BMCR 2010.01.45

Art in Athens during the Peloponnesian War

, Art in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. xvi, 286; 8 p. of plates. ISBN 9780521849333. $90.00.

Most of the essays in this volume were originally presented in 2003 at the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in New Orleans for a panel organized by Olga Palagia and entitled “The Timeless and the Temporal: The Political Implications of Art during the Peloponnesian War, 431-404 B. C.” Each essay has its own bibliography and endnotes; a Selected Bibliography, Index Locorum, Index of Museums and Collections, and General Index appear at the end. References include publications after 2003. The extensive illustrations include eight in color. Anyone who wants to know the state of current scholarship on this topic should consult this volume.

Michael A. Flower in discussing “Athenian Religion and the Peloponnesian War” uses many sources to correct the imbalance of the treatment of religion in Thucydides. He examines the Athenian relationship with Delphi and the attempts to appease Apollo because of the plague as well as the importance of seers in connection with the Sicilian expedition. He concludes that while there was innovation in Athenian religious practice during the war (Asclepius, expanded Delian festival, Bendis), the framework within which it occurred was the same: that is, “the reciprocal relationship between men and gods as manifested in festivals, sacrifices, prayers, and dedications” (p. 18).

Flower interprets the First Fruits Decree — discussed in detail by Kevin Clinton (“The Eleusinian Sanctuary during the Peloponnesian War”) and also referred to by Carol L. Lawton (“Attic Votive Reliefs and the Peloponnesian War”) — as showing that Delphi supported “a major Athenian initiative in religious propaganda”; this Athenian decree was a panhellenic invitation to offer first fruits of wheat and barley to the Eleusinian goddesses “in accordance with ancestral custom and the oracle from Delphi” (p. 9). The date is uncertain. Clinton thinks it should be dated c. 435, thus before the outbreak of the war. The profit from the offerings was to be used to construct granaries and pay for sacrifices and dedications. He thinks the First Fruits collection suffered and even at times lapsed during the war. Lawton would put the decree’s date during the Peace of Nicias and see the Eleusinian cult doing very well then: a stone bridge was constructed over the Rheitos during this period (a document relief authorizing it survives), and a number of votive reliefs begin to be dedicated to the Eleusinians. Privately commissioned votive reliefs and grave reliefs are not characteristic of the time from the end of the Archaic period until c. 420 when both begin again. In her Appendix, Lawton provides a catalogue of 38 of these votive reliefs; in descending order they are dedicated to the Eleusinians, Athena, Asclepius, Artemis, others. Apollo is almost absent.

Olga Palagia’s essay, “Archaism and the Quest for Immortality in Attic Sculpture during the Peloponnesian War,” falls into two parts. She first examines the evidence for archaism in free-standing sculpture of the period and finds it in the triple Hekate of Alkamenes and the Graces of Socrates which she sees as the inspiration for a fragmentary relief showing half figures, chthonic deities. Then she discusses the themes of descent to and return from the Underworld in sculpture of this period. Such themes appeared earlier in painting and vase painting and in sculpture about Heracles’ exploits. The Roman copies of three-figure reliefs (the Medea and Orpheus ones are illustrated, and a drawing of a reconstruction of Heracles and the Hesperides is also given) Palagia sees as dealing with eschatological issues and questions the tendency to associate them with a single monument. A similar relief from the Acropolis with Heracles, Nike, and Athena has the benefit of being from the fifth century. She thinks they could all be seen as votives to Athena.

Lisa Kallet entitles her essay “War, Plague, and Politics in Athens in the 420s B. C.” and discusses the Archidamian War in detail. She aims “to pierce … the monolithic collective … that dominates histories” and “to examine the war’s impact on the individual” (p. 92). Like Flower she enriches Thucydides’ presentation, here by drawing extensively on Aristophanes. Dikaiopolis in the Acharnians is “undemocratically looking out for his own selfish interests” (p. 104) and is typical of the changed world from the Periclean ideal of the polis first and private interests second. It is in this context that private grave monuments appear again (p. 112).

Peter Schultz, “The North Frieze of the Temple of Athena Nike,” provides a thorough discussion with helpful illustrations of this somewhat understudied and woefully fragmentary frieze which was in fact the only side of the building’s Ionic frieze that was clearly seen from the Great Ramp. He identifies the striking scene on Block M with “the capture and killing of Eurystheus during the battle for the Herakleidai near Athens”(p. 142), acknowledging Evelyn Harrison’s suggestion, and discusses each figure in detail. In Euripides’ play the action takes place at Marathon, and the south frieze’s subject is the battle of Marathon. Schultz argues that the frieze reflects the elation at Athens over victories in 426 and 425:”the image of Eurystheus’ defeat on the north frieze of the Nike temple was seen as the first in a tradition of pious triumphs over invading Peloponnesians and their allies” (p. 154).

In the informative “Thucydides and the Unheroic Dead” Brian Bosworth discusses the notable absence of heroic deaths in combat in Thucydides, “almost a total antithesis of the Homeric code in which a man’s arete is consummated by his death in battle” (p. 171).The exception is Brasidas whose exploits Bosworth examines in detail, comparing him to Solon’s Tellus in Herodotus (one wonders if Thucydides builds Brasidas up to mitigate his own failure). Bosworth notes the stress on the collective and generalities in the various battle narratives, the Corcyraean stasis, and the plague.

Hans Rupprecht Goette, “Images in the Athenian Demosion Sema,'” studies the stelai with casualty lists dating from the Peloponnesian War which have reliefs of battle scenes. He examines the iconography of Athenian state burials and its influence on contemporary art, especially private funerary monuments, and also considers the light that private monuments can shed on the iconography of state burials. A stele which was found in 1995 excavations (Athens, Third Ephoreia M 4551), also discussed by Lawton (p. 70), is the basis for his argument. It has cavalry casualty lists from 425 B.C. and probably 409/8 B.C. The main theme of the relief on this stele is “an Athenian knight on his rearing horse over a fallen hoplite” (p. l89). Goette uses stelai from 394 B. C. (one has a list of all the fallen with a relief of the motif of knight over fallen soldier; the other has only the crowning ornament for the separate cavalry list: one of the fallen is Dexileos) to argue that the earlier practice also involved separate lists. The well-known Dexileos monument in the private Kerameikos family plot uses the same motif which appears on several other private examples Goette illustrates. The Rider relief in the Villa Albani in Rome with the knight over fallen soldier motif may come from an Athenian state burial and may be the prototype for it. A stele from Eleusis dedicated to Demeter and Kore by the hipparch Pythodoros (also discussed by Lawton, pp. 69-70) uses the same motif in two zones; Pythodoros is in the top zone. He was choregos in 415 B. C. and on the evidence of this relief a hipparch. The motif itself is idealized; information about specific context comes only from inscriptions.

John H. Oakley’s essay is entitled “Children in Athenian Funerary Art during the Peloponnesian War.” The domestic scenes common on white ground lekythoi earlier in the fifth century by mid century were replaced by pictures of visits to the grave, and children sometimes appear in these pictures. Children, however, are much more prominent on marble grave monuments: about 40% of all sculpted gravestones between 430 and 400 B. C. show children. The interest in children is undoubtedly connected with the loss of life in the plague and in the war. Oakley compares the situation in Europe particularly after the losses in World War I. The pudginess of the toddlers in Oakley’s Figure 52 (a WG lekythos) and Figure 60 (a gravestone) and on the French postcard with children in a wheelbarrow is striking; one wonders if this reflects the hope for healthy, well-fed children.

I was somewhat puzzled at the choice of a Roman mosaic from Sparta, albeit of Alcibiades, to grace the front of the dust cover of a book on art in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. H. A. Shapiro’s lively essay, “Alcibiades: The Politics of Personal Style,” explains that this portrait made seven centuries after his death shows that the long hair which Alcibiades affected and which was unusual for an adult Athenian male was long remembered. Alcibiades commissioned two paintings of himself to commemorate his victories in the panhellenic games. Shapiro proposes that the Meidias Painter’s hydria showing the beautiful Adonis (with long hair) reclining in Aphrodite’s lap and held in her arms (Florence 81948) shows us what the painting of Alcibiades with Nemea looked like. He also associates the other Meidias Painter hydria in Florence (8l947) with the painting showing Alcibiades crowned by the personifications of the Olympic and Pythian games. The hydria shows under a laurel bower a beautiful long-haired male (Phaon) with Eros straddling the bower and reaching towards him and a woman on his right holding out a fillet (Demonassa); outside the bower on his left is another fillet-holding woman. The two ladies might reflect the Olympic and Pythian personifications. Shapiro also discusses other images of Adonis from this period (when they first appear) as well as images of Dionysos (now beardless), the symposium, and Paris. He concludes that these are the divine and heroic figures the Athenians likened Alcibiades to: they “represent a particularly late-fifth-century ideal of male beauty, one that is eternally youthful and given a markedly androgynous appeal by the beardless face, fine profile, and long flowing locks” (p. 256).