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West Pediment, Figs. H & I (Group of bride? and centaur), view from le...

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West Pediment, Fig. T (Kneeling Lapith), detail of lower torso and legs

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West Pediment, Figs. H & I (Group of bride? and centaur), centaur mau...

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West pediment, general view, Figs. C,D,E,F

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West Pediment, Fig. A (Old woman) in foreground; Fig. B in center back

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West Pediment, Figs. F,G (Lapith boy and centaur), view facing pediment

Collection: Olympia Archaeological Museum
Title: Olympia, West Pediment Overview
Context: From Olympia
Findspot: Excavated at Olympia
Summary: Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs
Material: Marble
Sculpture Type: Architectural
Category: Statuary group
Placement: West Pediment
Style: Early Classical
Technique: In-the-round
Original or Copy: Original
Date: ca. 470 BC - ca. 457 BC

W of pediment 26.0 m; H of pediment at center 3.30 m

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

Subject Description:

The subject of the West Pediment, the fight between the Lapiths and the centaurs at the wedding of Peirithoos and Deidameia, is clearly identifiable from the physical remains. It is confirmed by Pausanias (Paus. 5.10.8), although he seems confused about certain details. In the center the imposing figure (L) must be a god, not Peirithoos as Pausanias reports. It parallels the central figure of Zeus in the East Pediment, not only in size and position, but as a silent figure, invisible to the other participants, who exists as an observer on a different plane. He has been called Zeus, like his counterpart, though most scholars believe he represents Apollo.

On either side of the central figure is a threesome of centaur, Lapith woman and hero, whose positions are a matter of controversy. The heroes must represent Theseus and Peirithoos, rather than Kaineos (again, Pausanias seems confused). Theseus is generally identified as Figure M, since he carries the axe mentioned by Pausanias. A nearly identical image appears on a krater in New York by the Painter of the Woolly Satyrs, including the garment fallen around the legs, while a similar representation exists on a Niobid Painter krater in Berlin. Both vases may reflect monumental painting, particularly a Centauromachy in the Theseion in Athens. The other hero (K) must then be Peirithoos. One of the Centaur/woman groups must represent Eurytion and Deidameia, the wife of Peirithoos. Figs. H and I are commonly assigned this designation and placed next to Fig. K. However, the fine linen dress of Figure O may suggest that she is the bride, and she may be paired with Theseus rather than with her husband. Lastly, the usual arrangement places the figures of the heroes next to the god. An alternative restoration reverses this order, setting the women and centaurs next to the central figure, where Pausanias located Eurytion and Deidameia.

The figures which fill out the remainder of the pediment include other groups of centaurs attacking women and children as well as Lapith men struggling to free them. In the corners are prone women, apparently watching the fray. Figure A in the left-hand corner is usually thought to be a slightly later replacement of a figure probably damaged in an earthquake. Several centuries later Figures B and U were apparently added to fill the space between the corner and subsequent figures.

Unlike the Race between Oenomaos and Pelops on the East Pediment which had many connections with Olympia and the recent history of the sanctuary in particular, the disruption of the wedding of Peirithoos was set in Thessaly and had no specific connection with Olympia. However, centauromachies were extremely popular in Greek art and represented the struggle of the civilized world against barbarians. In the years following the invasion of the Persians and their repulsion by the Greeks, the period in which the Temple of Zeus was built, the subject was a reference to that crisis and ultimate victory of the Greeks and to the values for which they had stood.

Date Description:

See East Pediment.

Condition: Fragmentary

Condition Description:

Fragments of nineteen figures, plus two (B and U) which apparently were a late addition to the original design; figures broken into many fragments; heavily weathered.

Associated Building: Olympia, Temple of Zeus

Collection History:

Excavated by the Germans from 1875.

Sources Used: Stewart 1990, 142 ff.; Boardman 1985a, 33ff.; Mallwitz & Herrmann 1980, 161ff.; Robertson 1975, 276 ff.; Grunauer 1974; Ashmole 1972, 27 ff.; Ridgway 1970; Ashmole & Yalouris 1967