Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek Art

The Parthenon


Parthenon Metopes

There were originally 92 Parthenon metopes (relief panels above the columns, between the triglyphs), 14 on the east and west sides and 32 on the others. Many of these panels are badly damaged today, others are destroyed, and several others have been removed for museums. They are dated from about 446 to 440 BCE, and are attributed to a sculptor named Kalamis.

The metopes on each of the four sides of the Parthenon depict a different mythical battle or war. The south side is perhaps the best preserved. It depicts a battle between the civilized Lapiths and the brutish half -human, half-horse centaurs, where the legendary Athenian king Theseus fought on the Lapiths' side. Oddly, the metopes seem to counter the usual version of the myth by portraying the centaurs winning. The east side, above the main entrance, is in contrastingly poor condition. It depicts the war between the gods and the giants, with the sun god Helios rising in the right to light the deities' imminent victory. The north side is similarly damaged, but seems to depict the Trojan War as the Greeks sack the city. The west side shows the legendary invasion of Athens by the Amazon warrior women. They are depicted in Eastern dress, probably based on the Persians (with whom the Greeks had only recently been at war prior to the metopes' creation).

Lapiths Vs Centaurs (South Side)

Lapiths_Vs_Centaurs This Metope from the Parthenon on the Acropolis, shows the human Lapith in the midst of action, restraining the Centaur (Half man half horse) before exacting a powerful blow.

While ancient Greek metopes were sometimes carved from a single block of stone, some like those in the Parthenon were separate blocks slid into place. The images are in high relief, meaning that the figures are carved out of the background but project more than halfway out; a cursory look makes them seem more like statues put in place. They were originally painted, though the colors have disappeared over the centuries. Like most Hellenic (i.e., ancient Greek) art, the figures were designed to look naturalistic and idealized. Many figures are nude or wear little clothing.

The damage and destruction to many of the metopes were done over centuries. The most notable damage to the metopes (and the Parthenon in general) occurred in 1687. At the time Greece was controlled by the Ottoman Turks, who were at war with the Venetians. The Parthenon was used to store gunpowder, which ignited when Venetian mortar fire hit it. While several metopes were completely destroyed, many survived, and archeological excavation of the Acropolis has possibly found others which were previously missing. Other metopes have been exported to the Acropolis Museum, the British Museum, and in one case the Louvre. Since 1975 there have been efforts to keep the Parthenon as preserved as possible, and to restore at least some of the damage that has occurred since its creation.

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