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The Parthenon

( Originally Published 1915 )



In describing the Doric order, we have already described many of the essential details of this marvelous building, the work of Ictinus and Callicrates. It is the most complete of all the Greek temples the most intellectual of buildings it has been called. It is Doric, and was built by Ictinus, though Phidias was the sculptor. Exclusive of the steps on which it stood, it was 228 feet long by for feet wide, and 64 feet high. There were eight columns in the front and seventeen facing from each side, each about 34 feet high, and over 6 feet in diameter. The Doric column had no base, and a very simple capital as we have seen, but, like all Greek columns they were fluted. The Doric flutings are shallow, and generally twenty in number in each column. The moldings, though very few in number, were subtle in their design and curve.

The construction of the Parthenon was of the most solid and durable kind, and the material was marble. The roof may have been made of timber covered with marble tiles. The plan was very simple, consisting of an oblong space, at the end of which was the cella or sacred cell in which stood the statue of Athena, done in ivory and gold. The temple was surrounded by columns and at each end there was a portico eight columns wide and two deep.

We have referred to the sculptures of the Greek temple as its crowning ornament. While we cannot describe them, we may show where they were placed, that is, how they were used to decorate the building. The pedirnent or gable contained a famous group of figures, their positions so arranged as to fit into the shape of the gable. Most of those now left are preserved in the British Museum. Around the outside wall of the cella ran a frieze with sculpture almost flat, representing the great fete that took place at Athens every four years in honor of the goddess Athena, whose statue, forty feet high, was the gem of the temple and stood within it. Another series of reliefs, called metopes, surrounded the building, alternating with the ends of the roof beams.

The sculptures which adorned the Parthenon were the finest the world has ever seen, and were the work of Phidias and his pupils. The marbles of the pediment were " in the round," but those of the frieze, also very famous, were in relief. This frieze represented all that the first city of Greece possessed of youth, beauty, nobility, and honor, assembled to render homage to the virgin goddess of the city of Athens. This fine procession displays the figures all in positions of ease and grace, and to the most ordinary incidents is given ideality and charm. The location of the- Parthenon was not the least of its beauties. With other buildings, it crowned the Acropolis of Athens.

In the words of John Addington Symonds, who wrote beautifully of Greece as well as of Italy, " The Acropolis is the center of the landscape, splendid as a work of art with its crown of temples ; and the sea, surmounted by the long; low hills, is the boundary to which the eye is led . . . in spite of time and violence, the Acropolis survives, a miracle of beauty; like an everlasting flower, through all the lapse of years it has spread its coronal of marbles to the air. The exquisite adaptation of Greek building to Greek landscape has been enhanced rather than impaired by the lapse of time.

" These buildings upon the Acropolis are as useful to the scenery around them as the everlasting mountains, as sympathetic as the rest of nature to the successions of morning and evening which waken them to passionate life by the magic touch of color."

Mahaffy writes : " The Parthenon remained untouched and perfect all through the Middle Ages. Then it became a mosque and survived with little damage till 1687, when, in the bombardment by the Venetians, a shell dropped into the Parthenon, where the Turks had their powder stored, and blew out the whole center of the building. Eight or nine pillars at each side have been thrown down and have left a large gap, which so severs the front and rear of the temple, that, from the city below they look like the remains of two different buildings : but the Venetians were not content with their exploit, they wished to take down the sculptures of Phidias from the eastern pediment; they were so clumsy about it that the figures fell from their places and were dashed to pieces on the ground."

The building of the Parthenon occupied about five years, and it was constructed of Pentelic marble.

Earth proudly wears the Parthenon As the best gem upon her zone.

Ornament, as we have already said, ought to express rather than conceal the structure of a building. In the Greek buildings we find this true in many ways. Take, for example, the Doric order of capital and see how well in the most simple way, it is adapted to hold the lintel in place. And wherever there is ornament in these temples, notice how it is used to plainly express the structure, just as we have said good architecture ought to do. Notice, for instance, that the vertical members carry vertical linings. The flutings of the columns make vertical lines to the eyes. But, when we come to the parts that were horizontal, see how the lines made by the ornamental features emphasize this and band the parts together.

If we examine a Greek temple with reference to the table on page II we shall see that it had nearly all the elements of fitness, strength, and beauty. It was a perfect structure there and then, but we can probably think of many reasons why it would not be suitable for a modern business house in modern times.

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