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Amazon Metope: Overall view of metope

Olympia, Temple of Zeus, Erymanthian Boar metope, reconstruction (large)

Olympia, Temple of Zeus, Apples of the Hesperides metope, reconstruction ...

Olympia, Temple of Zeus, Cretan Bull metope, reconstruction (large)

Olympia, Temple of Zeus, Amazon metope, reconstruction (large)

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Geryon Metope: Overall view of the metope

Collection: Olympia Archaeological Museum
Title: Olympia Metopes Overview
Context: From Olympia
Findspot: Excavated at Olympia
Summary: Labors of Herakles
Material: Marble
Sculpture Type: Architectural
Category: Statuary group
Placement: Over the East and West Porches
Style: Early Classical
Technique: High relief
Original or Copy: Original
Date: ca. 470 BC - ca. 457 BC

H 1.60 m (approximately square)

Scale: Under life-size
Region: Elis
Period: Early Classical

Subject Description:

We know from Pausanias (Paus. 5.10.9) the subjects of the metopes: the Twelve (canonic) Labors of Herakles which he performed for King Eurystheus of Argos during the years he spent in the king's service, as the Delphic oracle had ordered. The metopes decorated the ends of the inner building, six over the east porch and six over the west porch, each Labor occupying one panel. In literature the twelve were known as the Dodekathlos. Pausanias apparently recorded them in the order in which he viewed them, since the findspots seem to confirm his arrangement. He lists those on the East first, reading from left to right: the Erymanthian boar, the horses of Diomedes, Geryon, Atlas bringing the apples of the Hesperides, (Cerberus, which should follow here, was inadvertently omitted) and lastly, the Augean stables. Those on the West follow, this time from right to left: the Amazon, the Keryneian hind, the Cretan bull, the Stymphalian birds, the Lernaean Hydra and the Nemean Lion. However, if one begins at the West end and reads in each case from left to right — the course a visitor would have followed before entering the cella of the temple, as Robertson argues — the metopes follow a chronological logic, since the Nemean Lion was traditionally the first Labor and Cerberus the last. The Augean stables (Augeas was king of Elis) may have been added because of its local importance. It has been proposed by Brommer and others that this order represents a rearrangement after the temple was damaged by earthquake and that the original order was based on a different logic. However, the evidence of Pausanias, the findspots, a possible stylistic distinction between East and West under the present arrangement, the Greek letters A and G (the numerals 1 and 3) on the Augean Stables and Atlas metopes (Robertson 1975, 274) and the balancing presence of Athena on the first, third, tenth and twelfth metopes as the order now stands, has led most scholars to accept the arrangement presented here.

The choice of Herakles for the sculptural decoration of a temple dedicated to Zeus, especially at Olympia, is understandable. He is not only a son of Zeus and great- grandson of Pelops but the preeminent athlete and founder of the Olympic Games. The Labors were sometimes referred to as the Athloi by the ancient Greeks and, as contests, required many of the same skills as those needed by contestants in the Games. The metopes may also be read in this wider sense, with references which go beyond a simple telling of Herakles' exploits.

The erection of the Temple of Zeus with its sculptural adornment represents the first major building following the Persian invasion of Greece. It is the first significant monument of the Early Classical period and the sculpture in particular illustrates the extraordinary change which has taken place since the Archaic Period. The metopes reflect this new attitude in virtually every respect. From the choice of the moment at which each Labor is depicted — usually late in the struggle or after its completion, rather than at its height — to the choice of composition — a distillation to the minimal number of characters presented in the the most simple geometric form — the overall impression is strikingly different from the archaic representations of these episodes. The details differ in an equally substantial way. The faces are somber, the drapery heavy with simple lines; the interest, whether in human form or emotion, is focussed on the underlying or internal rather than the

Condition: Fragmentary

Condition Description:

The degree of preservation varies greatly. Most fragments are in Olympia, where the entire series has been restored. A number of fragments are also in the Louvre.

Associated Building: Olympia, Temple of Zeus

Sources Used:

Stewart 1990, 142 ff.; Brommer 1986; Boardman 1985a, 33ff.; Mallwitz & Herrmann 1980, 161ff.; Robertson 1975, 276 ff.; Ashmole 1972, 27 ff.; Ridgway 1970; Ashmole & Yalouris 1967