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connelly's parthenon
Date: Tue, 6 Feb 1996
From: David Silverman
Subject: AEGEANET Connelly's Parthenon

Now that Joan B. Connelly's re-interpretation of the Parthenon frieze, which attracted some attention even from the national press, has been fully published (AJA 100 [1996] 53-80), perhaps people will want to discuss it. I'll start with an uncritical and superficial summary of her arguments, just in case anyone does not have access to the original, then pose a few questions. *Summary* The traditional interpretation, identifying the frieze as the Panathenaic procession, goes back to the eighteenth century travelers Stuart & Revett. It has two main points of vulnerability. First, some items are missing which would be expected: e.g. kanephoroi (women carrying reed baskets), allies shown as tribute bearers, hoplites, the sacred trireme. Second, the violation of convention (having a contemporary scene where there should be a mythological one) would be severe and anomalous. Some scholars have met these objections by supposing that we have an "original" Panathenaia retrojected into mythic time. C's solution begins with the "peplos" panel on the east frieze. She holds that it represents the mythical king Erechtheus, together with his wife Praxithea and their three daughters. Our main Athenian source for this myth consists of the fragments of Euripides' play *Erechtheus*. One large fragment is preserved by the orator Lycurgus (*Against Leocrates* 101) = and another is preserved on papyrus (Sorbonne 2328 = Recherches de Papyr. 4, 1967, pp. 11-67). The myth can be reconstructed as follows: Erechtheus' new city is threatened by a rival, Eumolpus the son of Poseidon (whose gift of a spring was rejected in favor of Athena's olive). Delphi says Erechtheus must sacrifice his daughter to save the city. The three girls make a pact that if one of them must die they will all die. The youngest is sacrificed and the city wins the battle, though Erechtheus himself is swallowed by an earthquake; the other girls will die later. Athena directs the queen, Praxithea, to honor the dead girls with a sacred precinct on the Acropolis. On the peplos panel, there are 5 figures. Left to right, we have two girls, a woman, a bearded man, and a smaller child of indeterminate sex. C first suggests that the woman, usually identified as the priestess of Athena, is Praxithea the wife of Erechtheus. She wants to identify the bearded man (traditionally seen as a priest or as the Archon Basileus) as Erechtheus himself, with the attributes of a sacrificing priest. She says the bearded man's tunic is ungirt like that of priests about to sacrifice; but in her parallels, the men are holding knives (and the bearded man on the Parthenon frieze is not). She maintains convincingly that the smaller child at the right must be a girl. There is no known role for a boy even in the peplos ritual. The traditional interpretation says this girl is one of the arrephoroi; but they always appear elsewhere in pairs. C argues, also convincingly, that a girl's nude buttock on display at the culminating moment of this sacred ritual (involving the peplos and Athena's statue) would be offensive to the Athenians. The nudity must be purposeful; it is not Athena's peplos but rather Erechtheus' youngest daughter changing her clothes to be sacrificed. But C does not want the Erechtheid daughter preparing to be sacrificed nude. Parallels for the sacrifice of the virginal daughters of kings are adduced: Iphigeneia, Makaria, Polyxena. C wants to argue that such victims should be clad in a special kind of robe which works like a straightjacket. A wrapped-up Polyxena (as she appears on a 6th century Tyrrhenian amphora) provides her strongest parallel for this form of dress of the human sacrificial victim. The stools carried by the two girls at left are traditionally thought to be for the priestess and the Archon to sit on, but C adduces parallels for stools used as shelves for clothing. The gods and goddesses seated at right are turned away because it is unseemly for them to watch mortals die. The procession is "the first commemorative sacrifice in honor of Erechtheus and his daughters." The nine or ten men usually seen as the eponymous heroes or as the archons are generic elders. The chariots and the lack of hoplites in the procession accord with the idea that this is an army of the distant past, not a fifth century army. The cavalry evoke the distant past. The young men with horses evoke the sense of ephebes at the dokimasia. The Thracian caps are booty taken from the defeated Thracians in Eumolpus' army. The Pandora whose birth was represented at the base of the chryselephantine Athena was not Hesiod's Pandora but rather a daughter of Erechtheus. C finds some parallels for the kosmos (or dressing scene) of Pandora; hence she suggests that the littlest girl on the Parthenon "peplos" scene is Pandora. However, the mythographic tradition was fairly confused about the names, numbers, and even sexes of the children of Erechtheus. C further suggests that the west room of the Parthenon was believed to rest upon the tombs of the maidens, because in the papyrus fragment Euripides has Athena directing that a precinct be established where the girls are buried. So the name "Parthenon" is explained by C as a genitive plural ("the place of the maidens") rather than, as it usually explained, being formed from Athena's epithet Parthenos. Indeed, C thinks the local epithet Parthenos for Athena results from her being conflated with the Erechtheid girl. The Panathenaic festival was not originally a celebration of Athena's birthday, as is usually thought, but rather elaborate funeral games for the daughters of Erechtheus, who (she suggests) had a hero-cult on the Acropolis. Finally, she returns to the folded cloth. The usage of Athena's peplos in some ways suggests a funerary shroud; so the real peplos or peploi alluded to the one depicted on the Parthenon frieze, which however was not a representation of it but rather of the Erechtheid girl's bridal/funereal wrap. In fifth century ritual the arrephoroi weave the peplos; the pair of girls at left on the "peplos" scene thus evokes the arrephoroi. *Questions* The strengths of C's interpretation are evident. What are its weaknesses? First, conceiving of the procession as separated in time from the scene on the "peplos" slabs is perhaps a weak link ("the central scene may be read as a sort of flashback," p. 67). In the fragment of the play on papyrus, Athena instructs Praxithea to establish a ritual in honor of the girls. But are there parallels from architectural sculpture of the Classical period for this sort of temporal disjunction? Does it not seem more likely that whatever is depicted on the frieze, it all takes place at one time? Why not just suggest that the procession is somehow part of the same ritual event in which the sacrifice takes place? Second, is it reasonable to have a royal family so prominently celebrated by democratic Periklean Athens? C does not deal with this at length; she says that the Erechtheids in fact conform to "democratic" social ideology because they put the city's needs ahead of their own family (and she attributes this argument to R. Seaford, note 124). Third, what about the clothing of the human sacrificial victim? It appears from Aeschylus *Agamemnon* 239 that Iphigeneia is imagined as unclad at the moment of being sacrificed. Is she also unclad on the white-ground lekythos by Douris of c. 470 BC (ARV(2) 446.266, mislabeled as 226 in C's note 84)? Polyxena too tears off the top of her robe in preparation for the knife (Euripides *Hecuba* 555-562). Polyxena is probably the weakest of C's three parallels for the royal virgin sacrifice, since she is not sacrificed to save a city (Troy has already fallen) but to appease the ghost of Achilleus. But it is Polyxena who (as she appear on the 6th century Tyrrhenian amphora) provides C's strongest parallel for the dressing up of the human sacrificial victim. Is there any inconsistency here? On the one hand, C wants the exposed buttock of the Erechtheid girl to evoke the nudity of the sacrificial victim. But at the same time she wants the moment depicted to be prior to the actual sacrifice. Erechtheus does not even have the knife in his hand yet. C focuses on bridal clothing and funereal clothing, invoking the "bride of death" paradigm; but this episode would be first and foremost a sacrifice. Does it make sense to assimilate the robe to bridal or funereal wear if "Pandora" is going to remove or tear it before she dies? Does it make sense to say the gods are turned away because it is unseemly for them to see humans being killed, when (as C reads the panel) the victim is not dying, but merely preparing to die?
Date: Tue, 6 Feb 1996
From: Kevin Clinton
Subject: AEGEANET Connelly's Parthenon

In response to David Silverman's request... I think that Joan Connelly's attempt to interpret the Parthenon frieze as a mythical scene is a healthy development, but there are many problems, major and minor, with her interpretation. Others have pointed out (and will point out) problems with her iconography of sacrifice, but there are some serious problems concerning the myth, as I mentioned in the AJA colloquium in San Diego in which we both took part. C. wishes to see the myth of Eumolpos vs. Erechtheus as a vitally central myth to the Athenians: "... it is the orator Lycurgus who informs us of the centrality of the myth within the consciousness of the Athenians. 'On these verses, gentlemen, your fathers were brought up,' he reminds his audience as he launches into a 55-line quotation from Euripides' lost tragedy, the Erechtheus, ...' Actually, Lycurgus makes this comment *after* he quotes Euripides, but more significantly, he does not generalize in the way that C's mistranslation suggests. He actually said: "In these matters, gentlemen, he (sc. Euripides) educated your fathers." What a difference the active makes! There is no basis here for seeing this myth as traditionally expressing an Athenian paideia, and Lycurgus does not claim it. The values that he is interested in he attributes specifically to Euripides' version. C interprets the peplos scene as "... three girls preparing for death. The youngest girl goes first, so her funerary dress is being unfolded; the oldest daughter, second from left, is in the process of handing down a stool to her mother. The daughter at far left..." The parents are preparing their daughters for death, as she stated more explicitly in her talk in San Diego. However, in Euripides' play the parents have no idea that all three daughters will die. The oracle asks for only one, and Praxithea is willing to go along for the sake of the city: "And she will save her mother and you (sc. Erechtheus) and her two sisters" (lines 36-7). The tragedy is that she does not. Erechtheus and her sisters die; such is the news that is related to her mother at the end of the play, as C recognizes. Thus the play, our earliest literary version of the myth, in which the parents certainly do not intend to sacrifice all three daughters, does not offer a parallel for C's interpretation of the peplos scene. C's answer in San Diego to this difficulty I did not find persuasive: 1) Euripides may have been altered the myth. 2) If I understood it correctly, the scene may not necessarily be suggesting that the parents know that all three are going to die, yet the death of all three is being alluded to. I had a hard time following this, so I may not be representing it correctly. It strikes me as very difficult. What do the parents think they are doing? Aren't they, according to this reading, preparing them all in the same fashion? If so, isn't it for the same purpose? As for 1), it involves special pleading. And the implications are rather amazing. Virtually all attestations of the myth in literary sources follow Euripides in the main lines: Erechtheus must sacrifice one daughter and he only intends to sacrifice one. No version has him or his wife sacrificing or intending to sacrifice *all* their daughters. It is astounding, then, that a mythical scene on Athens' most famous building, which represents a major variant of the myth, has left no trace in any of the later accounts of the myth. (One might plead that in Euripides' Ion, there is a reference to it in Ion's question to Creusa and her response (lines 277-8): "Did your father Erechtheus sacrifice your sisters?" "He dared to kill the maidens as sacrifices (sphagia) for the land." But here allusion is being made very briefly, in the space of a single verse, to the result of the myth, for which Erechtheus is being criticized. It would be hard to argue from this that an alternative version is lurking here, that Euripides has presented two very different accounts. In each case "sacrifice" and "kill" may be understood in a causative sense.) It is also very odd that a myth that has "centrality ... within the consciousness of the Athenians" is not found elsewhere in Athenian art. C. does, very usefully, point out many difficulties with the traditional modern interpretation of the frieze, as others have done before her, and this should spark healthy debate.
From: Tomas Marik
Subject: Re: AEGEANET Connelly's Parthenon (long)
Date: Wed, 7 Feb 1996

When I first heard about re-interpretation of the Parthenon frieze a "a mythological scene" I didn't take serious, but now that it has been published it perhaps really needs discussion. Although I am not more than an undergraduate student of Classical Archaeology I have a strong inclination to contribute to such a discussion - can't say whether it will be helpfull for anybody. Unfortunately the last number of AJA didn't arrive yet at our institute, so I'm dependent on Silverman's summary. For the "old" interpretation I found references to Adolph Michaelis, Der Parthenon, Leipzig 1871, p. 203 ff. (did the author take it into account/refer to it?) where a summary of contemporary theories is given as well as arguments against them. From this moment on the freeze is (more or less) generaly refered to as Panathenaiac procession - the only not mythological one on the whole Parthenon in literature. But why must there be something "mythological"? If I'm not wrong then the Panathenaia was the most important "festival" at Athens, why shouldn't it be "holy" enough? On "bearded man on the Parthenon frieze without knife" Michaelis, p. 208-9 offers a fine theory. "The charriots and the lack of hoplites.." ...I don't feel they evoke the distant past, simply what was going on during the Panathenaia. Why should the Pandora on the base not be "Hesiod's" one? If at least Pausanias and Plinius thought it was. One of the strongest arguments in favour of the old theory can be found in the decorative composition of the Parthenon itself. Not only separate parts MUST (in 5th c. Athens) form a unit (e.g. the freeze in itself must refer as a whole to one topic, west and east pediment must be related,...) but all parts of the figural decoration form one system. That means that western part of the freeze must be, from its contents, related to western pediment and western metopes etc. On all this see for example Charbonneaux, La sculpture grecque classique, and at lot of others How does the new interpretation fit into such a system?
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 1996
From: Nick Nicastro
Subject: AEGEANET Connelly's Frieze and Temporal Disjunction

Regarding Joan Connelly's reinterpretation of the Parthenon frieze, David Silverman recently asked: >The strengths of C's interpretation are evident. What are its >weaknesses? First, conceiving of the procession as separated in time from the >scene on the "peplos" slabs is perhaps a weak link ("the central scene may be >read as a sort of flashback," p. 67). In the fragment of the play on papyrus, >Athena instructs Praxithea to establish a ritual in honor of the girls. But >are there parallels from architectural sculpture of the Classical period for >this sort of temporal disjunction? Does it not seem more likely that whatever >is depicted on the frieze, it all takes place at one time? I'm not sure about the 5th century, but such "temporal disjunctions" may have been fairly common in the pre-Classical arts. There's an article in "The Ages of Homer" omnibus by Mark Stansbury-O'Donnell ("Reading Pictorial Narrative", p. 315) that takes Homer's "Shield of Achilles" as a starting point for speculations on "narrativity" in Geometric ceramic-painting. According to Stansbury-O'Donnell, Greek viewers were able to interpret multi-level narratives (w/ past, present, and future actions) in single visual compositions, usually on the basis of arrangement and motion. This kind of interpretation may have been part of "visual literacy" in antiquity, just as our reading of cinematic montage is part of visual literacy in the 20th century. There's certainly many examples of such disjunctions down to Roman times-- so maybe it wasn't so unusual in the 5th century, either. There's lots to wonder about in Stansbury-O'Donnell's piece-- sometimes it seems like a tissue of circular arguments. But it is worth recognizing that the rules of ancient visual representation and reception may not have fit our modern notions of "likeliness".
Date: 9 Feb 1996
From: "Hurwit, Jeff"
Subject: AEGEANET Connelly and Temporal Disjunction

In response to N. Nicastro's comments on visual literacy and temporal disjunction vis-a-vis Joan Connelly's theory: While I cannot accept Connelly's interpretation of the Parthenon frieze for such reasons as those offered by K. Clinton, O. Palagia, E. Harrison, I. Jenkins, and others, and while I find her interpretation of the Pandora scene on the base of the Athena Parthenos especially bizarre (she is tempted to see it as the apotheosis of Erechtheus' sacrificed daughter, while our ancient sources were sure it was a *genesis*), I would like to point out that some scholars (e.g. E. Simon) have read a background myth into the (more or less) lost central metopes of the south side of the Parthenon. If, for example, it is the Ixion tale that was told in metopes 13-20/21--that is, the story of the progenitor of both the centaurs and Lapiths shown in the metopes on either side--then we might have the same sort of "flashback" that Connelly sees at the center of the east frieze. Surely an Athenian audience used to tragic choral, or Pindaric, odes might not have been disturbed by such a device.
Culled from the UMich archives of Aegeanet
Copyright © 2001 David Meadows
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