*trumpet fanfare* Welcome to my 201st blog post as a primarily Richard Armitage centered blogger! (*ahem* see, I was planning this post to mark the 200 milestone, but then s’mores happened and I forgot…). A little backstory might be useful at this point. Over the summer, my dear pal Guytly was in London to see some play…I forget the name. 😉 During her sojourn, she visited the renowned British Museum and sent me a picture that sent my Classics and Armitage brain cranking.
One look at this told me that it came from the Parthenon…the fifth century Temple of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis. From there the sleuthing began. Although every student of classical archaeology is familiar with the Parthenon, widely considered the most perfected example of the Doric Order, some are more familiar than others. My specialty focus is on periods earlier than the High Classical to which the Parthenon belongs, so this image presented me with an opportunity to look at some details of the building that I haven’t looked at in a very long time…if ever. Just a cursory inspection suggested to me that this comes from the Panathenaic frieze which was located on the interior of the structure. This fragment of architectural sculpture may or may not belong to a larger group of material from the Parthenon known colloquially at The Elgin Marbles.
A sculpted frieze course was not typically part of the canonical scheme of a Doric temple, so its presence here is one of the unique features of the Parthenon. The frieze depicts scenes from the a sacred Athenian festival known as the Panathenaia...specifically, scenes from the Panathenaic Procession. The goddess Athena was the patron divinity of the city of Athens, and a great deal of Athenian cult practice centered around her worship. The Athenians celebrated both annual (Lesser Panathenaia) and every fourth year (Greater Panathenaia) festivals to honor Athena. The Panathenaia included a variety of competitions from atheletic games to musical competitions and culminated in a grand procession during which a new peplos (basically a dress) was presented to the goddess. It is this procession that is depicted on the Parthenon frieze.
I’ve seen many parts of this frieze many times over the years, but I had some difficulty placing the specific fragment that Guylty had photographed. The indication of a wheel placed it within the “chariot” sections on the north and south stretches of the frieze. As is clear from the condition of the fragment, this is a section of the frieze that was heavily damaged…damage incurred by a 1687 bombardment of Athens by Venetian forces. Fortunately, Jacques Carrey, a French draftsman and painter had been in Athens in 1674 and drawn a great many of the sculptures. His drawings of the sections of the structure damaged by the Venetian bombardment are the only remaining record of the lost material.
There he is…placed back into context. It seems pretty likely that the fragment Guylty photographed comes from the long north side of the frieze in a section of the chariot races that is depicting a specialty event called the Apobates. This was a contest where a fully armed hoplite jumped out of a chariot and ran alongside it before jumping back in…a while the chariot was moving at full speed.
While this is all a very interesting trip into an ancient Athenian festival, you might well be wondering what in the world it might have to do with Richard Armitage. Allow me to elucidate…with a snapshot of our conversation:
Sure enough…a side by side comparison is very telling: