Martin Elvery, TMA3, A219 Exploring the Classical World

Martin Elvery TMA3
Personal Identifier: Y9155354
A219 Exploring the Classical World
Martin Elvery, TMA3,
A219 Exploring the Classical World
Words: 1,109
Martin Elvery TMA3
Personal Identifier: Y9155354
A219 Exploring the Classical World
‘A Conscious program of display?’ Making close reference to the art and architecture of the
Acropois, explain and illustrate what is meant by this phrase. Then take any one of the other
sources you have studied in block two and briefly analyse the comparisons and contrasts that may
be made between this source and the Acropolis in this matter of display.
Acropolis translates as high city. The height of the Acropolis meant that it would have had
a huge impact on those approaching the city from the attic plain. This was designed to reflect the
supremacy of Athens over the surrounding Attic towns and village and indeed its supremacy over
all other Greek states as head of the Delian League. (BHAG, pg.169) The height and substance of
the Acropolis also symbolised the revival of Athens after its sacking by the Persians and its victory
in the Persian wars. (BHAG, pg.169) The walls of the Acropolis would serve as a place of retreat in
war time and would have been a powerful symbol that the Persians would never again succeed in
levelling the city. The dominance of the Acropolis over the surrounding area was heightened by
the fact that sailors rounding cape Sounion could see the glint of sunlight from the spear of the
statue of Athena Promachos (BHAG, pg.173)
The Acropolis was designed to reflect the fact that the destiny of Athens had been mapped
out by the Gods. This is demonstrated in the Erechtheion which was designed to reflect the
foundation myth of the city. (Block 2, pg75) Athena had competed with Poseidon for control of
Attica and had won. She had chosen the site of the city by supposedly planting an olive tree over
which the Erechtheion was built and she was the foster mother of Erechtheus the early king of
Athens. In this way, the Erechtheion reflected the idea that the destiny of Athens to be the leader
of Greek states and head of the Delian League had been mapped out by the Gods and was
therefore justified. This is also reflected in the West Pediment of the Parthenon which depicts
Athena fighting Poseidon for control of Attica and in the East pediment which displays the birth of
Athena. (Block 2, pg79) (Illustrations Book, plates 33-34)
The Acropolis was also designed to reflect and justify Athenian success in the recent
Persian wars. This is best reflected in the temple of Athena Nike. Here the goddess is identified
with her role as a victor in war:(Block 2, pg. 70) The temple frieze depicts the Athenian victory at
the battle of Marathon (illustrations book, plate 9) In mythology Athena had sprung fully armed
from the head of Zeus to become the supreme warrior in the war between gods and giants. This
was reflected in the great statue of Athena Parthenos (illustrations book, plate 10) which depicted
her with shield and spear and holding the winged statue of victory, and also possibly in the
Parthenon frieze where the cavalrymen process before the gods, perhaps reflecting a military
procession as part of the panathanaia festival to honour the goddess. (illustrations book, plate 35)
Athena was therefore a symbol of military victory and reflected and justified the military success
of Athens.
The Acropolis also sought to give justification for the prominence of Greek culture over
foreign nations . In the metopes on the Parthenon we find depictions of the battle of Troy, the
Greeks fighting the amazons, lapiths and centaurs and battles between the gods and giants
(illustrations book, plates 14-17). The victory of the Greeks in all these conflicts reflected the
prominence of Greek culture throughout the known world and would have been a powerful
justification for the Athenian empire and for the existence of Athenian colonies overseas as well as
for the Greek victory over the Persians.
This links in with the portrayal of a sense of Hellenism and Greek unity which is best
reflected in the Parthenon frieze. This almost certainly depicts the panathenaia festival procession
Martin Elvery TMA3
Personal Identifier: Y9155354
A219 Exploring the Classical World
in which subject states eventually took part, and which was accompanied by pan-hellenic athletic
contests. (Block 2, pg.95) The frieze may therefore be a deliberate attempt to reflect a shared
sense of Hellenic identity amongst the Greek states. Certainly later generations looked back on the
period of the Delian League as almost a mythical age of unity amongst Greeks (Essays Book, pg.
The Acropolis was also designed to promote and reflect the superior nature of the
Athenian system of democracy over Persian despotism, and to encourage civic pride and
participation. The Parthenon frieze reflects this by depicting figures which are not easily identified
or named and which have no individual features instead they are part of a collective group
(Illustrations Book, plate 35). This is further enhanced by the fact that some of the figures are
turning round as if to wait for the rest of the procession to catch up with them. There is also a
sense of social inclusion here as we appear to have a range of groups from old men to members of
the cavalry to women, slaves and even possibly foreigners (metics). This reflects clearly the sense
that Athens was an inclusive community in which all groups had their role and purpose. This may
have been designed to help Pericles gain support for his democratic reforms.
The Acropolis reflects the fact that Athens was a city which properly respected its gods
and therefore deserved their favour. The Parthenon frieze probably depicts t the Panathenaia
festival in which the citizens presented the goddess with a robe weaved by maidens’ hands
(Illustrations book, plate 35) The Acropolis itself was a sanctuary (temenos) and was covered with
a series of linked shrines temenoi which would have been used for ritual sacrifices (Block 2, pg.72)
This ritual process is itself depicted on the Parthenon frieze. This was a message to Athenians that
in order to keep the favour of the gods they had to follow the proper rituals but it was also a
justification for the favour that the gods had given to Athens with their success in war, wealth and
political participation.
Finally, the Acropolis was designed to display, store and justify the wealth of Athens. The
treasury of the Athenians was kept in the Parthenon which indicated that the wealth of the city
had the blessing of the goddess (BHAG, pg.171) This would have provided a reason why Athens
could justify taking tribute from the other cities in the Delian League and why Athens had been
blessed with wealth in the form of its silver mines. Also the sheer quality of the drapery and
muscle structure of the sculptures around the Acropolis indicates a high level of artistic skills and
reflects the cost of the monuments, as does the fact that they were completed in marble. The
Parthenon frieze itself was executed by the finest sculptor of the day Pheidias. Thus the Acropolis
displayed the fact that Athens could afford the very best.
In many ways the play Persians by Aristophanes displays many of the same values and
ideals which are communicated in the Acropolis. The importance given to the subject matter is
reflected in the fact that all surviving Athenian tragedy is based on mythological subjects apart
from Persians (Block 2, pg.24). This can be compared to the frieze on the temple of Athena Nike
which is unique in its depiction of a factual subject- the battle of marathon (Illustrations Book,
plate 9) It can be seen therefore that Aristophanes was deliberately choosing his subject matter to
make a display of the defeat of the Persians.
In Persians, the Chorus is a symbol of the weakness and impotence of the Persian empire
in contrast to the dynamic and successful Athenian forces which are discussed in the play
(Aeschylus, Persians, 457-464). This compares with the display of the inferiority of Persians and
other ‘foreigners’ evident in the Parthenon pediments and the Temple of Nike frieze (Illustrations
Martin Elvery TMA3
Personal Identifier: Y9155354
A219 Exploring the Classical World
Book, Plates 9 and 14-17)The elderly Persian advisers with their excessive lamenting (Aeschylus,
Persians, 919-1074), create a sense of the decline of the Persian empire which contrasts with the
thrusting confidence of the Athenian empire evident in the Acropolis structures. The presence of
the defeated Xerxes in Persians displays all that is wrong with autocratic power. The young,
arrogant Xerxes has led his forces to disaster and then has deserted the battlefield (Aeschylus,
Persians, 962). and the chorus prostrate themselves in front of the queen in total deference to her
autocratic power (Aeschylus, Persians, 155). This contrasts with the display of the strengths of
democratic power which is evident in the Parthenon frieze in which all members of the community
have their given place and which is clearly associated with Athenian success in the Persian wars
judging by the presence of the cavalry in the frieze (Illustrations Book, plate 35) The excessive
wealth and decadence of the Persians displayed by the repeated use of the word ‘habros’ in the
play (Block 2, pg. 36) contrasts sharply with the social unity and equality displayed in the
Parthenon frieze in which Athenians of all classes are part of the same procession. And the
prominence of the Persian Queen gives an unthinkable amount of power to a woman. This is
contrasted in the fact that the in the Parthenon frieze, women are a small minority (Illustrations
Book, Plate 35) Perhaps the biggest form of display in Persians was in the form of the strange
foreign clothes worn by the actors. This clearly displayed the differences between Greek and
barbarian (Block 2, pg 36). This too is reflected in the Parthenon Metopes in which the Greeks
overcome Trojans and amazons and contrasted in the Parthenon frieze in which it has been
suggested that metics are integrated into the procession wearing Athenian dress (Illustrations
Book, plates 35 and 14-17)
It must be said however that Persians in most respects was a less obvious form of display
than the Acropolis. On one level Persians simply evokes the disasters that can occur when
humans display excessive arrogance, and would have been a lesson to Athenians as well as
Persians in this. The tragic story of the loss of so many Persian lives evoked the losses that would
have been felt by the Athenians themselves in the Persian wars and was a powerful message
about the destructiveness of war. The decline of the Persian empire could have served as an
allegory for what might happen to the Athenian empire in the future. Persians therefore works on
many different emotional levels and is not simply designed to display the triumph, power and
legitimacy of Athenian rule. This effect would have been clear in the performance of the play as all
of the actors would have been Greeks and the play would have been performed as part of the city
Dyonysia, a religious festival (Block 2, pg.19). It is very likely therefore that the play was designed
to have deeper moral and religious meanings than simply to act as a form of triumphal display. In
this context in fact it is more likely that the play was designed to evoke sympathy for the defeated
Persians and as a comment on the hopelessness of war.
Martin Elvery TMA3
Personal Identifier: Y9155354
A219 Exploring the Classical World
1) A219 Readings Book 1, (2006) Milton Keynes: The Open University
2) Budelmann F, Hardwick L, Robson S, (2006) A219 Block 2: ‘Classical Athens’, Milton
Keynes: The Open University
3) Pomeroy, S.B., Burstein S.M., Donlan W. and Roberts, J.T. (2004) A Brief History of Ancient
Greece: Politics, Society and Culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press
4) Perkins P. (ed.) (2006) Experiencing the Classical World, Milton Keynes: The Open
5) A219 Illustrations Book, (2007) Milton Keynes: The Open University
6) Chisholm J, Miles L, Reid S, (2002) The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of Ancient
Greece, London: Usborne
7) Higgins C. (2008) It’s all Greek to me, London: Short Books
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