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Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 236

The fame of Pheidias himself, however, rested very largely on three great pieces of art work: The Athene Promachos, the Athene Parthenos, and the Olympian Zeus. The first of these was a work of Pheidias's youth. It represented the goddess standing gazing toward Athens lovingly and protectingly. She held a spear in one hand, the other supported a buckler. The statue was nine feet high. It was dignified and noble, but at the time of its conception Pheidias had not freed himself from the convention and traditions of the earlier school, and the stiff folds of the tunic, the cold demeanor of the goddess, recall the masters whom Pheidias was destined to supersede. No copy of this statue survives, and hence a description of it must be largely conjectural, made up from hints gleaned from Athenian coins.

Pheidias sculptured other statues of Athene, but none so wonderful as the Athene Parthenos, which, with the Olympian Zeus, was the wonder and admiration of the Greek world. The Athene Parthenos was designed to stand as an outward symbol of the divinity in whose protecting might the city had conquered and grown strong, in whose honor the temple had been built in which this statue was to shine as queen. The Olympian Zeus was the representative of that greater divinity which all Hellas united in honoring. We may gain from the words of Pausanias some idea of the magnificence of this statue, but of its unutterable majesty we can only form faint images in the mind, remembering the strength and grace of the figures of the pediments of the temple at Athens. "Zeus," says Pausanias, "is seated on a throne of ivory and gold; upon his head is laced a garland made in imitation of olive leaves. He bears a Victory in his right hand, also crowned and made in gold and ivory, and holding in her right hand a little fillet. In his left hand the god holds a sceptre, made of all kinds of metals; the bird perched on the tip of the sceptre is an eagle. The shoes of Zeus are also of gold, and of gold his mantle, and underneath this mantle are figures and lilies inlaid."

Both the Olympian Zeus and the Athene were of chryselephantine work offering enormous technical difficulties, but in spite of this both showed almost absolute perfection of form united with beauty of intellectual character to represent the godhead incarnate in human substance. These two statues may be taken as the noblest creations of the Greek imagination when directed to the highest objects of its contemplation. The beauty of the Olympian Zeus, according to Quintilian, "added a new element to religion."

In the works of art just mentioned the creative force of the Greeks attained its highest success. After the death of Pheidias his methods were carried on in a way by the sculptors who had worked under him and become subject to his influence; but as years went on, with less and less to remind us of the supreme perfection of the master. Among these pupils of Pheidias were Agoracritos and Colotes in Athens, Paionios, and Alcamenes. Of Paionios fortunately one statue survives in regard to which there can be no doubt. The Victory erected to the Olympian Zeus shows a tall goddess, strongly yet gracefully carved, posed forward with her drapery flattened closely against her body in front as if by the wind, and streaming freely behind. The masterpiece of Alcamenes, an Aphrodite, is known only by descriptions. The pediments of the temple at Olympia have been assigned, by tradition, one to Alcamenes, one to Paionios. They are, however, so thoroughly archaic in style that it seems impossible to reconcile them with what we know of the work of the men to whom they are attributed. The group of the eastern front represented the chariot races of Oinomaos and Pelops; that of the western, the struggle of the Centaurs and Lapithae. In the latter the action is extremely violent, only the Apollo in the midst is calm and commanding. In both pediments there are decided approaches to realism.


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