BMCR 2005.08.39

L’Autel de Pergame. Images et pouvoir en Grèce d’Asie. Antiqua vol. 9

, L'autel de Pergame : images et pouvoir en Grèce d'Asie. Antiqua. Paris: Picard, 2005. 1 v. (207 p.) : ill. en noir et en coul. ; 28 cm.. ISBN 2708407341 €55.00.

“Is it not the fate of a work of art to retain part of the mystery that attracts us to it, thus offering us the renewed pleasure of first discovery?” With these words François Queyrel (henceforth Q.) acknowledges that much remains to be solved in the great puzzle that is the Pergamon Altar; yet his book offers many new suggestions and tentative solutions in a masterly summary of up-to-date information and previous theories that will be of interest to specialists as well as to the general public. This is in perfect keeping with the stated purpose of the Antiqua series, whose monographs aim “at allowing an ever increasing public to capture the importance of archaeology for the knowledge of ancient civilizations.”1

This intent is reflected in the typography and the unusual layout of the pages. For instance, discussions of relevant points which would constitute a digression within the flow of the narrative — whether specific topics or tables schematically recapitulating evidence already presented — are set off in bold type and within boxes that separate them from the main text. These “intrusions” are listed in the Table of Contents by titles, in capitals, between square brackets and within the pertinent sections. Additional helpful features are: a Glossary of archaeological terms, a Genealogy of the Uranian and Olympian deities and of the Giants, a Genealogy of the Attalids, a Chronology of historical events from 334 to 31 B.C., and two maps (of the Regions and of the Cities of the Ancient World). The General Index is accompanied by one of Literary Texts and one of Inscriptions. The body of the book breaks down into four Sections: I) Presentation and Discovery of the monument (from the accounts of the early travelers to the present display); II) The Figured Decoration (Gigantomachy and Telepheia friezes, the myths, the sculptors); III) The Function of the Monument (as political, civic, and religious expression, with review of the ancient sources); and IV) Aesthetic Analysis (problems of style, composition and influences, cosmic and personal vision). A brief “Conclusion” summarizes the main points.

The enormous specialized literature on the Pergamon Altar has traditionally been dominated by German scholarship — understandably, since the Turkish site is still being excavated by Germany and the monument itself is reconstructed in a special museum in Berlin. This French monograph is therefore especially welcome because it provides both a fresh viewpoint and useful (even unpublished) references to French contributions. For almost two decades Q. has been thinking and writing about Pergamene art, but his articles are widely scattered, some in topical works of limited distribution. The book under review has offered him the chance to gather together most of his previous comments, occasionally with some revision and usually with considerable expansion.2 I shall stress here the many original theories advanced by Q., who has also been able to incorporate in his text the findings prompted by recent restudy of both the architecture and the sculpture of the Altar in Berlin.

The Telephos Frieze was newly cleaned and examined for the traveling exhibition of 1994-95 (New York, San Francisco, Rome); the Gigantomachy Frieze was subjected to equal scrutiny from the Fall of 1998 to 2004, with the addition of many new fragments (e.g., figs. 29-30, Gigantomachy; fig. 32, Telepheia ). Casts of elements in other collections (e.g., the Worksop Torso, pl. XIV, and the Fawley Court Giant) have been added, others challenged — e.g, the alleged head of Aphrodite.3 Further observations at the site have determined that the structure rested on three steps (not four, as reconstructed in Berlin); new measurements have shortened the hypothesized length of the sides and, correspondingly, the spacings of lacunae in the friezes.

To my mind, an important new observation concerns the many female statues of debated identification that are usually assigned to the outer colonnade of the building. No beddings for their plinths have been found on the peristyle floor, and a position behind the columns would seem peculiar for these over-lifesized figures. Q. would accept that they stood instead in the Athena Sanctuary or on an independent base, yet he retains the comparison of the Altar to the Halikarnassos Maussolleion (pp. 26, 42), albeit primarily for the presence of roof sculptures, whose position is assured. I would go further and question the traditional connection between all the statuary in the round and the Maussolleion. To be sure, some free-standing pieces stood on Maussollos’ tomb, but others may have been set up as dedications inside the large temenos, without any strict connection to the main structure, whose claim as one of the Seven Wonders of the World was based on its architecture rather than on its sculptural decoration. At Pergamon, Q. suggests (p. 45), the roof figures at smaller scale (Apollo, Poseidon, Athena, Dionysos, and mythical creatures survive) may have represented a divine epiphany of twelve gods on chariots, three or four per side, since both horses and statues are attested by architectural traces. He discards, however, all suggestions of ornaments on the cornice of the inner altar (the sacrificial table), interpreting signs of clamps and dowels as attachments for revetments meant to protect the marble against fire or weathering.4 I shall return to this point later.

A good portion of the book is taken by superb descriptions of the Gigantomachy and Telephos Friezes, accompanied by new detailed drawings (by Florence André). The outer frieze is more or less established in its general sequence and only individual identities remain controversial. Q. proposes many new ones, especially on the North side where he locates Hermes and Hephaistos,5 as well as the three Gorgons: Medusa, Euryale, Stheno, and the three Moirai: Lachesis, Clotho, Atropos. This last is the spectacular deity hurling an enigmatic vessel circled by a snake (figs. 67-68). She is traditionally known as Nyx, but Q. believes that Night should be recognized in the velificans female next to Rhea/Cybele on the South (fig. 53). Two “digressions” (“La véritable Nyx,” pp. 63-64; and “La pseudo-Nyx,” pp. 72-73) convincingly argue both cases. A Table (pp. 76-78) summarizes the main identifications that have been proposed for each figure, with Q.’s new ones highlighted by bold type. The line drawings (fig. 33, pp. 50-51) include new names for both Gods and Giants, as well as the plan of the present display in Berlin. Two more Tables (p. 52) list the few preserved names of divinities inscribed on the upper molding, and those of Giants on the lower molding of the frieze, together with the mason’s marks appearing on the relevant blocks.

Several details in the description are either novel or unfamiliar. Added fragments show a Giant flipped into the air by a ketos accompanying Poseidon. Demeter (now positively located) uses two torches against Erysichton. A flaming torch is also used by Eos who rides to the help of Kadmilos (one of the Kabeiroi) in hard combat with a monstrous bull-Giant (figs. 50-52). Athena, in pulling Alkyoneus by the hair not only removes him from his mother Ge but also (p. 54) exposes his body to the arrows of Herakles (now mostly fragmentary) who stands behind Zeus. Another archer is Apollo, on the same East side, who has hit in his left eye the reclining Giant now identified by inscription as Oudaios (not Ephialtes; pp. 55-56). The young Giant grabbed by Doris, albeit beardless, surprisingly wears a mustache (p. 67, fig. 59) — the only such example of facial hairstyle, to my knowledge.

The inner frieze is the single known document illustrating Telephos’ legend in extenso (p. 109); in addition, it incorporates local (i.e., unusual) versions of the myth, and is poorly preserved (only 35m. of the original 60.60m.), so that the sequence of its slabs is controversial. Q. offers a new arrangement in 30 scenes detailed in new (but not fully complete) drawings6 and a Table summarizing recent reconstructions (pp. 95-100), with novelties highlighted in bold. A primary innovation is the emphasis on three female personages: the divinized Auge and Hiera, and the Great Mother of the Gods/Cybele/Rhea, whom Q. identifies in the woman seated on a rock (slab 8/scene 6), who is traditionally considered a personification of Arkadia. The change from the canonical hind to a lioness suckling the infant Telephos (on slab 12, same scene 6) is therefore explained in religious terms because lions are the standard associates of the goddess. The sequence of slabs 44-46, thought to show the founding of cults in Pergamon, is viewed instead as a nocturnal rite celebrated on the Pergamene akropolis by a priest of Cybele, a Gallus; within the sanctuary itself, Telephos is being initiated to the Great Mother’s mysteries by an officiating Auge in the presence of Hiera and an enthroned Teuthras (scenes 17-18).7

Other changes: The funeral of Hiera, which supposedly had prompted a truce during the Kaikos battle (slab 51) is now plausibly interpreted as Auge’s death and moved to scene 28, toward the end of the frieze. Scene 29 (slabs 49-50, 47) would then show Auge’s epiphany after her apotheosis, together with the omen of a flying eagle; the apparition is acknowledged by a running woman and by the heroized Telephos himself, in a “funerary banquet” context (slabs 48-43, scene 30) including his second wife, Astyoche, and the divinized Hiera.

This brief account cannot do justice to Q.’s many suggestions and interpretations. In successive chapters, he points out the originality of both Gigantomachy and Telepheia against traditional formulations.8 He attributes the variety in the former to modifications of the Hesiodic genealogy according to a microasiatic substratum and to the possible influence of Krates of Mallos. The Telephos legend, in turn, represents a royal Pergamene version with emphasis on a local hero although based on a popular and widespread story. Phyromachos was probably not personally responsible for the Gigantomachy style, which may have responded to contemporary taste. A Table (p. 111) lists the few sculptors’ names attested on the Altar although approximately 40 hands can be isolated on the outer frieze.

In Section III Q. comes to grips with two thorny questions: the function and date of the monument. He introduces an additional ancient source: an inscription found at Elaia, the ancient port of Pergamon, but originally from the Asklepieion. The decree ( OGIS 332) honors Attalos III on his return to the city from a victorious expedition and specifies the persons who are to meet the arriving king. They include those who have the right to wear the crown of the Twelve Gods and the God/King Eumenes, thus implying the existence of this combined cult. The Altar would then have been dedicated to the Olympians and to Eumenes II after his death (158 B.C.). The rite itself might have taken place at the Altar on Apollonios 6-7, since the festival for Attalos III fell on Apollonios 8. Work on the structure may have started in the 160s, after the victory over the Gauls in 166 provided the needed funds; it would have been interrupted during the war with Prusias (156-154 B.C.) and was left unfinished at Attalos II’s death (138 B.C.). The Altar terrace itself was established, at the latest, in 149/8, according to the inscribed dedications. The Gigantomachy Frieze reflects the theme of victory connected with the royal house. It also connects with the city as a whole, in that the gods are located in the directions of their sanctuaries within Pergamon. Although the king himself is not depicted, the visual axis of the Altar is aligned with the tumulus of Jigma Tepe, implying that the latter holds the tomb of Eumenes II. In a larger, cosmic optics, the two eagles that mark the ends of the Gigantomachy are an allusion to the myth locating the navel of the world. They suggest that the Pergamene Altar is the true omphalos. The Telephos Frieze, with its emphasis on Herakles and the Attalid ancestry, is more closely related to the rite celebrated on the akropolis, since it faces the [sacrificial] altar on the upper platform (my emphasis).9

This is my one hesitation in accepting what are otherwise very well-founded and compelling theories. The west side of the Altar Terrace, badly preserved, shows no traces of blocks and rings to fasten the sacrificial victims before their slaughter, as extant instead at Klaros and Dion (cf. p. 25 and fig. 7). The final paving was never executed. No tangible evidence for an inner sacrificial table exists, since the attributed architectural members could belong elsewhere. Even Q. admits that scarce indications of function can be gleaned from the excavated remains of the total structure (p. 112). Since work on the building remained unfinished, perhaps its intended purpose was fulfilled only in Roman times, if we want to give credit to Ampelius’ late mention (beginning of the third century). This suggestion in no way detracts from the aesthetic and iconographic considerations developed by Q. in Section IV.

This portion of the book may more readily appeal to a wider public. It includes analytical theory, a history of perception of the Altar’s style — baroque or classical? — and its rhetoric of passions, and many allusions to other Greek sculptures, Roman sarcophagi, and even paintings by Raphael down to the very recent interpretations by Lionel Guibout exhibited in 1997-1998. The main text closes with comments on Orphism and eight Orphic hymns in French translation addressed to some of the divinities included in the Pergamene Gigantomachy. For them, Q.’s poetic vein produces insightful images of great impact: an irruption of the Sun preceded by Dawn in moving toward Night (p. 167); Ares’ sons, Phoibos and Deimos, flanked at right by Aphrodite, Eros, and Dione, at left by Hermes (Psychopompos) and Enyo, goddess of War — therefore surrounded by Love and Death (p. 173), in an allegory of feelings. Quotations from Ivan Turgenev’s 1880 article on his first encounter with the Altar, throughout the book, echo our emotional wonder in front of this ancient masterpiece.


1. “Mais n’est-ce pas là le destin de l’oeuvre d’art que de garder une part du mystère qui nous attire en elle en nous offrant le plaisir renouvelé de la première découverte?” (p. 7). The second quotation is taken from the flap of the front cover of the book: “Ils [the textes] doivent permettre à un public de plus en plus large de saisir l’importance de l’archéologie dans la connaissance des anciennes civilisations.”

2. See, e.g., his “allégorie et abstraction dans l’art de Pergame: la Gigantomachie du Grand Autel,” Acta Musei nationalis Pragae 56 (2002) 19-26. Note that the article cited as “in press” at the time of the book’s publication has now appeared in B. Virgilio, ed., Studi ellenistici 16 (2005) 201-210. An example of revised thinking may be the mention (p. 138) of Keto for the Gigantomachy deity now identified as Medusa. Cf. also an ambivalent position on the head of Asklepios in Syracuse: a Roman work (p. 110) or a copy after Phyromachos’ statue (p. 166)? And is the Pergamene “Library” a reading room with major paintings (p. 163) or a pseudo-library/pinakotheke (p. 167)? (See V. M. Strocka, “Noch einmal zur Bibliothek von Pergamon,” AA 2000, 155-165.) The narrative of Kore’s abduction (p. 72) must, however, contain an oversight, since she is said to have eaten a pomegranate before ( avant) rather than after ( après) her descent to Hades. Unpublished material: see, e.g., the notes and plans of the 19th-century traveler (architect) Jean-Nicolas Huyot kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France: p. 29 and n. 32, fig. 11.

3. Contrast figs. 31 and 74. Similarly, the large head Istanbul Museum 1138, attributed to a Giant, is restored to its former identification as a portrait of Alexander the Great; the marble hand with thunderbolt once in the Arundel Collection is deemed too small for the Gigantomachy Zeus, whose weapon was probably added in metal. Conversely, a head in a private collection (p. 47) may belong to Amphitrite; see also fig. 86 on p. 89 for a head, presumably of Teuthras from the Telepheia, in a Swiss private collection. Other fragments attested by old photographs disappeared during WW II and may one day be recovered.

4. In his enumeration (p. 44), Q. lists 6 horses, 2 griffins and 2 Tritons. I am aware of 11 horses and at least one lion; even the 2 centaurs seem different from those of the Asklepieion: cf. B.S. Ridgway, Hellenistic Sculpture II (Madison 2000) 43-47 with notes 79 (horses) and 81 (centaurs).

5. The latter is the god wearing an exomis and clashing his shield against that of a Giant in full armor (fig. 67). Q’s identification is iconographically and semantically more convincing than other traditional suggestions (Bootes, Polemos, Aither, Ouranos), but this is not the only deity (“except for Phobos on the same side and the Titan Hyperion on the South”: p. 73) to carry a shield. So do Aphrodite, also on the North (p. 75) and Ares on the East side (p. 55).

6. See fig. 75, pp. 80-81. Regrettably, the text description uses instead the slab numbering established by Winnefeld in 1910 (p. 79, n. 121), and only the Summary Table correlates scenes and slab numbers. For ease in following Q.’s descriptions, I had to add the respective slab numbers under each drawing. Some fragments (a few newly recognized and added) fall outside this system. For greater clarity, the drawings successfully employ a gray color to suggest the sky, which would undoubtedly have been painted in, had the frieze been finished (p. 79).

7. For this interpretation, see pp. 89-90, figs. 84, 87. Telephos, as mystes, is plausibly shown naked, but would Teuthras, also seated on a rock facing Telephos, also be disrobed? Q. supposes that the king himself has just been initiated into the Mysteries, but the man seems too muscular for an aged monarch and the staff he holds may be too long for a royal scepter.

8. In this context (p. 101), Q. reviews the three small reliefs from Pergamon, one of which shows a Gigantomachy scene. Recently attributed to Palace V, these slabs, he believes, might rather belong to the second-story balustrade of the South Stoa in Athena’s sanctuary built by Attalos iI, since they have the same measurements as the well-known weapon reliefs that decorate the opposite porticoes. Note a recent publication: V. Köse, “Ein neuer Gigantenfries aus Melli in Pisidien,” IstMitt 54 (2004) 393-408 (ca. 150-100 B.C.).

9. Festivals honoring the gods and the Attalid kings: Chronological Table on p. 120, with publication references. Establishment of Altar Terrace: p. 125 and n. 98, with ref. to Queyrel 2005 (supra, n. 2) where a Table details all honorary dedications there with some chronological corrections. “Digression” on tumuli (Mal Tepe — Attalos I? — and Jigma Tepe): p. 122 and fig. 104 marking the visual axes. Other themes treated separately can only be listed despite their importance: Pliny’s passage on the demise and resumption of art (in support of the Altar’s low chronology); the reliefs from the Temple of Queen Apollonis at Kyzikos; the “living waters of the Kaikos” (correcting the standard translation that places the battle “at the sources” of that river); the problems of the Large Gauls (with discussion of the Lesser Attalid Dedication in Athens). Correlation between deities portrayed in the Gigantomachy and location of their sanctuaries in the city: discussion on pp. 138-144, fig. 117, and Summary Table on p. 145. Eight out of 12 shrines are said to be certainly identified, but two more seem to me only conjectural (the temple to Apollo and the Aphrodision — cf. “digression” on pp. 143-144). Moreover, while Zeus and Athena move toward their respective places of worship (note that some 4th-c. architectural elements have now been attributed to an altar of Athena on the upper terrace: p. 114 n. 22), Demeter and Hera would be rushing up from their lower location. The notion, however, is still plausible; something comparable has been advocated for the ordering of the divinities on the Parthenon: cf. E. B. Harrison, “Athena and Athens in the East Pediment of the Parthenon,” AJA 71 (1967) 27-58, esp. 57. The quotation (p. 114) reads: “car elle [la frise de la Téléphie] regarde l’autel situé sur la plate-forme supérieure.”