BMCR 1997.03.40

1997.3.40, Webb, Hellenistic Architectural Sculpture

, Hellenistic architectural sculpture : figural motifs in western Anatolia and the Aegean Islands. Wisconsin studies in classics. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996. xv, 225 pages : illustrations ; 29 cm.. ISBN 9780299149802. $60.00.

In this succinct and lucid exposition of figural motifs in Hellenistic architecture, Pamela Webb accomplishes exactly what she sets out as her task in the Introduction (Part I, chapter 1). Her first goal is to demonstrate how figural sculpture was used. Thus the following chapter (2) establishes a classification of buildings, as religious (temples and altars), civic, domestic, and cultic and commemorative (including heroa). She also includes here a discussion of the orders used and a short section on Hermogenes, the most famous architect of the period. In the next chapter, she locates sculpture on the individual architectural members, moving from drums and pedestals to akroteria. Chapter 4 then treats motifs, dividing them generally into non-narrative and narrative themes. Her second and third goals, to elucidate patterns of use over time and the meaning of figural ornamentation, are addressed in the discussions above and developed further in the Conclusions (chapter 5).

Part II of this book provides a documentation of the material. Full descriptions of the architectural and sculptural remains are presented in geographical arrangement from northern to southern Anatolia, the Aegean Islands, and Cyprus, and from earliest to latest within each site. The amount of detail presented here is certainly too great for full inclusion in Part I, but one wishes for more balance. It is in this section that Webb discusses the problems and controversies surrounding the monuments, particularly their reconstructions and dates. And it is here that she offers her own interpretations. As a result, Part II becomes the heart of the book.

Of particular importance is Webb’s discussion of the four friezes from the Temple of Hekate at Lagina. She carries Simon’s identifications of figures from Hesiod’s Theogony even further, in interpreting episodes from that work as focal points of the compositions on three different sides. This entails some new identifications, such as Styx in the south frieze, whom Hesiod treats just before his “Hymn to Hekate” in the Theogony. On the north side, Dea (or Thea) Roma would be represented by an “Amazon” and the Hellenistic Karians by a soldier with whom she shakes hands, while Hekate appears, as in the “Hymn,” as guarantor of military victory. The next episode in the Theogony, the birth of Zeus, is accepted as the subject of the east frieze.

Even more intriguing is Webb’s recognition of the Pergamon Altar as the Heroon of Telephos. Unfortunately, although the idea is broached in her typology of decorated buildings and the new title is used, albeit parenthetically, in Part II, the author only alludes (note 71) to her forthcoming article for the “analysis.” Such an argument likely requires more space than is appropriate in this book, yet the reidentification of what Webb herself calls “one of the most important Hellenistic monuments,” and its resulting reclassification in her own typology, certainly deserves further explanation.

Webb might also have clarified her reasons for limiting her topic to figural motifs, especially when certain structures incorporate non-figural sculpture on the same members (e.g., the akroteria of the Hieron and anta capitals of the Propylon of Ptolemy II at Samothrace, as well as the pilaster capitals of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma). Although she mentions this decoration for the buildings under discussion, it naturally receives less emphasis. One is left to wonder how it affects our understanding of the use and particularly the meaning of architectural sculpture.

As a result of its clear organization, with ample headings and sub-headings and with thorough and up-to-date bibliography, this book represents a handy and important reference. It is well illustrated, in several cases using the author’s own photographs, and includes almost all the necessary plans and reconstructions. Only a longitudinal section of the Hall of the Bulls on Delos and an elevation of the Bouleuterion at Sagalassos, showing the placement of piers and panels, are noteworthy omissions. The book certainly provides the reader with an excellent overview of architectural sculpture in the “heart of the Hellenistic world.” One looks forward to Webb’s discussion of Mainland Greece and the remaining areas in Volume II.