ATHENS – more museum wonders
Are you refreshed and ready to explore more of this wonderful Museum? Rick has returned to us and we will continue our journey, but there most probably won’t be any little anecdotes as this is pure history – just read and be astounded with what you see. Imagine me actually standing in front of it – WOW!
Let’s begin – this sphinx is made of Pentelic marble. It was discovered in Spata and is one of the earliest known Archaic Sphinxes circa 570BC. This one was used a decoration on a grave stele.
As we proceed through the rooms, I am keen to read all the information boards so Rick is paused again – many, many times.
Bottom left is a statue of a naked youth found in the area of the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens in 1888. The youth would have held some object in his raised right arm. According to one view, the statue copies the “Splachnoptes” by the Cypriot sculptor Styppax, a bronze statue of the 3rd quarter of the 5th century B.C. According to Plinius, that statue depicted a young boy ready to spit-roast the entrails for the sacrifice, simultaneously, blowing to light the fire.
In the centre is a votive relief made of Pentelic marble. Found in Eleusis, it is the largest and most important relief known. Dedicated to the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis it represents the deities – Demeter on the left offering ears of wheat to Triptolemos (in the centre), son of the Eleusinian King Keleos. Persephone on the right blesses Triptolemos with her right hand. Imagine how grand it would have been when it was first carved.
Moving on – Rick is excited – we turn our attention to the Artemesion Bronze. It is not known for sure which God this represents. It was recovered from the sea off Cape Artemision in northern Euboea. It could be either Zeus – the King of the Gods or Poseidon – God of the Seas. It is slightly over life size at 209 cm, and would have held either a thunderbolt, if Zeus; or a trident if Poseidon.
Shown in full heroic nudity with his left arm and foot thrust dynamically forward in the direction of his foes, while his right leg and arm are raised and slightly bent, representing movement. Most of his weight shifted to left foot while the other lightly touches the ground. The figure appears to be paused ready for action. The head is sculptured in considerable detail with his hair and beard intricately carved. His eyebrows were originally made of silver, his lips of copper and his eyes of some other material which are now entirely missing. You have to admit it truly is magnificent – especially when you stand before him.
OK – once my heart stops beating at a million miles an hour we move on.
In the same room as that magnificent bronze is this much smaller bronze statuette of Zeus which could be easily overlooked. Found at the ancient city of Ambrakia, Altoloakarnania and dating from about 490-480 BC, he has his right arm raised and in his hand he holds thunder – ready to hurl it at some unsuspecting trouble makers.
In the left hand – an eagle ready to take flight. Legend has it that a giant, golden eagle served as Zeus’ personal messenger and animal companion. This eagle does not look to be a giant – but let’s proceed – according to some it was once a mortal king named Periphas, whose virtuous rule was so celebrated that he came to be honoured like a god. Zeus, in anger, would have struck him with a thunderbolt, but Apollon intervened and transformed the king into an eagle and set him beside the throne of Zeus.
Above left – this magnificent funerary Lekythos dating 420-410 BC. Made of marble, the shape was appropriate, for it was used exclusively to hold oil and played an important part in funerary preparation and ritual. it was found in Syntagma Square, the site of an important ancient cemetery.
Above centre – Aphrodite. The sheath of the sword held in her raised right hand crosses her chest. This is a 1st century AD copy of an original dated circa 400 BC.
Above right is a Pentelic marble grave stele dating 410-400 BC. It was found in 1870 in the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. The deceased is always shown as seated, and in this case an Athenian maid is looking at a jewel wishing she could take it with her – her maid is holding the jewelery box. The deceased, according to the inscription on the pillar, was Higso, daughter of the Consul.
Next stop is a replica of the famous statue of Athena. Made of Pantelic marble it is known as the Varvakeoin Athena and was discovered in the 3rd century AD. It is the truest and best preserved copy of the cult statue of Athena Parthenon by Pheidias which was placed inside the Parthenon in 438 BC.
The original in the Parthenon was approximately twelve times larger than this copy (12 metres); the naked parts of the body were made of ivory and the rest of the statue was covered with leaves of gold. Considered one of the greatest achievements of the most acclaimed sculptor of ancient Greece. Phidias began his work around 447 BC. it was damaged by fire about 165 BC but repaired. It was last mentioned as being in Constantinople in the 10th century – now it is lost to history.
Athena wears an Attic veil and her chest is covered with a scalloped apron with gorgonium and snakes. On her head she is wearing an Attic helmet with raised leggings and three plumes, of which the central one ends in front of the sphinx, while the lateral ones end in Pegasus. In the palm of her right hand stands a Victory (Nike) ready to fly. The left hand rests on the shield on the inner side of which is a serpent, the Eritchonian.
To stand in front of her and imagine the original 12 metre statue is mind boggling. She is tucked away in a small corner of the museum and I am the only one here so I can take my time and also take loads of photos sans tourists.
As I move on to my next stop I pass through a room of Funeral Steles – these tell such interesting stories; but next is the Horse and Jockey of Artemision.
Retrieved in pieces from the shipwreck off Cape Artemision – just like Zeus/Poseidon bronze – the pair is captured in a moment of high drama. The horse has two legs lifted far off the ground, giving the impression that he gallops at full speed. His wide eyes, flattened ears, and exaggerated veins vividly show his strain. His wide nostrils, parted mouth, and lolling tongue almost enable the viewer to see him panting and frothing as he pushes through to the end of the race.
The boy sits astride his horse, his body leaning close to the animal’s neck, in one hand he grips a fragment of the reins while the other hand is poised to hold a whip or crop. His simple clothing and the locks of his hair flutter freely in the wind; his mouth hangs slack and open, showing his exhaustion to match that of the horse. The boy’s full lips and broad nose are taken by many scholars to be an indication of Ethiopian descent. It is dated circa 140 BC.
The god is depicted standing, wearing a cloak that is wound around his left arm. In his right hand he held a purse and in his left the caduceus which is the traditional symbol of Hermes.
It features two snakes winding around an often winged staff. It has been widely adopted by the medical professions as a symbol of medicine.
The statue is a work of the second century AD Augustan period (27 BC-AD), inspired by Lysippean models of the 4th c. BC.
This is a grave stele made of Pentelic marble.
Above the back of the horse there is an impression in the shape of a Macedonian helmet. The prominence given to the horse suggests that the owner of the monument was a military man.
Back to some more bronzes – below left is a figure identified either with Perseus holding the head of Medusa in his right hand or more possibly with Paris holding the Apple of Discord to give it to the most beautiful of the goddesses, Aphrodite. Either way he has an incredible physique – another heart starter.
Above centre is the head of a Philosopher – 240 BC. Another recovery from the Antikythera shipwreck, he is very realistic with tousled hair, luxuriant beard and thick moustache. The eyes are made of a different material and the irises of glass paste. Two parts of his garment along with parts of both legs and both hands were also recovered. He was depicted standing and in his left hand he held a staff.
Above right is a marble statuette of a Tritoness. She was a sea-goddess shown carrying a round cist on her head. A cist is usually a funerary object containing a body or ashes.
Found in the Agora of the Italians on the Island of Delos, the warrior, wounded in the thigh, has fallen to the ground on his right knee and is attempting to defend himself against the enemy. On the ground beside him is a Galatian helmet, Circa 100 BC.
Also in this room is a colour photo of Aphrodite, Pan and Eros from Delos. Unfortunately the original statue has been removed ‘for conservation’. You can’t tell me that sitting still in a museum for years can deteriorate a statue that much that it has to have further work on it.
If that is the case then someone is not doing their job in the first place.
Still a bit of information won’t go astray – the Goddess Aphrodite fends off the lascivious, goat-legged God Pan with a raised sandal. He tries to pull her hand away from her covered groin. Eros, the winged God of love, flits between the pair grabbing Pan by the horns.
We are moving onto the Roman section but before we go these three statues are really mind blowing.
In his raised right hand he will have held the trident. Next to his right leg is a support in the form of a dolphin.
On the right – this piece, made of marble was the single support for a table top.
The pillar-support is adorned by a group consisting of Dionysus, Pan and a Satyr, one of a class of lustful, drunken woodland gods. In Greek art they were represented as a man with a horse’s ears and tail, but in Roman representations as a man with a goat’s ears, tail, legs, and horns
The nude Dionysus holds a ritual vase. Next to him the goat-footed god Pan holds a stick for striking hares. In front of them is a small cylindrical basket, from which a snake is emerging.
A young Satyr climbs up the vine and cuts grapes with the sickle in his right hand.
Right – Emperor Augustus – this is the only preserved life-size equestrian statue of Augustus. It was recovered from the sea in the area between Euboea and the Island of Aghios Eustratios and dates back to the end of the 1st Century BC.
Made of Pantelic marble, it is a sleeping Maenad; a Maenad was a female follower of Dionysus the God of wine. The word comes from the Greek maenades, meaning “mad” or “demented.” During the orgiastic rites of Dionysus, Maenads roamed the mountains and forests performing frenzied, ecstatic dances and were believed to be possessed by the God. She lies on a panther skin spread on a rocky surface. It was found to the south of the Athenian Acropolis.
I think that is a fine way to finish our visit. Of course there is so much more to see but I think I have done a pretty good job being led around by Rick and I have seen the most important pieces (I think) of this incredible museum. I feel like the Maenad – I need a nap and maybe a refresher from Dionysus – but it is time to get back on the HOHO bus and take refuge in my hotel room.
Tomorrow is another action packed day –