BMCR 2004.11.05

The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles

, , , The Acropolis in the age of Pericles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xxvi, 304 pages : illustrations, maps ; 27 cm + 1 CD-ROM (4 3/4 in.). ISBN 0521820405 $25.99 (pb).

In 1999, Cambridge University Press published Jeffrey Hurwit’s The Athenian Acropolis: History, Mythology, and Archaeology from the Neolithic Era to the Present (hereafter Hurwit 1999) to positive reviews. Five years later, Hurwit and Cambridge UP have produced The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles, a volume which, as its title suggests, focuses primarily on the High Classical Acropolis. One might well ask why the new book is needed so soon, but, as Hurwit himself points out in the Preface, Acropolis studies are constantly on the move. Even in the short time since Hurwit finished his earlier manuscript (in 1997), much new material has appeared, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity to update the earlier work.

The text begins with a chapter entitled “The Rock and the Goddess,” which provides an apt introduction both to the topography of the Acropolis and to the complexity of the goddess worshipped there. Combining two chapters in the earlier book, this chapter will be especially valuable for those readers unfamiliar with Athena’s various epithets and other mythology surrounding the Acropolis (e.g., students). Here as elsewhere, Hurwit takes complicated ideas and makes them accessible.

Where Hurwit 1999 devoted separate chapters to different chronological stages in the history of the Acropolis, Hurwit sets up the historical story this time with a single chapter, “Landscape of Memory: The Past on the Classical Acropolis.” Beginning with a brief account of the Persian sack of 480 B.C., Hurwit introduces a central theme: the reverence for the past that was itself a central theme of the Periclean building program. Hurwit shows the reader why the remnants of such pre-Periklean structures as the Bronze Age Cyclopean wall and the sixth-century Temple of Athena Polias were so significant to fifth-century planners. Although the what-stood-where controversies of the Archaic Acropolis are not a focus here, Hurwit points out the ongoing new discoveries, spearheaded by Manolis Korres, which suggest that the Periklean Parthenon on the south side did indeed have a worthy ancestor in the so-called Bluebeard Temple (as many had suspected). He addresses Korres’s theories, as well as other recent interpretations, both in the text and at greater length in the notes. The biggest contribution of this chapter — the most heavily reworked of the new volume — lies in the theme of memory and commemoration, alluded to in Hurwit 1999 but explored to a greater extent here. In this, Hurwit taps into an approach used to good effect by Carla Antonaccio, Susan Alcock, and others, an approach well suited for the Acropolis.1 He stresses that — “Greek miracles” aside — Perikles did not work with a “clean slate” but with a “landscape of memory,” integrating the past rather than disregarding it.

Chapter 3, “Pericles, Athens and the Building Program,” uses historical background material and an analysis of Plutarch to introduce the remainder of the book. Hurwit is careful in this chapter to point out that “a distinction should be made between works that are ‘Periclean’ because Pericles actually proposed them and works that are ‘Periclean’ merely because they were under construction during the period of his greatest political influence” (p. 98). However, one should note — and Hurwit does — that we do not always know how (or whether) fifth-century Acropolis monuments fit into either of these classifications. Nonetheless, he follows tradition in speaking of a true Periclean “building program,” with Pericles himself playing a dominant role together with such worthies as Mnesikles, Pheidias, Iktinos, and Kallikrates. For Hurwit there is unity and cross-fertilization among the various structures, which he demonstrates in the chapters that follow.

The bulk of the book concentrates on the monuments themselves. The Parthenon, Propylaia, Erechtheion, and Sanctuary of Athena Nike receive their own chapter (chapters 4-7), while such structures as the Chalkotheke, the Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia, and the Odeion are grouped in chapter 8, “The Rest of the Program.” The title of the latter chapter might raise some eyebrows, since the “Periclean” affiliation is not certain for some of these buildings (save the Odeion). But their inclusion here is important for giving the reader a sense of the totality of the fifth-century Acropolis, that it was not just about the four Big Buildings which dominate art history books and the modern landscape. As for those Big Buildings, their coverage is largely that found in Hurwit 1999, with some updating based on recent discoveries and recent scholarship. Thus Hurwit confronts the question of the relationship between the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Polias (pp. 166-67), raised again recently by Gloria Ferrari,2 includes some of the more recent discussion about dating of monuments (e.g., the Nike temple and parapet), and introduces some alternative interpretations of the sculptural material.3 The ongoing work on the Acropolis by Manolis Korres and others again plays an important role.

A large amount of not only the Parthenon chapter but also the concluding chapter of the book (chapter 9, “The Periklean Acropolis as a Whole”) concerns the Parthenon frieze, which for Hurwit serves as a virtual microcosm of the cultural attitudes of the Periklean age. Hurwit admits that “This is a lot of weight to place upon a work that was only one element of one building’s rich sculptural program — and a relatively inconspicuous element at that” (p. 224), but perseveres in his belief that “proper interpretation of the frieze” is probably “fundamental to our diagnosis of the Periclean temper and the Athenians’ conception of themselves.” Some readers might be surprised that discussion of the frieze nearly outweighs discussion of the Propylaia and the Erechtheion combined. He could perhaps have streamlined, especially in the concluding chapter, since much information about the frieze and a review of its interpretations (such as a lengthy rebuttal of Joan Connelly’s 1996 theory) is found not only in Hurwit 1999 but in subsequent publications, such as Jenifer Neils’s 2001 book on the frieze.4 Even so, the frieze does provide a suitable backdrop for discussing the larger themes of the Acropolis. Hurwit himself continues to read the frieze as generic — in the sense of not referring to a specific mythological or historical occasion — and as an evocation of a whole host of Athenian religious festivals, not exclusively the Panathenaia. This idea is shared for example by J. J. Pollitt.5 Whether or not one accepts this specific theory, Hurwit rightly stresses the multivalence not only of the frieze but of the entire Acropolis program, whose readings evolved not only through the course of the fifth century but beyond; rulers such as Alexander the Great, Attalos I, and even Augustus added their own footnotes to the High Classical “text.” Indeed, Hurwit proposes in his conclusions that the themes of agon and nike — recognized by these rulers — governed the entire dynamic of the Periclean program.

Special mention should be made of the book’s potential value for students. A Google online search reveals that Hurwit 1999 has become a staple in course syllabi, with the High Classical sections frequently assigned on their own. Instructors will therefore welcome the new volume, as will students; it nicely complements, for example, J. J. Pollitt’s modern classic Art and Experience in Classical Greece. As with Hurwit 1999, the accessible and clear language (with just enough wit, appreciated by this reviewer), thorough explanation of background and concepts, and copious illustrations render the new book suitable for advanced student reading. Shaded text boxes make primary sources such as Pausanias, Plutarch, and the Parthenon inventory lists readily available. Happily Cambridge University Press has issued an affordable paperback edition which will further encourage adoption as a textbook. Following a trend of many publishers these days, the new volume is supplemented by a CD-Rom, this one more useful than many. Technology-savvy professors will find the CD-Rom a boon in the classroom, and students too will appreciate the fine color images, helpfully keyed to appropriate places in the text.

The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles does not replace Hurwit 1999, nor does it try. For complete discussion of earlier and later periods, the previous work is of course essential. Hurwit has also opted to leave out of the new book some of the material on religious festivals and the daily life of the Acropolis found in chapter 3 of Hurwit 1999, and the lengthy analysis of the myth of Pandora on the Athena Parthenos, found in its chapter 10. One can presume the reason for this was space (although one wonders if Hurwit is tempering his thinking about the Pandora myth — see pp. 151ff. in the new book). Nonetheless, there is plenty here to satisfy students and specialists alike. Specialists who avidly follow the yearly progress of scholarship will find the updated notes and bibliography a helpful contribution; particularly useful are Hurwit’s references to ideas presented in recent conference papers, some by young scholars in the early stages of their careers. One hopes that these papers will themselves be published in the near future. Hurwit speaks of the Acropolis as “a continually evolving and expanding ‘text'” (p. 237) — the same is certainly true of Acropolis studies. Clearly the fascination shows no signs of abating, as the next generation stands ready in the wings.


1. See for example C. Antonaccio, An Archaeology of Ancestors: Tomb Cult and Hero Cult in Early Greece (Lanham, MD, 1995) and S. Alcock, Archaeologies of the Greek Past: Landscape, Monuments, and Memories (Cambridge 2002), especially chapter 1 of the latter for methodology.

2. G. Ferrari, “The Ancient Temple on the Acropolis at Athens,” American Journal of Archaeology 106 (2002): 11-35.

3. One could add to the discussion of the Parthenon west pediment a recent article by J. J. Pollitt, “Patriotism and the West Pediment of the Parthenon,” in G. Tsetskhladze, A. Prag, and A. Snodgrass, eds., Periplous: Papers on Classical Art and Archaeology Presented to Sir John Boardman (London and New York 1999) 220-26. Pollitt focuses on the portrayal of voting in the pediment and compares it to the role of juries in Periclean Athens (namely, the institution of jury pay).

4. J. Connelly, “Parthenon and Parthenoi : A Mythological Interpretation of the Parthenon Frieze,” American Journal of Archaeology 100 (1996): 53-80 inspired much controversy, as Hurwit notes. The most recent book on the frieze is J. Neils, The Parthenon Frieze (Cambridge 2001).

5. Compare J. J. Pollitt, “The Meaning of the Parthenon Frieze,” in D. Buitron-Oliver, ed., The Interpretation of Architectural Sculpture in Greece and Rome, Studies in the History of Art 49 (Washington, D.C. 1997): 51-65.