The Parthenon: The Height of Greek Civilization


The story of an inspired building and an inspirational civilization.

The Parthenon is more than a magnificent building. Every marble statue, every graceful column, is an expression of a civilization whose three great values still speak to us today:

  • Democracy. At a time of godlike rulers, ordinary citizens voted to build the Parthenon.
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The story of an inspired building and an inspirational civilization.

The Parthenon is more than a magnificent building. Every marble statue, every graceful column, is an expression of a civilization whose three great values still speak to us today:

  • Democracy. At a time of godlike rulers, ordinary citizens voted to build the Parthenon.
  • Humanism. The Parthenon's art honored Athens' water carriers as well as its gods.
  • Balance. The Parthenon's aesthetic brought lightness and grace to height and mass.

The Parthenon tells of the rise of Athens — from the religion that nurtured it, through the wars that tested it, to the democracy that ennobled it -culminating in the construction of the great temple on the Acropolis. The book not only captures the human stories, but also vividly illustrates the technical details behind the construction, from quarrying of the marbles to carving of the exquisite frieze. To look at the Parthenon is to see Athens. To see Athens, is to see ourselves.

Wonders of the World series

The winner of numerous awards, this series is renowned for Elizabeth Mann's ability to convey adventure and excitement while revealing technical information in engaging and easily understood language. The illustrations are lavishly realistic and accurate in detail but do not ignore the human element. Outstanding in the genre, these books are sure to bring even the most indifferent young reader into the worlds of history, geography, and architecture.

"One of the ten best non-fiction series for young readers."
- Booklist

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist - Carolyn Phelan
Informative... The well-research and clearly written text discusses Athenian history and culture as well as the engineering techniques that made the building of the Parthenon possible, the artistic knowledge and sensibility that made the temple beautiful, and the human effort that made it an apt expression of the Greek's democracy as well as their religious beliefs... many clearly delineated, large-scale paintings depicting the scenes from the ancient Athens.
School Library Journal

Gr 4–6
This visually appealing introduction to the Parthenon also explores the intriguing historical and societal factors that played key roles in its creation. The first half sets the stage, describing the rise of Athens in clear and lively prose. After Pericles convinces the citizens to build a new temple for Athena, the narrative's focus shifts to the actual construction. Full-color paintings show the components of the building with just enough detail. An impressive four-page foldout spread conveys the majesty of the temple and identifies neatly labeled specific components. The illustrations are nicely complemented by black-and-white photographs of some of the temple's remaining sculptures. Descriptions of the architectural challenges presented by the project and of the final artistic accomplishments are very effective. Beyond the architectural information, the author conveys the wide-ranging significance of the building. The Parthenon was an integral part of the city's religion, culture, politics, and even finances, and bringing out these impacts provides readers with a strong feel for the golden age of Athens.
—Steven EngelfriedCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Perceptive as always, Mann not only examines the construction of the Parthenon in this new entry in her Wonders of the World series, she also discusses what decorating this glorious, no-expenses-spared, holy temple with statues not of gods but of mortals reveals about how Athenians regarded themselves. She actually begins at the beginning, with the birth of Athena from Zeus's forehead, then goes on to deliver a rousing account of the victories at Marathon and Salamis (the booty from which largely financed the grand construction), plus a glimpse of how the Athenians' radical method of government actually worked. Capped by an eye-filling, double gatefold cutaway, the clear illustrations provide easy-to-see views of the early Acropolis and of the Parthenon in various stages of construction. Though the author ends abruptly with the catastrophic explosion of 1687, she once again will leave readers buzzed about one of the great works of architecture, and more deeply aware of the ways in which it reflects its builders' beliefs and attitudes. (bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781931414159
  • Publisher: Mikaya Press
  • Publication date: 10/9/2006
  • Series: Wonders of the World Book Series
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 318,958
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.25 (w) x 10.25 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Mann has written nine Wonders of the World books, an award-winning series. She is former teacher in New York, holds an M.S.E. and is cofounder of Mikaya Press.

Yuan Lee holds both an MA in art history and an MFA in illustration. His paintings have appeared in books and magazines, and on UN stamps.

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Read an Excerpt

Athens was one of many ancient settlements (demes) tucked away in the hills or hugging the rugged coast of the Attic peninsula. All the people of Attica were Greek. They spoke the same language and worshiped the same gods, but the rough terrain isolated the demes from each other. Large or small, each was stubbornly independent. When crops failed, when fishing was poor, they raided one another to survive.

Life on the peninsula slowly changed. A brilliant leader named Theseus emerged. He persuaded the scrappy demes of Attica to put aside their differences and form a unified polis (city-state) with Athens as the capital. United, the demes of Attica no longer fought among themselves, and peace was soon followed by prosperity.

Athens outgrew the top of the Acropolis and fanned out at the foot of its cliffs. A new
agora (marketplace) was built to the north of the Acropolis as trade with other Greek poleis and even other countries expanded. On nearby Pnyx Hill, where government meetings were held, a stone platform was built where speakers could stand to address the ever-larger crowds that gathered to listen.

Beyond these public areas, mud brick houses and workshops sprawled in every direction. The haphazard new streets were so narrow that residents knocked before leaving home so pedestrians wouldn't be struck as the door swung open. In the dark, windowless rooms, tame ferrets — there were no cats — hunted for mice and rats. The crowded lower city was for living, working, buying, and selling. The top of the Acropolis became a sanctuary reserved for religion. It was crowded with altars, temples, and statues of gods.

Government changed when the demes united, and it continued to change afterwards. By the 600s
BCE, after centuries of monarchy, there were no longer kings in Athens. Control of the government passed into the hands of a small group of wealthy landowners.

The people of Athens were no longer subject to the whims of a monarch, and the new government established important rights. They wrote laws and established courts where accused individuals could defend themselves. Even so, the lives of most Athenians were controlled by the wealthy few who were in power.

In 594 BCE, Solon, a poet and a thoughtful leader, urged reforms that allowed more citizens to participate in the government. He also passed laws that protected poor people from unfair treatment by the powerful landowners.

During 508 and 507 BCE, more reforms were proposed, this time by a landowner named Kleisthenes. Although he came from one of Athens' most aristocratic families, Kleisthenes thought all citizens, not just wealthy landowners, should have a say in government. His reforms marked the true beginning of democracy in Athens.

It is hard for us today to understand just how extraordinary Athenian democracy was. At the time of Kleisthenes, Egypt was ruled by a pharaoh whose subjects believed he was a god. In Persia, the king had the power of life and death over his subjects. All over the world, people bowed to the will of a single monarch, but not in Athens. In Athens, citizens were ruled by themselves. They obeyed laws written by themselves. Citizens were tried by juries made up of themselves.

Athenian democracy was controversial from the start. Most landowning aristocrats didn't like it — they wanted to keep the power for themselves. Greeks in other poleis complained that it gave Athenian citizens too much freedom! Despite the opposition, democracy took root in Athens.

It was a "direct" democracy — citizens weren't represented by elected officials, as we are. They made the laws themselves, in person, during meetings of the ekklesia, the popular assembly. Every one of Athens' 30,000 citizens was a member of the ekklesia and had the right to attend every session and to speak and vote on every law.

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