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parthenon frieze new interpretation
Date Sun, 9 Jan 1994
Subject Parthenon Frieze New Interpretation

The Wall St. Journal of January 6 (A10) carries an account of a new interpretation of the Parthenon frieze by New York University professor Joan Breton Connelly. "In her new theory, Joan Breton Connelly mounts the most serious challenge to the traditional conception of the frieze in over 200 years. She raises questions about Athens's established reputation as a misogynistic society by arguing that the frieze depicts a myth in which women are venerated as social leaders and martyrs. Ms. Connelly argues that the frieze, and in some ways, the Parthenon as a whole, celebrates three legendary princesses who agree to die in order to save Athens and a queen who willingly gives up her family so the city might survive." The procession depicted on the frieze "converges on a group of five figures that once occupied a prominent position above the main door of the temple a man dressed as a priest and a young child, handling a large piece of fabric folded like a sheet; a stately adult woman beside them; and two younger women carrying objects of some sort over their heads. Gods are in attendance but turn their backs on the central scene." Stuart and Revett (1878) interpreted the frieze as depicting the Panathenaic procession; the fabric was a peplos being presented to the goddess. Ms. Connelly connects the central figures in the frieze with the story of Erechtheus, king of Athens. Facing an invasion of Thracians, he consulted the oracle at Delphi, which responded that he must sacrifice one of his daughters. The three daughters had a pact that the death of one would mean the death of them all; so they sacrificed themselves to save the city. Ms. Connelly "found clues for her interpretation in a third-century B.C. papyrus used to wrap a mummy now in the Louvre. First published in 1967, the papyrus preserves about 150 previously unknown lines of the "Erechtheus," a lost tragedy of Euripides, dated to about 423 B.C., around the time that the Parthenon frieze was created. While the story was familiar from other sources even before the discovery of the fragment, the new lines by Euripides contained numerous references to Greek cult that Ms. Connelly says allowed her to connect the myth with the frieze." "According to the Connelly theory, the five figures above the door of the Parthenon represent the royal couple preparing to sacrifice their daughters before the battle. The folded cloth is the death shroud of the youngest daughter, the first to be sacrificed. The adult female, Praxithea, attends her other daughters, who wait their turn, carrying their own shrouds as bundles on their heads." Werner Fuchs comments that in Greek mythology "gods sometimes turn away from the death throes of mortals to avoid polluting their divine natura."

Date Sun, 9 Jan 1994
From "Daniel P. Tompkins"
Subject Re Parthenon Frieze New Interpretation

I'm interested in Joan Breton Connelly's position on the Partheon Friese, and thanks to Dennis Webb for reporting it. Given the timing could it have been an AIA talk? There is already a healthy number of young women dying for the sake of Greece or Athens etc. --in Euripides' Suppliants and IA--as well as the brave Polyxena in Hecuba. It's hard to see how their deaths or the deaths Connelly discusses have much to do with society-wide gender asymmetry. Indeed, the image of the noble woman marching off to death at male hands could be read in a number of ways.

Date Sun, 9 Jan 1994
From David Meadows
Subject Re Parthenon Frieze New Interpretation

I too find JBC's interpretation of the Parthenon frieze to be interesting, especially with Erichtheus' connection to Athens. Does anyone have a reference for the papyrus upon which she bases her interpretation? I remain skeptical, primarily because the parthenon frieze does not consist solely of the `culminating group' ... I would like to see in the source whether there is anything to account for the *rest* of the figures (i.e. unarmed horsemen, sacrificial beasts etc.). I don't think all the gods are, in fact, looking away either ... It is nice, however, to see that new and potentially plausible ideas are out there (but when did Athens go from being patriarchical to misogynistic?).

Date Sun, 9 Jan 1994
Subject Re Parthenon Frieze New Interpretation

In response to David Meadows' request for the _Erechtheus_ papyrus Pap. Sorb. 2328 was published by Colin Austin, "De nouveaux fragments de l'Erechthee d'Euripide," Rech. de Pap. IV (Paris 1967) and then published again with all known fragments of _Erechtheus_ in Colinus Austin, ed., _Nova Fragmenta Euripidea in papyris reperta_ (Walter de Gruyter Berlin, 1968) pp. 22-40 in the series Kleine Texte 187.

Date Mon, 10 Jan 1994
From John Younger
Subject Connolly & Parthenon

"Pinkie" Connolly gave an AIA talk in 1992 in New Orleans on the Parthenon Frieze, the central women in the East frieze, and the lacunose play of Euripides -- an abstract will have been published in the April 1993 issue of the AJA. Since then, she has delivered her talk to various groups both here and in England I've been told. As others have commented, her theory seems to depend on a very lacunose play, it ignores the other figures in the frieze, and would pit a fictional sacrifice of Athens's women against the very real deaths of its men. As Marilyn Goldberg just reminded us at this last AIA meeting, we tend to view ancient women as low status because our own society places less value on domestic activity; in antiquity, domestic activity was the core of the home, definitely high status. In this regard, Athens would not have been misogynistic. As long as colleagues are looking gender-wise at the frieze, perhaps someone could explain to me why the hydriaphoroi (North frieze, block VI) are men -- they should be the daughters of metics (cf. J. Boardman & D. Finn, The Parthenon and its Sculptures, p. 222).

Date Mon, 10 Jan 1994
From Eugene Lane
Subject Re Connolly & Parthenon

Erika Simon, Festivals of Attica, Madison, 1983, pp. 63-64, attempts an explanation of the male hydriaphoroi in the Parthenon frieze they are the winners of the in the annual torch races, which took place on the night before the Panthen aic procession. There are thus four of them available for the Great Panathenaia . The winner of the previous night, still tired, set his hydria on the ground. Anyone find this convincong?

Date Mon, 10 Jan 1994
From Doug Burgess
Subject Re Parthenon Frieze New Interpretation

David you asked when Athens went from patriarchical to misogynistic... One statement in that regard Eva C. Keuls. *The Reign of the Phallus Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens* Harper and Row, 1985. There is also Eva Cantarella. *Pandora's Daughters* Johns Hopkins, 1987. ..which is a less "radical" interpretation of the role and status of women in Athens than that of Keuls. Also, as I recall, volume VI of *Arethusa* was about the status of women. You probably know all of this already, though. If you do, please, disregard. I also seem to remember an article by D.C. Richter, "The Position of Women in Classical Athens," (or something like that) *Classical Review* XX, 1970, 273-278. Well, I said, I am sure that you probably know all of this... I think the Keuls book is the strongest statement (that I am aware of) of the "revisionist feminist" (I guess that is what to call it) position about women in Athens.
Culled from classics.log9401b.
Copyright © 2001 David Meadows
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