BMCR 2022.11.27

From Kallias to Kritias: art in Athens in the second half of the fifth century B.C.

, , From Kallias to Kritias: art in Athens in the second half of the fifth century B.C. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2021. Pp. ix, 380. ISBN 9783110680928 $137.99.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Ever since antiquity, fifth-century Athens has been looked to as the period and place in which Western civilization took shape. This edited volume, the result of a conference held in Athens in 2019, takes a fresh look at the visual dimension of the Age of Pericles and asks how new finds and perspectives in Athenian archaeology can contribute to our understanding of this important epoch.[1]

The volume offers eighteen papers distributed across five sections: ‘Approaching the Acropolis’ (two essays); ‘Parthenonian Narratives’ (four essays); ‘Public Discourse in the Agora’ (five essays); ‘Cult Places and Their Images’ (four essays); and ‘Athens Beyond Athens’ (three essays, each discussing the dissemination of Athenian artworks abroad). Images of gods, mythological and religious iconography, and interactions between artefacts and sacred space are major themes. Roughly half of the papers attempt new interpretations of familiar material. The rest concentrate on recent finds and rediscoveries of lesser-known artefacts, with around a third of the papers publishing material for the first time. These, then, are the volume’s two main contributions—new readings of key monuments, particularly in the Parthenon section, and preliminary publications of ongoing excavation and archival work, especially those projects based in the Agora and the city’s museums—which together provide a multi-faceted view of current research in the field. Not everything presented in the volume can be covered in the space available here, and the following remarks concentrate on some of the most productive contributions.

The book begins with an interesting paper by Panos Valavanis and his collaborators on the management of ritual space on the Acropolis during the Panathenaic festival. By calculating the volume of space visible from the altar of Athena (the altar’s ‘isovist’) the authors determine that as many as 9,000 people might have been able to observe the ritual in the Classical period, up from around 4,500 in the Archaic, when the predecessor to the Erechtheion limited the available viewing area. The authors in turn suggest (as other scholars have done) that the desire for additional audience space was the main factor behind the unusual northwards relocation of the Erechtheion in the fifth century.

Mark Fullerton closes the section on the Acropolis with a discussion of the meaning of archaistic sculptural style, a phenomenon prominently observed on Alkamenes’ triple-bodied statue of Hekate (which was set up on the Acropolis but is now known only from later references and reproductions). The author argues that the leading associations of this style and statue were, not conservatism or aristocratic virtue, but unity, immobility, and improbability, concepts he sees reflected in the united, eternal, and singular character of the autochthonous Classical Athenian demos. The argument is illuminating, but could perhaps have been developed by addressing more fully why other monuments from this era do not employ an archaistic style, despite being equally as concerned with Athenian autochthony and identity as Alkamenes’ Hekate.

The four papers on the Parthenon begin with Olga Palagia’s contribution to the volume: a reading of the enigmatic, fragmentary central metopes from the Parthenon’s south side. It is argued that the reliefs show scenes from the wedding of Peirithous, around which the centauromachy depicted on the remaining metopes erupts: wedding guests on metope 13, Peirithous and Hippodameia on 14, the bridal chariot on 15, startled attendees on 16, musicians and dancers on 17 and 18, and female guests and the preparation of the marriage bed on 19 and 20. The violent centaur scenes on metopes 1–12 and 21–32 thus flank a central block of different mood but of the same mythological subject. Previous scholars have tended to see Attic myths in the central metopes, and, while an uninterrupted centauromachy-wedding theme has been proposed before, the emphasis Palagia places on the controversial metopes 15 and 16 makes this one of the most cogent outlines of the wedding interpretation to date. The solution is coherent and economical, but not everyone will find it solidly persuasive. The subject of the much-discussed metope 16, for example, perhaps needs additional thought: the dramatic poses of the figures suggest a level of violence beyond the startled reaction to the surrounding centaurs that the author suggests. Among other things, the metope could perhaps represent instead a scene which illustrates more directly the initial outbreak of violence at Peirithous’ palace.[2]

Vasileia Manidaki presents new evidence for an internal frieze within the Parthenon’s cella. The author shows in detail that irregularities in the bonding system of the uppermost course of the cella’s interior walls were introduced to accommodate a course composed of blocks larger than those of the standard masonry courses below. Manidaki argues carefully that this upper course formed a pi-shaped frieze, of the same height as that which ran around the exterior walls of the cella. The author speculates that the frieze may have been decorated, given its proximity to the cult statue and the richness of the temple’s attested sculptural programme, though evidence for this is yet to be found.

Jenifer Neils’ paper offers a discussion of the Parthenon’s west pediment, in which (following Liselotte Weidauer) she identifies figure B as Erechtheus, rather than Kekrops. This idea is well-founded (the figure in question is anthropomorphic: Kekrops should be snake-legged) and leads the author to read the pediment as a juxtaposition of the themes of land and sea, with Athena, Erechtheus, and his family on one side, and Poseidon, Theseus, and other ‘sea heroes’ on the other. The names and their wider resonances are carefully argued for, but many of the figures’ identities remain difficult to prove. The final Parthenonian paper, by Raphaël Jacob, considers some of the fragments of the pediments, including two unpublished pieces: part of the left foot of a colossal male in motion and a fragment of a plinth.

The section on the Agora begins with two papers which publish the results of recent excavation projects. Ann Steiner outlines new pottery finds from the Tholos, a round building used as a headquarters and dining room for the city’s council executives, the prytaneis. The prevalence of plain vessels that conform to standard measures is presented convincingly as part of the far-reaching concern for egalitarian democratic ideals that marked this period. Susan Rotroff and Kathleen Lynch provide a preliminary report on the so-called Crossroads Enclosure, a modest sanctuary, yet to be fully published, which centred on a large limestone boulder. The authors show that finds from the site, which include a significant number of pottery dedications and three pieces of statuary, have predominantly female associations, but who or what was worshipped there remains unknown. Veneration may have focused, it is attractively suggested, simply on the boulder itself.

Andrew Stewart summarises recent work on the surviving fragments of the elaborate sculptural programme of the temple of Ares.[3] The archaeology of the temple is complex: it had an initial, Periclean phase, during which it was located at Pallene in Attica and dedicated to Athena Pallensis and Apollo; and then, centuries later, an Augustan phase, when it was dismantled, relocated to the Agora, and its cult supplemented with the introduction of Ares. Stewart dates the bulk of the sculptural decoration to the first phase, in the years 433–425 BC; connects Apollo’s addition to the cult with the plague of 430–426; and sees a range of deities and local myths represented: Athena and Theseus in both pediments; a Pallantidomachy (the battle of Theseus against the sons of Pallas) and an (Athenian) Amazonomachy in the eastern and western metopes, respectively; Athena welcoming Apollo to Pallene in the eastern porch frieze; a sacrifice to Athena and Apollo in the western frieze; and acroteria in the form of female deities (probably Hebe, with Nereids of slightly later date, perhaps added to the temple under Augustus, on the east, and Nikai and perhaps Iris on the west). Parts of the reconstruction are more secure than others (relatively good diagnostic evidence survives for the metopes, friezes, and most of the acroteria, less for the pediments), but a clear picture emerges of the locally directed identity of the temple in its Classical phase.

Moving to the section on cult places and images, Iphigeneia Leventi and Hans Goette provide papers which discuss the iconography of votive reliefs. Leventi sensitively examines the identifications, statuary prototypes, and dress attributes of female deities (Demeter, Kore, Athena, and the Nymphs), while Goette addresses the function and visual language of an unusual pair of votive reliefs from Sounion, both of which depict the labours of Herakles.[4]

The final section of the volume, ‘Athens Beyond Athens’, features three papers which discuss exported pottery: Eurydice Kefalidou publishes a fragmentary red-figure vase, discovered in Piraeus in 2016, that represents a so far unique combination of kalathiskos dancers and the Dioskouroi; Amalia Avramidou investigates Attic pottery finds from the sanctuary of Parthenos in Neapolis (modern Kavala), demonstrating well the complex relationship between political history and material culture in this period; and, lastly, Angelos Zarkadas skilfully discusses a red-figure hydria decorated with the abduction of Oreithyia by Boreas, excavated on the island of Thera in 1978 and fully published here for the first time.[5]

Understandably for a collection of essays, no new unified vision of fifth-century Athenian art emerges, but the research presented in this rich, well-produced volume will be valuable for future studies of Classical Athenian archaeology and visual culture.


Titles and Authors

Introduction. Olga Palagia and Jenifer Neils—1

I Approaching the Acropolis
1 – Managing the Open-air Sacred Space on the Athenian Acropolis. Panos Valavanis, Nikolas Dimakis, Eirine Dimitriadou, and Markos Katsianis—11
2 – Archaism and Autochthony on the Post-Periklean Acropolis. Mark Fullerton—31

II Parthenonian Narratives
3 – The Wedding of Peirithous: South Metopes 13–21 of the Parthenon. Olga Palagia—53
4 – News from the Parthenon Cella: The Question of the Inner Frieze. Vasileia Manidaki—69
5 – Kekrops or Erechteus? Re-reading the West Pediment of the Parthenon. Jenifer Neils—91
6 – Pedimental Sculpture from the Parthenon: Old Attributions and New Fragments. Raphaël Jacob—109

III Public Discourse in the Agora
7 – Feeding the Prytaneis: Eating and Drinking in the 5th-century Tholos. Ann Steiner—133
8 – The Crossroads Enclosure in the Athenian Agora: A Preliminary Report. Susan I. Rotroff and Kathleen M. Lynch—155
9 – Nests of Oligarchs on Classical Red-Figure Vases. H. Alan Shapiro—173
10 – The Sculptures of the Temple of Ares in the Agora: Discoveries Old and New. Andrew Stewart—197
11 – Aετoλέων. A Bronze Griffin Paw Possibly Connected to Meton’s Sundial on the Pnyx. Despina Ignatiadou—217

IV Cult Places and Their Images
12 – Multi-layered Time and Place: Temples and Statues in Vase-Painting in Later 5th Century Athens. Dyfri Williams—235
13 – Statues of Asclepius Created by Athenian Artists: Written Sources and Copies of a 5th-Century Prototype. Sascha Kansteiner—263
14 – Female Iconography of Attic Votive Reliefs of the Late 5th Century B.C.: New Insights. Iphigeneia Leventi—277
15 – Two Votive Reliefs of Herakles from Sounion. Hans Rupprecht Goette—295

V Athens Beyond Athens
16 – ‘The Dioskouroi Between Athens and Sparta’ Once Again: A New Attic Red-figure Vase with “Saltantes Lacaenae” from Piraeus. Eurydice Kefalidou—313
17 – Athena and Neapolis in the 5th Century B.C.: The View from the Parthenos Sanctuary. Amalia Avramidou—337
18 – Boreas and Oreithyia: The Abduction of a Kanephoros in the Panathenaic Procession. Angelos Zarkadas—357



[1] The volume under review (which focuses on the period 449–403 BC) follows a previous collection of essays investigating art from 527–449: O. Palagia and E.P. Sioumpara (eds), From Hippias to Kallias: Greek Art in Athens and beyond 527–449 BC (Athens: 2019). Readers of these works may benefit from related studies, including: J. Barringer, J. Hurwit, and J.J. Pollitt (eds), Periklean Athens and Its Legacy: Problems and Perspectives (Austin: 2005); R. Osborne (ed.), Debating the Athenian Cultural Revolution: Art, Literature, Philosophy, and Politics, 430–380 BC (Cambridge: 2007); O. Palagia (ed.), Art in Athens during the Peloponnesian War (Cambridge: 2009); and D. Perez (ed.), Greek Art in Context: Archaeological and Art Historical Perspectives (Abingdon: 2017).

[2] Violence at Peirithous’ palace: Homer, Odyssey, 21.295–304; Ovid, Metamorphoses, 12.210–244.

[3] Fully published by the same author and his team in: Hesperia 85 (2016), 577–625; 88 (2019), 625–705; and 90 (2021), 533–604.

[4] For additional recent work on Classical votive reliefs: G. Hedreen. 2021: ‘On the Magnitude of the Gods in Materialist Theology and Greek Art’, Journal of Hellenic Studies 141, 31–53.

[5] For the visual representation of the Oreithyia-Boreas myth in Athens, see now: T. Hölscher. 2019: Mythenbilder und Mentalität in Athen von Kleisthenes zu den Perserkriegen (Wiesbaden: 2019), 12–15.