1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Parthenon
PARTHENON (Παρθενών), the name generally given, since the 4th century B.C., to the chief temple of Athena on the Acropolis at Athens (e.g. Demosthenes, c. Androt. 13, 76). The name is applied in the official inventories of the 5th and early 4th centuries to one compartment of the temple, and this was probably its original meaning. It is certainly to be associated with the cult of Athena Parthenos, “the Virgin,” though it is not clear why the name was given to this particular chamber.
|After Dörpfeld, by permission from Mittheilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Institut in Athen, 1881.||Emery Walker sc.|
The most convenient position for a temple upon the natural rock-platform of the Acropolis was occupied by the early temple of Athena. When it was decided to supersede this by a larger and more magnificent temple, it was necessary to provide a site for this new temple by means of a great substructure, which is on its south side about 40 ft. high. This substructure was not built for the present temple, but for an earlier one, which was longer and narrower in shape; there has been much discussion as to the date of this earlier temple; F. C. Penrose maintained that it was the work of Peisistratus. Some have thought that it dated from the time immediately after the Persian wars; but the fact that portions of its columns and entablature, damaged by fire, were built into the north wall of the Acropolis by Themistocles seems to prove that it dates from the 6th century, whether it be the work of the tyrants or of the renewed democracy under Cleisthenes.
The extant temple was the chief among the buildings with which Pericles adorned the Acropolis. The supervision of the whole work was in the hands of Pheidias, and the architects of the temple were Ictinus and Callicrates. The actual building was not begun until 447 B.C., though the decision to build was made ten years earlier (Keil, Anonynus argentorensis). The temple must have been structurally complete by the year 438 B.C., in which the gold and ivory statue of Athena Parthenos was dedicated; but the work of decoration and finish was still going on in 433 B.C. The temple as designed by Ictinus was about 15 ft. shorter and about 6 ft. wider than the building for which the foundations were intended; it thus obtained a proportion of length to breadth of exactly 9:4. It is the most perfect example of the Doric order (see Architecture: Greek). The plan of the temple was peculiar. The cella, which was exactly 100 ft. long, kept the name and traditional measurement of the old Hecatompedon. It was surrounded on three sides by a Doric colonnade, and in the middle of it was the great basis on which the statue was erected. This cella was probably lighted only by the great doorway and by the light that filtered through the marble tiles. The common notion that there was a hypaethral opening is erroneous. At the back of the cella was a square chamber, not communicating with it, but entered from the west end of the temple; this was the Parthenon in the narrower sense. It seems to have been used only as a store-house, though it may have been originally intended for a more important purpose. The Prodomus and the Opisthodomus were enclosed by bronze gratings fixed between the columns, and were thus adapted to contain valuable offerings and other treasures. We have inventories on marble of the contents of these four compartments of the temple. The opisthodomus, in particular, probably served as a treasury for sacred and other money, though it has been disputed whether the opisthodomus mentioned in the inscriptions is part of the Parthenon or another building.
For the sculptures decorating the Parthenon and the statue by Pheidias in the cella, see article Greek Art. The metopes over the outer colonnade were all sculptured, and represented on the east the battle of gods and giants, on the west, probably, the battle of Greeks and Amazons, on the south Greeks and Centaurs; those on the north are almost lost. The east pediment represented the birth of Athena, the west pediment her contest with Poseidon for the land of Attica. The frieze, which was placed above the cella wall at the sides, represented the Panathenaic procession, approaching on three sides the group of gods seated in the middle of the east side. These sculptures are all of them admirably adapted to their position on the building, and are, in themselves, the most perfect works that sculpture has ever produced.
The Parthenon probably remained intact until the 5th century of our era, when the colossal statue was removed, and the temple is said to have been transformed into a church dedicated to St Sophia. In the 6th century it was dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God (Θεοτόκος). The adaptation of the building as a church involved the removal of the inner columns and roof, the construction of an apse at the east end, and the opening of a door between the cella and the chamber behind it. These alterations involved some damage to the sculptures. In 1456 Athens was captured by the Turks, and the Parthenon was consequently changed into a mosque, apparently without any serious structural alterations except the addition of a minaret. In this state it was described by Spon and Wheler in 1676 and the sculpture was drawn by the French artist Carrey in 1674. In 1687 the Turks used the building as a powder magazine during the bombardment of the Acropolis by a Venetian army under Morosini, and a shell caused the explosion which blew out the middle of the temple and threw down the columns at the sides. Still further damage to the sculptures was done by Morosini's unsuccessful attempt to lower from the west pediment the chariot of Athena. Later a small mosque was constructed in the midst of the ruins; but nothing except gradual damage is to be recorded during the succeeding century except the visits of various travellers, notably of James Stuart (1713-1788) and Nicholas Revett (1720-1804), whose splendid drawings are the best record of the sculpture as it existed in Athens. In 1801 Lord Elgin obtained a firman authorizing him to make casts and drawings, and to pull down extant buildings where necessary, and to remove sculpture from them. He caused all the remains of the sculpture to be found on the ground or in Turkish houses, and a certain amount—notably the metopes—that was still on the temple, to be transported to England. Some fault has been found with his methods or those of his workmen; but there is no doubt that the result was the preservation of much that would otherwise have been lost. The Elgin marbles were bought by the British government in 1816, and are now in the British Museum. Certain other sculptures from the Parthenon are in the Louvre, Copenhagen or elsewhere, and much is still in Athens, either still on the temple or in the Acropolis museum.
The most accurate measurements of the temple, showing the exactness of its construction and the subtlety of the curvature of all its lines, was made by F. C. Penrose.
Authorities.—A. Michaelis, der Parthenon (Leipzig, 1871); J. Stuart and N. Revett, Antiquities of Athens (London, 1762-1815); F. C. Penrose, Principles of Athenian Architecture (London, 1851 and 1888); A. S. Murray, The Sculptures of the Parthenon (London, 1903); British Museum, Catalogue of Sculpture, vol. i. See also Greek Art. (E. Gr.)