Monday, October 10, 2011

House of War and Wisdom

This weekend I'll be taking a brief trip to Nashville, TN. When most people think of Nashville, I'm sure grand ideas of country music, Opryland, and majestic middle Tennessee come to mind. I know I sure did not expect a full-scale recreation of the Parthenon from the Athenian Acropolis to be right in the middle of downtown.


The Parthenon - Nashville, TN & Athens, Greece

This, for the record, is a picture of the Nashville Parthenon. It was built in 10 years, from 1921-31, out of brick, stone, and concrete. Appropriately, it had taken the Athenian Greeks around 10 years to construct the original Parthenon, though they did it all the way back in 447-438 BCE. The building (in Nashville) is 65 feet high at its apex, is supported by 46 Doric columns, and it faces East like all well-built edifices of antiquity (with the exception, of course, of temples to the goddess Artemis, which sometimes would face West). The massive bronze doors weigh 7.5 tons each, measure 24 feet tall, 7 feet wide, and a foot thick.

Homeric Hymn 11 to Athena (Greek epic - 7th to 4th B.C.):
"Of Pallas Athena, guardian of the city, I begin to sing. Dread is she, and with Ares she loves the deeds of war, the sack of cities and the shouting and the battle. It is she who saves the people as they go to war and come back. Hail, goddess, and gives us good fortune and happiness!"

The Nashville Parthenon even has a reproduction of the statue of Athena carved by Phidias originally housed in the Athens Parthenon. She is 41 feet and 10 inches tall, making her the largest indoor sculpture of the Western world. She was created by Alan LeQuire and unveiled to the public in 1990. The Nike (Victory) in her hand stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall. The original was made of legitimate gold and ivory.

The goddess Athena, the virgin patron goddess of the city of Athens, was the goddess of wisdom and warfare. She was born full grown and in full armor, sprouting from her father's Zeus' head after he swallowed her mother Metis, goddess of craft and wisdom. Her attributes include her helmet, spear, and shield (sometimes with the head of Medusa carved on it), the owl, the loom, and the olive tree.

The story of her patronage of the city of Athens began with a competition between her and the Sea God, Poseidon. Each god offered to give the city a gift, and whoever gave the better gift would become the patron deity. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and offered forth a spring...good for trade and water, but the water was salty and bad for drinking. Athena offered the olive tree from which the people were able to gain wood, oil, food, and trade. She won!

Her mythology can go on forever and ever...but I'll just sum up: If you have Athena on your side, you are very seriously "backed up;" if you don't, you are in serious trouble.

I am really super excited to go see this.

And now, for the real, original, incredibly incredible Parthenon:

The Athenian Parthenon, like I said, was built from 447 to 437 BCE, though decoration continued until 432 BCE. It was constructed during the height of Athens' power during the Classical period at the tip of the Acropolis (like a citadel...a highly perched and defended city center). This structure replaced an "old Parthenon" that had been destroyed during the Persian sack of Athens in 480 BCE. Many excellent examples of Attic and Ionian (regions of archaic Greece) figural sculptures have been discovered near the site, buried after they had been damaged by the Persians. They were buried because they had been cult statues or offerings to destroy them further would be sacrilegious and could reap potential misgivings, so to speak, so they buried them.

The architects for this masterful example of Classical architecture were Iktinos and Kallikrates, while the incredible Phidias worked on the sculpture elements. This is what the interior of the Parthenon was thought to look like: Oh my goodness.

Nice view, huh?

The sculpture on the exterior of the Parthenon includes 92 metopes (panels) in high relief (446-40 BCE) by sculptor Kalamis, depicting scenes from Greek mythology. These themes include Gigantomachy (battle of Olympian gods vs. giants) on the east side, Amazonomachy (battle of Athenians vs. Amazons) to the west, Centauromachy (battle of Lapiths and hero Theseus vs. the centaurs) to the south, and what appears to be the Sack of Troy to the North (these metopes are very poorly preserved). The East pediment describes the birth of Athena while the West pediment describes her competition with Poseidon for patronage of Athens.

A 524-foot long Ionic frieze in low-relief wraps the interior cella. Only 420 feet still remain today, though they are largely broken up among various institutions. This sculptural program is also thought to have been overseen by Phidias.

This picture blows my mind. I got it from this article...and I think its very appropriate to note the connection between lightning (Zeus) and the Parthenon (Athena's house). But I'm a sucker for unintended symbolism like that. :)

"Earth proudly wears the Parthenon as the best gem upon her zone."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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