Built in the fifth century b.c., the Parthenon has been venerated for more than two millennia as the West's ultimate paragon of beauty and proportion. Since the Enlightenment, it has also come to represent our political ideals, the lavish temple to the goddess Athena serving as the model for our most hallowed civic architecture. But how much do the values of those who built the Parthenon truly correspond with our own? And apart from the significance with which we have invested it, what exactly did this marvel of human hands mean to those who made it?
In this revolutionary book, Joan Breton Connelly challenges our most basic assumptions about the Parthenon and the ancient Athenians. Beginning with the natural environment and its rich mythic associations, she re-creates the development of the Acropolis--the Sacred Rock at the heart of the city-state--from its prehistoric origins to its Periklean glory days as a constellation of temples among which the Parthenon stood supreme. In particular, she probes the Parthenon's legendary frieze: the 525-foot-long relief sculpture that originally encircled the upper reaches before it was partially destroyed by Venetian cannon fire (in the seventeenth century) and most of what remained was shipped off to Britain (in the nineteenth century) among the Elgin marbles. The frieze's vast enigmatic procession--a dazzling pageant of cavalrymen and elders, musicians and maidens--has for more than two hundred years been thought to represent a scene of annual civic celebration in the birthplace of democracy. But thanks to a once-lost play by Euripides (the discovery of which, in the wrappings of a Hellenistic Egyptian mummy, is only one of this book's intriguing adventures), Connelly has uncovered a long-buried meaning, a story of human sacrifice set during the city's mythic founding. In a society startlingly preoccupied with cult ritual, this story was at the core of what it meant to be Athenian. Connelly reveals a world that beggars our popular notions of Athens as a city of staid philosophers, rationalists, and rhetoricians, a world in which our modern secular conception of democracy would have been simply incomprehensible.
The Parthenon's full significance has been obscured until now owing in no small part, Connelly argues, to the frieze's dismemberment. And so her investigation concludes with a call to reunite the pieces, in order that what is perhaps the greatest single work of art surviving from antiquity may be viewed more nearly as its makers intended. Marshalling a breathtaking range of textual and visual evidence, full of fresh insights woven into a thrilling narrative that brings the distant past to life, "The Parthenon Enigma" is sure to become a landmark in our understanding of the civilization from which we claim cultural descent.
About the Author
Joan Breton Connelly is a classical archaeologist and the author of two previous books, Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece and Votive Sculpture of Hellenistic Cyprus. In 1996, Professor Connelly was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. She has held visiting fellowships at All Souls College, Magdalen College, New College, and Corpus Christi College at Oxford University, and at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, and has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Professor Connelly has excavated throughout Greece, Kuwait, and Cyprus, where she has directed the Yeronisos Island Excavations since 1990. She is professor of classics and art history at New York University.
Praise for The Parthenon Enigma…
“Exciting and revelatory. . . . That rare thing: the exposition of a truly great idea, and a reminder of what a thrilling subject the past, that foreign country, can be.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Joan Connelly’s brilliant study of the Parthenon shows how a myth can reveal as many secrets as a rock or a ruin, and how rethinking what we know about antiquity can help us better understand ourselves today.” —George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars saga
“A detailed portrait.” —The Washington Post
“One of the most original theses of modern classical scholarship.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Learned, ambitious…up to date with the excellent theoretical work of recent decades. It is time to change the textbooks and the museum labels.” —Times Literary Supplement.
“Original, insightful and convincing. . . . A very important book: thoroughly researched and written for the intelligent reader. . . . [Connelly] breaks new ground.” —Huffington Post
“Connelly’s groundbreaking work will forever change our conception of the most important building in the history of Western civilization. By cracking the hidden code of the Parthenon, she reveals the classical world in a radical new light that will reorient how we all view its legacy for the twenty-first century.” —Tom Reiss, author of The Black Count, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“General readers with an interest in Greek history and architecture will find The Parthenon Enigma fascinating. . . . [It reads like a] supremely intelligent riff on a Dan Brown novel.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“A careful, learned account and a good read.” —The New York Review of Books
“Gracefully written, informative. . . . Engaging and intensely interesting. . . . Thoughtful, stimulating, and unquestionably valuable.” —J.J. Pollitt, The New Criterion
“Connelly’s interpretation [offers an] even positive message, one that speaks to the influence of the Parthenon in the fields of architecture, government and the very nature of civilized society.” —New York Post
“Learned and elegant . . . a powerful case for a new understanding of the Parthenon, its original meaning as a religious object, and for the fullest possible restoration of its many parts still scattered far and wide.” —Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Classics and History, Yale University, and author of The Peloponnesian War
“Masterly. . . . Connelly’s depth of knowledge and scholastic effort shine through brilliantly.” —Library Journal (starred)
“Luminous . . . courageously and intelligently starting from scratch, Joan Connelly reconstructs the meaning of the Parthenon. . . . The unfamiliar picture that emerges gives us all a sharper vision of what this timeless monument can still mean to our own troubled world.” —Gregory Nagy, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature, Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University
“Gripping.” —Metropolis Magazine
“Edifying. . . . A book for all who seek direction and are capable of seeing the bigger picture.” —Kirkus
“Persuasive. . . . This detailed, smart, and tantalizing study offers much to savor.” —Publishers Weekly
“Connelly’s book is one for the twenty-first century, full of new finds and fresh insights.” —Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History and Classics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton