Metopes of the Parthenon

Metopes of the Parthenon

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The Metopes of the Parthenon are a series of marble
Marble
Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of recrystallized carbonate minerals, most commonly calcite or dolomite.Geologists use the term "marble" to refer to metamorphosed limestone; however stonemasons use the term more broadly to encompass unmetamorphosed limestone.Marble is commonly used for...

 panels, originally 92 in number, on the outside walls of the Parthenon
Parthenon
The Parthenon is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their virgin patron. Its construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although...

 in Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, forming part of the Doric
Doric order
The Doric order was one of the three orders or organizational systems of ancient Greek or classical architecture; the other two canonical orders were the Ionic and the Corinthian.-History:...

 frieze. The metopes of each side of the building had a different subject, and together with the pediments, Ionic
Ionic order
The Ionic order forms one of the three orders or organizational systems of classical architecture, the other two canonic orders being the Doric and the Corinthian...

 frieze, and the statue of Athena Parthenos
Athena Parthenos
Athena Parthenos was the title of a massive chryselephantine sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena made by Phidias and housed in the Parthenon in Athens. Its epithet was an essential character of the goddess herself...

 contained within the Parthenon, formed an elaborate program of sculptural decoration. Fifteen of the metopes from the south wall were removed and are now part of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

, and others have been destroyed. They are famous examples of the Classical Greek high-relief.

The east metopes


The fourteen East metopes
Metope (architecture)
In classical architecture, a metope is a rectangular architectural element that fills the space between two triglyphs in a Doric frieze, which is a decorative band of alternating triglyphs and metopes above the architrave of a building of the Doric order...

 were situated above the main entrance. They depict the final stages of the cosmogonic battle between the Olympian gods and the Giants
Gigantes
In Greek mythology, the Giants were the children of Gaia, who was fertilized by the blood of Uranus, after Uranus was castrated by his son Cronus...

 (Gigantomachy). The fight develops around the central figure of Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 (Plaque No. 8) followed by his chariot. His brother Poseidon
Poseidon
Poseidon was the god of the sea, and, as "Earth-Shaker," of the earthquakes in Greek mythology. The name of the sea-god Nethuns in Etruscan was adopted in Latin for Neptune in Roman mythology: both were sea gods analogous to Poseidon...

 with his chariot is shown close by (Plaque No. 6) throwing the island of Nisyros
Nisyros
Nisyros is a volcanic Greek island and municipality located in the Aegean Sea. It is part of the Dodecanese group of islands, situated between the islands of Kos and Tilos. Its shape is approximately round, with a diameter of about , and an area of . Several other islets are found in the direct...

 over the defeated Giant Polybotes
Polybotes
In Greek mythology, Polybotes was a Gigante , therefore son of Gaea , who fought Poseidon during the battle between the Giants and the Gods.-Etymology:...

. Although the figure of Heracles
Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

 has not yet been identified from the remaining fragments, it is almost certain that the hero, whose contribution to the victory of the Olympian gods was significant, was present. The felicitous outcome of the battle is implied with the scene of Helios
Helios
Helios was the personification of the Sun in Greek mythology. Homer often calls him simply Titan or Hyperion, while Hesiod and the Homeric Hymn separate him as a son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia or Euryphaessa and brother of the goddesses Selene, the moon, and Eos, the dawn...

 (sun-god) and his chariot rising from the night (Plaque No. 14), a new era was about to commence. The East metopes are in extremely poor condition, and the identification of most of the figures is tentative at best.

The south metopes



The metopes of the southern wall (Plaques No. 1–12 and 21–32) present the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, also known as the Centauromachy, in which the mythological Athenian king Theseus
Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

 took part. The battle between the Centaurs and the Lapiths broke out during the wedding feast of the king of the Lapiths and personal friend of Theseus
Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

, Peirithus. According to one version of the myth, the Centaurs, insulted from being excluded from the celebrations, attacked the Lapiths while according to another, during the feast drunken Centaurs reacted violently under the influence of wine. The result was a fight between the Centaurs and the Lapiths and an attempt of the former to abduct the Lapith women.

The Centaurs have faces with animal features whose linear drawings strongly recall theatrical masks. They are shown wearing animal skins and they are armed with tree-branches. On the other hand, the Lapiths fight nude or wearing a chlamys
Chlamys
The chlamys was an ancient Greek piece of clothing, a type of cloak....

, several of them hold a sword or a spear which, as they were formerly metallic attachments, are now lost, while in some cases, the Lapiths use shields to protect themselves.

There is a tendency to recognize the bridegroom Peirithus on metope 11 and the bride Diedameia on metope 25 but there is no conclusive evidence for these identifications. On metope 29, features of the mature Classical
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

 style can be traced on the face and the dress of the Lapith woman.

The presence of household utensils such as hydrias (ceramic pots with three handles used for mainly for storing water), which are also used as provisional weapons by the combatants, indicates a battle fought indoors. Certain compositions are repeated whereas the overall execution of the scenes is less ambitious than the initial plans. Contrary to the eventual outcome of the battle and to the moral of the myth which emphasizes on the superiority of the civilized world over the primeval disorder, the winning party in this fearless fight are the Centaurs and not the Lapiths. However, it is possible that the battle is still in its initial stages.

In 1687, a cannonball struck the Parthenon during an attack on Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 by the Venetians
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

. This event destroyed many metopes on the south wall, especially the central ones. The existence of these metopes is now known only from Carrey's drawings executed in 1674 and from their remaining fragments. Their subject matter is not altogether clear as the metopes present uncommon iconographical details. Some experts recognize on them the representation of Attic dynastic myths (the stories of the royal families of Cecrops
Cecrops
This name may refer to two legendary kings of Athens:* Cecrops I* Cecrops IIIt more often refers to Cecrops I, who was the better known....

 and Erechtheus
Erechtheus
Erechtheus in Greek mythology was the name of an archaic king of Athens, the re-founder of the polis and a double at Athens for Poseidon, as "Poseidon Erechtheus"...

) while others, attempting to unify mythologically the afore-mentioned scenes with the ones of the Centauromachy, propose a subject related to the myths of the Centauromachy heroes.

The west metopes


The subject of the west metopes is the legendary invasion of Athens
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

by the Amazons. Scholars consider these metopes, which show the Amazons in eastern dress, a reference to the Persian Wars.