Worshipping Athena: Panathenaia and Parthenon


The foremost religious festival of ancient Athens?the city dedicated to Athena, goddess of war, fertility, arts, and wisdom?was the Panathenaia. Challenging old assumptions and refuting new theories, Worshipping Athena addresses the many problems of interpretation and understanding that have swirled for years around the Panathenaia. Among the issues discussed is the recent sensational controversy over the Parthenon frieze, perhaps the best known but least understood work of Greek art. For centuries the frieze has...
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The foremost religious festival of ancient Athens—the city dedicated to Athena, goddess of war, fertility, arts, and wisdom—was the Panathenaia. Challenging old assumptions and refuting new theories, Worshipping Athena addresses the many problems of interpretation and understanding that have swirled for years around the Panathenaia. Among the issues discussed is the recent sensational controversy over the Parthenon frieze, perhaps the best known but least understood work of Greek art. For centuries the frieze has been thought to represent the Panathenaia procession, but recently the argument has been advanced that it depicts the sacrifice of the daughters of the Athenian king Erechtheus. Worshipping Athena offers compelling evidence that the frieze does indeed depict the festal procession and also demonstrates that scenes of contemporary ritual were not unique to the Parthenon.
    Editor Jenifer Neils and the contributors—eminent classicists, archaeologists, and art historians—explore the role of the Panathenaia in Athenian life and compare it with similar festivals held throughout the ancient Greek world. They discuss such topics as the Panathenaia’s mythical origins, the phenomenon of the festival’s valuable prizes (oil-filled amphoras, rather than the customary laurel wreath), and the architecture, sculpture, and painting related to the festival.
    Worshipping Athena will provide valuable insights to scholars and students concerned with ancient religion, mythology, art, literature, and gender issues, as well as anyone with a keen interest in the ritual topography of the Athenian Acropolis and the iconography of the Parthenon frieze.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A superb presentation of a subject central to classical archaeology. . . . All the chapters will be of great interest to scholars, and particularly to students, as they represent up-to-date treatments of enduring problems.”—William R. Biers, University of Missouri–Columbia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299151140
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1996
  • Series: Wisconsin Studies in Classics Series
  • Pages: 262
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenifer Neils is professor and chair of art history at Case Western Reserve University. She organized the exhibition Goddess and Polis:  The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens in 1992 and edited the accompanying catalog.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Theseus and Athenian Festivals 9
2 Athena's Shrines and Festivals 27
3 Women in the Panathenaic and Other Festivals 78
4 Group and Single Competitions at the Panathenaia 95
5 Gifts and Glory: Panathenaic and Other Greek Athletic Prizes 106
6 Panathenaic Amphoras: The Other Side 137
7 Shield Devices and Column-Mounted Statues on Panathenaic Amphoras: Some Remarks on Iconography 163
8 Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance: The Iconography of Procession 177
9 The Web of History: A Conservative Reading of the Parthenon Frieze 198
10 Democracy and Imperialism: The Panathenaia in the Age of Perikles 215
Abbreviations 229
Bibliography 230
Index of Ancient Authors 241
Index 245
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2003

    Rock-Solid Scholarship

    In the center of the west pediment of the Parthenon in Athens, Athena and Poseidon stood facing each other. Greek myth says they participated in a contest to see who would be the dominant deity in the city and throughout the surrounding region. It was said that Poseidon placed a salt water spring on the Akropolis (the high place of the city) as his gift, and Athena offered the olive tree. The citizens preferred Athena¿s gift and made her their primary goddess. Athena¿s gift makes sense if we relate it to the Book of Genesis. There, the dove returns to Noah with a torn-off olive leaf in its beak, and the olive tree became a sign of the new age after the Flood. Athena takes the olive tree as her own symbol, thus establishing herself as humanity¿s source of enlightenment. Poseidon¿s gift of a salt spring on the Akropolis, however, is a worthless offering to the people of Athens. It must mean something else. In Worshipping Athena, contributor Noel Robertson relates that no well of any kind exists on the top of the Akropolis, and concludes that ¿this strange well with sea-water did not go down very far; perhaps it was more of a basin.¿ This crucial bit of research helps substantiate my theory that, rather than depicting a preposterous contest between deities, the west pediment of the Parthenon portrayed part of humanity¿s history¿the Flood and its aftermath. Poseidon is the god of the power of the sea. During the Flood, he covered the Akropolis. What Poseidon left behind as his waters receded was a basin, or pool, of salt water¿not a spring. Thank you, Mr. Robertson. Upon the sea god¿s departure, the goddess Athena usurped the symbol of the olive tree and began her rule of the new Greek age. Greek myth has Athena being born full-grown out of Zeus, an event pictured on a great many surviving vases, and in the center of the east pediment of the Parthenon. As I point out in my book, Athena and Eden: The Hidden Meaning of the Parthenon¿s East Facade, this is a picture of Eve being born full-grown out of Adam, and thus Athena¿s birth actually represents the rebirth of the serpent¿s Eve after the Flood. I am a Parthenon iconographer by profession, studying the meaning of the sculptures which adorned Athena¿s great temple. I rely on rock-solid scholarship. This is exactly what the contributors (Jenifer Neils, Erika Simon, Noel Robertson, Mary R. Lefkowitz, Alan L. Boegehold, Donald G. Kyle, Richard Hamilton, Michalis Tiverios, Evelyn B. Harrison, and H. A. Shapiro) supply in Worshipping Athena. They are among the very best of the best.

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