. sees prototypes for a gathering of the gods on such examples as the frieze of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi, where they are in council during the fight at Troy.

Various representations on the remainder of the frieze are also best explained as events accompanying the sacrifice of the girls before the battle with Eumolpos. The battle is represented by the cavalry procession and the chariots. The chariots, incongruous in the context of the Panathenaia, fit with the mythical setting, and provide a further reference to Erechtheus, the inventor of the chariot. The army is without its weapons. This feature, one incompatible with the Panathenaia, is explained by interpreting the army as present in the precinct where the human sacrifices will be performed and where weapons are inappropriate. The abundance of female figures in the procession can be seen as the “holy choruses of maidens” which Athena instructs Praxithea to establish in her speech in the Erechtheus.

The Parthenon as a whole can be seen to be concerned with the sacrifice of the girls. C. makes a case for her interpretation of the subject of the frieze as uniting the temple’s decorative program for Athena. The contest of Athena and Poseidon in the W. pediment is related to the later conflict between Erechtheus and the Eleusinians under the leadership of Eumolpos, since Poseidon is the father of Eumolpos. The base of the Parthenos represents the birth of Pandora, according to Pausanias; C. suggests that this is not Hesiod’s Pandora, a subject which scholars have had difficulty understanding in the context of the cult statue; rather it is Pandora/Pandrosos the daughter of Erechtheus. Similarly, there are cultic references on the frieze to the worship of the girls. The tray bearers carry honey, suitable for a chthonian deity, but not for Athena. The sheep and cows are present in the frieze as a reference to the offering in historical times of a ewe to Pandora when a cow is offered to Athena. As mentioned earlier, the groups of girls in the procession on the frieze can be seen to represent the choruses that Athena in the Erechtheus tells Praxithea to found. The west room of the Parthenon, the only area of the building actually called “parthenon” in antiquity, since the remainder of the building was called “hekatompedon,” may have been built over the tomb of the Parthenoi, the girls who died for Athens.

Overall, C. sees her interpretation of the frieze’s subject as amplifying an essentially paradigmatic message about the role of women in Athens as found in literary sources such as Demosthenes’ funeral oration in 438 after the battle of Chaeronea where he praises the heroine antecedents of Athenian women as exemplars for behavior.

Evelyn Harrison, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, in “The Web of History: A Conservative Reading of the Parthenon Frieze,” maintains that the frieze does indeed represent the Panathenaia and that it is an allegorical statement about the evolution of Athenian government and the foundations of Athenian social order as well. H. offers an explicit response not only to Connelly’s interpretation, but to some others as well. Her methodology, which she clearly sets out, maintains that interpretation of the Parthenon frieze requires a conservative approach that keeps all the evidence in view. The frieze needs to be studied in sequence, as it was observed by an ancient visitor to the Acropolis and beginning at the northwest, and the interpreter must pay close attention to the details of the frieze, the language of sculpture. H. points out the way in which various earlier analyses depend on arbitrary numerical schemes or a focus on part of the evidence in a way which excludes or condradicts other sections of the frieze. For example, John Boardman ( Festschrift Brommer [1977] 39 ff.) maintains that the frieze represents the recently heroized 192 Athenians who died in the battle of Marathon, an interpretation which depends on counting exactly 192 male figures. To this H. points out that for the interpretation to stand, Boardman must count young boys as men, must not count charioteers, and must turn foot soldiers into cavalry. Ultimately, this violates one of H.’s fundamental rules of iconographical analysis: that a depiction ought to look like what it represents. H. launches similar attacks on other interpretations of Blaise Nagy and Ian Jenkins and then she turns to the main focus of her paper, a rebuttal of Connelly’s interpretation.

Indeed, H. demonstrates vividly the adage that direct observation and carefully controlled inference are the cornerstones of classical archaeology. Various details thus studied closely reveal important information, particularly about the central “peplos scene.” The robe being handled by the bearded man is so exactly depicted that we can see the order of the folds, and they show that the robe is being folded up, not unfolded. It is not, then, a shroud being unfolded for the sacrificial victim as Connelly suggests, or the old peplos of Athena, as other scholars have suggested, but the new peplos being offered: the act of folding it signifies a ritual of acceptance by the Archon Basileus.

The small child, whose sex is disputed, must be a boy according to the readable signs. His partial nudity is a feature that is exclusively male in iconography. The figure does not wear a chiton with the himation, and female figures never appear with himation alone. The “Venus rings,” taken by Connelly to indicate feminine gender, show rather that the child is well-nourished; another statue of a boy from the Agora also displays Venus rings. This image of the boy has various implications: he may be a holy temple boy and “treasure-keeper” like Ion in Euripides’Ion; like Ion, he may be a fosterling, a reference to Erichthonios; he may connote fertility, since both a child and the peplos have a gestation period of nine months.

H. points out that the larger of the two girls who carry stools also carries a footstool (and not a knife-case as Connelly maintains); traces of the foot of this piece of furniture are present. To H. this means that the stool and footstool are meant for the Archon Basileus and the other stool is brought for the Basilinna (Connelly’s Praxithea) who stands to the left of the Archon Basileus. The Basileus and Basilinna, when seated in the chairs the girls—the Arrhephoroi—are bringing, will be a couple like Zeus and Hera as they appear on the frieze. Other divinities on the frieze also are shown as pairs, Athena and Hephaistos and Demeter and Dionysos. With the latter, their knees interlock as in the ancient Egyptian iconography of intercourse. The important message here, according to H., goes beyond the immediate situation of the presentation of the peplos to Athena at the Panathenaia: it stresses the fundamental importance of marriage—conveyed through the relationship of Archon Basileus and Basilinna and their divine corollaries—to Athenian society.

Overall, the mood of the peplos scene is tranquil and routine, not filled with grief: in accounts of tragic sacrifice in 5th century painting writers refer to a great deal of emotion, and by implication, that is what we might expect if Connelly’s interpretation is correct. Similarly, the gods are not restless and watchful, as when they view a battle; Athena and Ares have neither helmets or shields. This de-militarized image of Athena fits the idea of her as the mother of the Athenian people.

Other elements of the frieze are there, according to H., to emphasize the nurturing and development of the Athenian people; Perikles, H. reminds us, thought of himself as a father of the people. The cavalry, itself fostered by Perikles, serves as a metaphor for the schooling of young people, and in particular for the necessity of the young men to learn self control. Women are prominent because of Perikles’ citizenship decree; the young women identified as kanephoroi are telling their mothers’ and fathers’ names to an anonymous questioner, a reference to citizenship and democracy. The core of Athenian identity rested on the dual qualifications of legitimacy and fruitful marriage.

H. emphasizes that the various sections of the frieze are not necessarily contemporaneous and may represent a sort of “allegory of government”: the west frieze may be seen as early times in the polis, the north the pre-Kleisthenic time of the four tribes, while the south frieze, with its groups of ten, may represent Athens of the democracy. The procession scenes show a coming together from different locations. The great central bearded figure may be Theseus, and the assembly of figures from different locations may signify the unification of Athens and the origin of the Panathenaia. Overall, the details convey the idea of heorte or festival rather than a particular Panathenaia. The details are not preparation and anticipation, but on-going, and process. It is “the picture of a folk.”

Like Connelly, Harrison sees the specifics of the frieze as having general, paradigmatic applications for the Athenian viewers. However, there is not much else that the two interpretations have in common. Connelly sees the procession as specific and mythical and unified in time; Harrison sees it as general and historical and uniting different moments in time. The differences between the two are irreconcilable.

Richard Hamilton, Bryn Mawr College, in “Prize Problems at the Panathenaia,” moves away from the Parthenon and its sculptural decoration to discuss the administration of and prizes awarded in the Panathenaic games. He focuses in particular on the discrepancies between literary ( Ath.Pol. 60) and epigraphic (IG ii 2 2311 frr. a and b) testimonia for prizes in the games and the only surviving evidence of the prizes themselves, the Panathenaic amphorae. All sources agree that there are three categories of contests, musical, atheletic/equestrian, and “tribal events.” In addition, however, there are some major contradictions and gaps in our information. Some events are missing in one or the other of the texts, but H. discusses what is different between the two written sources rather than what is missing. For example, in Ath.Pol. 60, shields are listed as prizes for the tribal event, the euandria, whereas the inscription lists an ox. H. suggests that this simply reflects a change over time in prize policy. H. also argues that the hieropoioi, since they are referred to in the Ath.Pol., were involved not just in the Panathenaic sacrifice but also in the contests after the 6th century.

The major focus of H.’s paper, however, is his analysis of the prize amphoras themselves and his tabulation of the nature and discrepancies between what appears in the prize amphoras and other evidence for prizes. H. stresses that while most Panathenaics depict events for which prize vases containing oil were given, not all support the idea that a boy victor who received 30 amphoras for winning in wrestling would in fact receive 30 prize vessels with the depiction of a boys wrestling event on the reverse. Musical events are depicted on panathenaic prize vases, yet written sources indicate that cash was awarded in musical contests. Four other inscribed prize vessels show events not part of the Panathanaia, such as a hoplite race and a mule cart race. Other amphoras mix depictions of bearded and beardless competitors, though the two groups must always have been separated in actual competition. Six or seven examples show the victor actually being crowned rather than the event in progress. Images on vases do not generally reflect specific changes in events which we learn about from other sources. Finally, images on Panathenaics seem to follow general trends in Athenian vase-painting: a general diminution in the representation of horses and an increase in the appearance of beardless figures. To explain the physical evidence, H. revives a theory first put forth by G. Roger Edwards, that a victor probably received a mixture of illustrations on his vases, some of them only generically “Panathenaic.” H. makes a strong case for the reevaluation of some of our central assumptions about the prizes awarded in the Panathenaic Games; his method in doing so is well-informed by the fact arguments made on the basis of common sense are not always sound, and that images on Athenian vases, no matter how realistic they appear to the modern viewer, are not necessarily exact reproductions of any particular event.

Gloria Ferrari Pinney, University of Chicago, returns to the subject of the progenitors of the polis in order to explain some of the features of Athenian cult beyond those of Athena. Her overall objective is to combine written and visual evidence in order to understand the curious cultic prominence of two of the daughters of Kekrops, Pandrosos and Aglauros, especially in view of their disobedience of the goddess. Why did Athenians sacrifice an ewe to Pandrosos when they sacrificed a cow to Athena? Why did ephebes swear their oath to Aglauros and in her sanctuary? Why did Athena plant her olive tree in the precinct of Pandrosos?

The mythology of the Kekropids appears rather obscure. Entrusted by Athena with the care of the infant Erichthonios (sometimes confused with Erechtheus), they disobeyed Athena by peeking at the baby and then in terror threw themselves to their death. This mythology, which lies behind the ritual of the Arrhephoroi, fails to explain the prominence of the Kekropids in other Athenian cult. P. contends, however, that the Kekropids were more in the forefront of the Athenian mythic imagination than previously recognized. She sees the owls appearing on coins, on state stamps, on thousands of cups called “owl skyphoi,” in stone and gold representations, together with live owls which served as positive omens for the Athenians on several crucial occasions as representing the Kekropids.

Many scholars have been puzzled over the meaning of owls as they appear on monuments from Athens. P. repeats two crucial questions: are all Athenian owls the same? Is the owl Athena? The owl is commonly believed to represent Athena Glaukopis. P. points out that the fact that Athena is glaukopis does not necessarily mean that she is a glaux. The epithet refers to Athena’s glance, open-eyed and unblinking, like an owl’s, and the adjective applies to others besides Athena. Aristotle states that eyes without aidos are also unblinking eyes; a lowered glance expresses aidos. A plaque by Exekias reveals the difference between proper masculine and feminine glances: the woman glances downward like a cow (and as Hera), boopis, while the man is straightforward and unblinking, glaukopis. The gorgon and Athena have men’s eyes. This unwavering glance signifies that she is without female aidos; Athena as glaukopis is a reference to Athena’s masculine gaze and, by extension, her personality. So, P. points out that while understanding more of the meaning of glaukopis provides us with information about Athena, it is a red herring in our search for the meaning of owls.

We get some, but very little, help in ascertaining the meaning of owls from narrative situations in which they appear. In images, not all owls have to do with Athens or Athena. Some images preserve an owl with a branch of olive. Clearly this represents an aggregate of emblems, both of which ought not refer to Athena. Both emblems are repeated on a cup by the Penthesileia Painter which shows Erichthonios drinking from a cup, an olive tree with an owl in it, and Athena. The olive tree localizes the setting in the precinct of Pandrosos, where Athena planted hers. On a black-figure hydria in Upsala, the offering of a cow to Athena and an ewe to Pandrosos is shown; the oversize figure of an owl standing on the altar can be understood as an image of Pandrosos. When two owls appear, P. suggests that we may see both Pandrosos and Aglauros, and some images may represent Aglauros alone: on a hydria in Copenhagen, a sheep stands in front of an altar with an owl atop. The entire scene is set in a cave. This, P. suggests, represents the impending sacrifice of a sheep to Aglauros in her cave on the slopes of the Akropolis.

P. concludes that the owl represents Athens not as a heraldic image, but as a reference to the Kekropids. That the owl can stand for the Kekropids finds support in Athenian coins showing Athena on one side, and, on the other, a girl, two girls, and girls with an olive spray. Both the owl and the Kekropids are associated with victory in the Persian War. According to Ovid ( Metamorphoses II.560 ff.), Athena adopts the owl as her attendant in place of the crow as the result of Coronis’ reporting of the girls’ disobedience. P. suggests that this may have occurred because the errant girls were transformed into owls, though our sources preserve no narrative of such an event. The autochthony of the girls and their father Kekrops was very important to the Athenians; the event in which the girls misbehaved represented the fruitful beginning of the polis as it caused Athena to resume her role in nurturing its first king who went on to found the Panathenaia. The prominence of Pandrosos in the cult of Athena and of Aglauros in the Ephebic Oath is paralleled by the Kekropids’ appearance—as owls—in art, on units of weight, and on coins. P.’s convincing argument explains a subtlety of “symbolism” in Athenian art and its important relation to myth and cult.

In the final paper of the symposium, T. Leslie Shear, Jr. of Princeton University, presented an interpretation of an architectural monument which provided the setting for the musical contests of the Panathenaia: “The Odeion of Perikles and the Musical Contests.” Ultimately, S. contends that the plan of the Odeion was intentionally derived from that of Xerxes’ tent, and that its plan, evoking the defeat of the Persians and drawing a parallel between Persian and Athenian notions of empire, was an important aspect of this element of the Panathenaic setting. S. did not mention the theories of some scholars, not represented at this symposium, that the Parthenon frieze itself is a conscious imitator of the processional friezes at Persepolis.

Sources for the Odeion of Perikles are Andokides 1.38, who gives the location, Vitruvius, Pausanias (I, 20, 4), who says that the structure imitates the tent of Xerxes, and Plutarch’s Life of Perikles (13) where it is called an “odeion” and from which we have the most information. From a reference in Cratinus we know it was built before 443, the date of the attempted ostracism of Perikles.

A building excavated earlier in the century on the south slope of the Akropolis is identified by S. and other scholars as the Odeion of Perikles. This building is rectangular, with many seats, many interior columns, and a sloping roof.

S. explains how this building can be seen as analogous to a Persian tent, no examples of which remain. S. believes that a many-columned tent used by Alexander the Great (Athenaeus) is in fact one which he captured from Darios III. S. points out that the hypostyle hall has a long history in the Near East, and he believes that there is good reason to suspect that tents and audience halls follow much the same plans. The dimensions of the Odeion in Athens and those of the Apadana at Persepolis are almost identical; we know that at the end of the 6th century and beginning of the 5th, Ionian Greeks worked for the Achaemenid kings in the building of columned halls at Pasargadae, and Greeks apparently worked at Susa as well. So Greeks would have seen tents of the Persian king in the early fifth century in Greece, and they would have acquired knowledge of the precise features of audience halls from their nearly contemporaneous experiences at Susa and Pasargadae.

S. concludes that the Odeion of Perikles in imitating the tent of Xerxes and the Achaemenid audience hall, is an appropriate place for Panathenaic musical contests because it is essentially a victory monument, apparently celebrating Athenian domination through imitation; indeed, literary sources tell us that the Odeion had both masts and spars of Persian ships captured at Salamis on it. S. sees the Odeion as a new “democratic” audience hall which carried with it an imperial message similar to that of the Apadana at Persepolis: the subject allies of the Athenians and all of the empire would be present to attend the competitions in the same way that the Persian king’s subjects came to Persepolis to acknowledge him. In much the same way as an audience hall, S. contends, the Odeion of Perikles stood as an imperial monument. S. does not address the implications of his theory for another Periklean columned hall, the Telestereion at Eleusis, a building which had quite a different function, history, and clientele.

Overall, the six papers were impressive and stimulating. The show and the related symposia have provided an invaluable instrument for increasing understanding of Athenian cult and its impact on art and architecture.