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Athenian Religious and Cultural Life in the Golden Age

Unprecedented changes occurred in many areas of the lives of the Athenians in the Golden Age, but at the same time central aspects of Athenian society remained unchanged. The result was a mix of innovation and continuity. The most conspicuous continuity was in traditional Greek religion, which permeated public and private life. For most people, their religious beliefs and practices remained largely the same as they had always been. One of the most striking cultural changes of the period, on the other hand, come with the development of tragic drama as a publicly supported art form performed before mass audiences. Artists as well as dramatists were experimenting with new techniques and approaches in this period, too, and artistic developments in free-standing sculpture1 provide the clearest demonstration of the innovation and variety in the depiction of the human form that characterized Greek art in the fifth century.

The Outlines of Greek Religion in the Classical Period

The Athenians' attitude in the mid-fifth century B.C. about their fortunate relationship to the gods corresponded to the basic tenet of traditional Greek religion: humans both as individuals and as groups paid honors to the gods2 to thank them for blessings received and to receive blessings in return. Those honors consisted of sacrifices, gifts to the gods' sanctuaries, and festivals of songs, dances, prayers, and processions. A seventh-century B.C. bronze statuette, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which a man named Mantiklos gave to a (now unknown) sanctuary of Apollo to honor the god, makes clear why individuals gave such gifts. On the statuette's legs Mantiklos inscribed his understanding of the transaction: “Mantiklos gave this from his share to the Far Darter of the Silver Bow [i.e., Apollo]; now you, Apollo, do something for me in return.” This idea of reciprocity between gods and humans underlay the Greek understanding of the divine. Gods did not love human beings, except sometimes literally in mythological stories of gods taking earthly lovers and producing half-divine children. Rather, gods supported humans who paid them honor and avoided offending them. Gods whom humans offended sent calamities in response, such as famines, earthquakes, epidemic diseases, or defeat in war.

The Nature of the Gods

The Greeks believed that their gods lived easy lives, sometimes exposed to pain in their dealings with one another but essentially care-free in their immortality. The twelve most important of the gods, headed by Zeus, were conceived as assembling for banquets atop Mount Olympus, the highest peak in mainland Greece.3They are known as the Olympic pantheon (“collectivity of gods”). They as well as some other, lesser deities were conceived in anthropomorphic form, both female and male. Like the human aristocrats of the stories of Homer, the gods were much concerned with slights to their honor. “I am well aware that the gods are full of envy and disruptive towards humans,” is the Athenian Solon's summary of their nature in one of the many (and probably fictitious) anecdotes in which he is portrayed as giving advice to another famous person, in this case the Lydian king Croesus before he lost his kingdom to the Persians.4 Seers, prophets, diviners, oracles, dreams—all these agents were regarded as clues to what humans might have done to anger the gods. Offenses could be those of omission, such as forgetting a sacrifice, or of commission, such as violating the sanctity of a temple area or breaking an oath or sworn agreement made to another person. The gods were regarded as especially concerned with certain transgressions (such as oaths5), but as generally not bothering with common crimes, which humans had to police for themselves. Homicide, however, the gods were thought to punish by casting a state of pollution6 (miasma, as it was called) upon murderers and upon all those around them as well. Unless the members of the affected group took steps to purify themselves by punishing the murderer, they could all expect to suffer divine punishment such as bad harvests or disease.

The Gods and Human Behavior

The greatest difficulty for humans lay in anticipating what might offend a god. Fortunately, some of the gods' expectations were codified in a moral order with rules of behavior for human beings. For example, the Greeks believed that the gods demanded hospitality for strangers and proper burial for family members7 and that the gods punished human arrogance8 and murderous violence. Oracles, dreams, divination, and the prophecies of seers were all regarded as clues as to what humans might have done to anger the gods. Offenses could be forgetting a sacrifice, violating the sanctity of a temple area, or breaking an oath or sworn agreement made to another person.

Sacrifices and Offerings

Humans made sacrifices9 and offerings to sanctuaries to honor and to thank the gods for blessings and to propitiate them when misfortune struck and was interpreted as a sign of divine anger at human behavior. Offerings could consist of works of art, money, and other valuables. Private individuals could offer sacrifices to the gods at home with the members of the household gathered around, sometimes including the family's slaves. The sacrifices of public cults were conducted at the open-air altars10 of the city-state's temples by priests and priestesses, who were in most cases chosen from the citizen body as a whole. The priests and priestesses of Greek cult were usually attached to a particular sanctuary or shrine and did not unite to influence political or social matters. Their special and essential knowledge consisted of knowing how to perform the gods' rites according to tradition. They were not guardians of theological orthodoxy, as we might describe a function of some clergy today, because Greek religion had no systematic theology or canonical dogma, nor any institutions comparable to today's religious institutions to oversee doctrine.

The Character of Sacrifices

Different cults had differing rituals, but sacrifice11 served as their centering experience. Sacrifices ranged from the bloodless offering of fruits, vegetables, and small cakes12 to the slaughter of large animals. The tradition of animal sacrifice may have descended from the practice of prehistoric hunters, who perhaps felt that they might somehow suffer retribution from supernatural powers for taking the lives of animals, living creatures like themselves, to feed themselves and their human community. The rite of sacrifice perhaps expressed their uneasiness about the paradox of having to kill animals in order to secure the means to keep themselves alive and their consequent attempt to show respect and honor to the divine forces concerned with animals. The Greeks of the classical period often sacrificed valuable domestic animals such as cattle, which their land supported in only small numbers. Looking back on fifth-century Athens, the orator Lysias explained the necessity for public sacrifice: “Our ancestors handed down to us the most powerful and prosperous community in Greece by performing the prescribed sacrifices. It is therefore proper for us to offer the same sacrifices as they, if only for the sake of the success which has resulted from those rites.”13

Occasions for Sacrifice and Festivals

The ritual of sacrifice14 provided the primary occasion of contact between the gods and their worshippers. The great majority of sacrifices took place as regularly scheduled events on the community's civic calendar. At Athens, for example, the first eight days of every month were marked by demonstrations of the citizens' piety toward the deities of the city-state's official cults. The third day of each month was celebrated as Athena's15 birthday; the sixth as that of Artemis16,the goddess of wild animals, who was also the special patroness of the Athenian council of 500; her brother, Apollo17, was honored on the following day. Athens boasted of having the largest number of religious festivals in all of Greece, with nearly half the days of the year featuring one, some large and some small. Not everyone attended all the festivals, and hired laborers' contracts would specify which holidays they received to attend religious ceremonies. Major occasions such as the Panathenaic festival, whose procession was portrayed on the Parthenon frieze, attracted large crowds of men, women, and children. The Panathenaic festival honored Athena not only with sacrifices and parades, but also with contests in music, dancing,poetry, and athletics. Valuable prizes were awarded to the winners. Some festivals were for women only, such as the three-day festival for married women in honor of the goddess Demeter18, the protectress of agriculture and life-giving fertility in general.

Large Animal Sacrifice

The sacrifice of a large animal19 both provided an occasion for the community to reassemble to reaffirm its ties to the divine world and, by the sharing of the roasted meat of the sacrificed animal, for the worshippers to benefit personally from a good realtionship with the gods. The feasting that followed a blood sacrifice was especially meaningful in this latter sense because meat was comparatively rare in the Greek diet. The actual sacrificing of the animal proceeded along strict rules meant to ensure the purity of the occasion. The elaborate procedures required for a blood sacrifice show how seriously and solemnly the Greeks regarded the killing of animals for sacrifice. The victim had to be an unblemished domestic animal, specially decorated with garlands, and induced to approach the altar as if of its own volition. The assembled crowd had to maintain a strict silence to avoid possibly impure remarks. The sacrificer sprinkled water on the victim's head so it would, in shaking its head in response to the sprinkle, appear to consent to its death. After washing his hands, the sacrificer scattered barley grains on the altar fire and the victim's head and then cut a lock of the animal's hair to throw on the fire. Following a prayer, he swiftly cut the animal's throat while musicians played flute-like pipes and female worshippers screamed, presumably to express the group's ritual sorrow at the victim's death. The carcass was then butchered, with some portions thrown on the altar fire so their aromatic smoke could waft its way upwards to the god of the cult. The majority of the meat was then distributed among the worshippers.

Hero Cults

Greek religion encompassed many activities besides those of the cults of the twelve Olympian deities. In private life, prayers, sacrifices, and rituals marked important occasions like birth, marriage, and death. Ancestors were honored by offerings made at their tombs. Seers were consulted for the meanings of dreams and omens. Magicians offered spells to improve one's love life or curses to harm one's enemies. Particularly important both to the community and to individuals were what we call hero-cults, rituals performed at the tomb of a man or woman, usually from the distant past, whose remains were thought to retain special power. This power was local, whether for revealing the future through oracles, for healing injuries and disease, or for providing assistance in war. For example, Athenian soldiers in the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C reported having seen the ghost of the hero Theseus20 leading the way against the Persians. When Cimon in 475 B.C. brought back to Athens bones alleged to be those of Theseus21 (who was said to have died on a distant island), the people of Athens celebrated the occasion as a major triumph for their community and had the remains installed in a special shrine at the center of the city. The only hero to whom cults were established internationally all over the Greek world was the strongman Heracles (or Hercules, as his name was later spelled by the Romans), whose superhuman feats in overcoming monsters and generally doing the impossible gave him tremendous appeal as a protector in many city-states.

The Eleusinian Mysteries

The mystery cult22 of Demeter and her daughter Kore (or Persephone) was international in a different sense from that the hero cult of Heracles, which had shrines throughout the Greek world. The cult of Demeter and Kore had a fixed center in its major sanctuary at Eleusis23, a settlement on the western coast of Attica, to which worshippers flocked from all over the Greek world. The central rite of this cult was called the Mysteries, a series of ceremonies of initiation into the secret knowledge of the cult. If they were free of pollution, all speakers of Greek from anywhere in the world—women and men, adults and children—were eligible for initiation, as were some slaves who worked in the sanctuary. Initiation proceeded in several stages. The main stage took place during an annual festival lasting almost two weeks. So important were the Eleusinian Mysteries that an international truce of fifty-five days was proclaimed to allow travel to and from the festival even from the distant corners of the Greek world. Initiates expected that they would enjoy added protection from troubles in their lives on earth and also a better fate after death. “Richly blessed is the mortal who has seen these rites; but whoever is not an initiate and has no share in them, never has an equal portion after death, down in the gloomy darkness,”24 are the words that the sixth-century poem called The Hymn to Demeter uses to describe the benefits of initiation in the Eleusinian Mysteries.

The Mystery of the Mysteries

Prospective initiates in the Eleusinian Mysteries participated in a complicated set of ceremonies that culminated in the revelation of Demeter's central secret after a day of fasting. The revelation was performed in an initiation hall ( telesterion 25) constructed solely for this purpose. Under a roof fifty-five yards square supported on a forest of interior columns, the hall held three thousand people standing around its sides on tiered steps. The most eloquent proof of the sanctity attached to the Mysteries of Demeter and Kore is that, throughout the thousand years during which they were celebrated, we know of no one who ever revealed the secret. To this day, all we know is that it involved something done, something said, and something shown.

Belief and Ritual

The Eleusinian Mysteries were not the only mystery cult of the Greek world, nor were they unique in their concern with what lay beyond death for human beings. Most mystery cults emphasized protection for initiates in their daily lives, whether against ghosts, illness, poverty, shipwrecks, or the countless other everyday dangers of ancient Greek life. Such protection came, however, from appropriate human behavior, not from any abstract belief in the gods. For the ancient Greeks, gods expected honors and rites, and Greek religion required action from its worshippers. Prayers had to be said, sacrifices had to be performed, and purifications had to be undergone. These rituals represented an active response to the precarious conditions of human life in a world in which early death from disease, accident, or war was commonplace. Furthermore, the Greeks believed the same gods were responsible for sending both good and bad. As Solon warned Croesus in an anecdote26 related by the fifth-century author Herodotus, “In all matters look to the end, and to how it turns out. For god has given prosperous happiness to many people, but afterwards uprooted them utterly.” As a result of their belief in the capability of the gods for bestowing both good and evil on human beings, the Greeks had no expectation that paradise would be achieved at some future time when evil forces would at last be vanquished forever. Their assessment of human existence made no allowance for change in the nature of the relationship between the human and the divine. That relationship encompassed sorrow as well as joy, punishment in the here and now, with the uncertain hope for favored treatment both in this life and in an afterlife for initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

The Development of Athenian Tragedy

The problematic relationship that Greeks believed existed between gods and humans formed the basis of classical Athens' most enduring cultural innovation: the tragic dramas performed over the course of three days at the major annual festival held in honor of the god Dionysus.27 These plays, still read, translated, and produced on stage today around the world, were presented in ancient Athens as part of a drama contest, in keeping with the competitive spirit characteristic of many events held in the gods' honor. The earliest tragedies were composed in the late sixth century, but Athenian tragedy reached its peak as a dramatic form in the fifth century.

The Nature of Tragedy

The term tragedy28—derived, for reasons now lost, from the Greek words for goat and song—referred to plays with plots that involved fierce conflict and characters that represented powerful forces, both divine and human. Tragedies were written in verse in elevated, solemn language and often based on stories about the violent consequences of the interaction between gods and humans and of conflict among human beings. Tragic plots frequently were mainly constructed from myths, although a few tragedies dealt with contemporary historical events29. The plot of a tragedy often ended with a resolution to the trouble, but only after considerable suffering.

The Performance of Tragedy

The most important presentations of tragedy at Athens took place once a year as part of a competition at the city's main festival30 in honor of the god Dionysus.31 For this festival, one of Athens' magistrates chose three playwrights to present four plays each. Three were tragedies and one a satyr play32, the latter so named because it featured actors portraying the half-human, half-animal (horse or goat) creatures called satyrs33. Satyr plays presented versions of the solemn stories of tragedy that were infused with humor and even farce. A board of citizen judges34 awarded first, second, and third prizes to the competing playwrights at the end of the festival. The performance of Athenian tragedies bore little resemblance to conventional modern theater productions. They took place during the daytime in an outdoor theater sacred to Dionysus,35built into the slope of the southern hillside of Athens' acropolis. This theater of Dionysus held around 14,000 spectators overlooking an open, circular area in front of a slightly raised stage platform. To ensure fairness in the competition, all tragedies were required to have the same size cast, all of whom were men: three actors to play the speaking roles of all male and female characters and fifteen chorus members. Although the chorus' leader sometimes engaged in dialogue with the actors, the chorus primarily performed songs and dances in the circular area in front of the stage, called the orchestra (“dancing area”). Since all the actors' lines were in verse with special rhythms, the musical aspect of the chorus' role enhanced the overall poetic nature of Athenian tragedy.

The Spectacle of Tragedy

Even though scenery on the stage was sparse, a good tragedy presented a vivid spectacle36. The chorus wore elaborate, decorative costumes and trained hard to perform intricate dance routines37. The actors, who wore masks38, used broad gestures and booming voices to reach the upper tier of seats.39 A powerful voice was crucial to a tragic actor because words represented the heart of a tragedy, in which dialogue and long speeches were far more common than physical action. Special effects were, however, part of the spectacle. For example, a crane allowed actors playing the roles of gods to fly suddenly onto stage, like superheroes in a modern movie. The actors playing the lead roles, called the protagonists40 (“first competitors”), were also competing against each other for the designation of best actor. So important was it to have a first-rate lead actor to provide a successful tragedy that protagonists were assigned by lot to the competing playwrights of the year to give all three of them an equal chance to have the finest cast. Great protagonists, who had to have prodigious vocal skills, became enormously popular figures, although, unlike many playwrights, they were not usually aristocrats and generally did not move in upper-class social circles, or, if they did have aristocratic friends, they were not on an equal footing with them in terms of social status.


The author of a slate of tragedies in the festival of Dionysus also served as director, producer, musical composer, choreographer, and sometimes even one of the actors. Only men of some wealth could afford the prodigious amounts of time such work demanded because the prizes in the tragedy competition were probably modest. As citizens, playwrights also fulfilled the normal military and political obligations of an Athenian man. The best known Athenian tragedians—Aeschylus41 (525-456 B.C.), Sophocles42 (c. 496-406 B.C.), and Euripides 43 (c. 485-406 B.C.)—all either served in the army, held public office at some point in their careers, or they did both. Aeschylus fought at Marathon and Salamis; the epitaph on his tombstone, which says nothing of his great success as a playwright, reveals how highly he valued his contribution to his city-state as a citizen-soldier: “Under this stone lies Aeschylus the Athenian, son of Euphorion ... the grove at Marathon and the Persians who landed there were witnesses to his courage.”44

Tragedy and the Polis

Aeschylus' pride in his military service to his homeland points to a fundamental characteristic of Athenian tragedy: it was at its base a public art form, an expression of the city-state (polis), that explored the ethical quandaries of human beings in conflict with gods and with one another in the context of a polis-like community. Even though variations on stories from the pre-polis past, such as tales of the Trojan War45, supplied the plots of most tragedies, the moral issues they illuminated were always presented in the context of the society and obligations of citizens in a polis.

Sophocles' Success

Sophocles' tragedies46 were overwhelmingly popular. In a sixty-year career as a playwright, he competed with a series of tragedies about thirty times, winning at least twenty times and never finishing worse than second. Since winning plays were selected by a panel of ordinary male citizens who were influenced by the audience's reaction47, Sophocles' record clearly means his works appealed to the large number of men who attended the drama competition of the festival of Dionysus. The evidence on whether women attended is contradictory, but they probably were allowed to see dramas. That Sophocles' plays concerned difficult ethical problems in the context of the polis is significant for understanding the function of Athenian tragedy. We cannot know precisely how the ancient audience interpreted tragedies in general or those of Sophocles in particular, but the spectators can hardly have been unaware that the central characters of the plays were figures who fell into disaster from positions of power and prestige. Their reversals of fortune48 come about not because they are villains, but because, as human beings, they are susceptible to a lethal mixture of error, ignorance, and hubris (aggressive arrogance).

Sophoclean Tragedies and Athenian Empire

The Athenian empire was at its height when audiences at Athens were seeing the plays of Sophocles. Indeed, the presentation of the plays at the festival of Dionysus was preceded by a procession in the theater 49 to display the revenues of Athens received from the dues of the allies. Thoughtful spectators would have perhaps reflected on the possibility that Athens' current power and prestige, managed as it was by human beings, remained hostage to the same forces which, the playwrights taught, controlled the fates of the heroes and heroines of tragedy. Tragedies certainly had appeal because they were engrossing purely as entertainment; but they also had an educative function: to remind its male citizens, those who in the assembly made policy for the polis, that success by its nature engendered problems of a moral complexity too formidable to be fathomed casually or arrogantly.


The relevance that the themes of tragedy could have to issues affecting the city-state even in plays whose plots had ostensibly nothing to do with life in a polis shows up clearly in Sophocles' play entitled Ajax 50, presented in the early 440s B.C. The play bore the name of the second-best warrior (Achilles had been preeminent) in the Greek army that besieged Troy in the Trojan War. When his fellow Greek soldiers voted to award the armor of the dead Achilles51 to the wily Odysseus instead of himself, Ajax went on a berserk rampage against his former friends which the goddess Athena52 thwarted because Ajax had once rejected her help in battle. Disgraced by his failure to secure revengeAjax committed suicide.53 Odysseus then stepped in to convince the Greek chiefs to bury Ajax despite his attempted treachery because the future security of the army and the obligations of friendship demanded that they obey the divine injunction always to bury the dead. Odysseus' arguments 54in favor of burying Ajax anachronistically treat the army as if it were a polis, and his use of persuasive speech to achieve accommodation of conflicting individual interests to the benefit of the community corresponds to the way in which disputes in the polis were supposed to be resolved.


In his powerful play of 441 B.C. entitled Antigone 55, Sophocles presented a drama of harsh conflict between the family's moral obligation to bury its dead in obedience to divine command and the male-dominated city-state's need to preserve its order and defend its values. Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus56, the now-deceased former king of Thebes57, comes into conflict with her uncle, the new ruler, when he forbids the burial of one of Antigone's two brothers on the grounds he had been a traitor. This brother had attacked Thebes after the other brother had broken an agreement to share the kingship.58 Both brothers died in the ensuing battle, but Antigone's uncle had allowed the burial only of the brother who had remained in power. When Antigone brazenly defies her uncle59 by symbolically burying the allegedly traitorous brother, her uncle condemns her to die. He only realizes his error when sacrifices to the gods go wrong. His decision to punish Antigone ends in personal disaster when his son and then his wife kill themselves in despair. In this horrifying story of anger and death, Sophocles deliberately exposes the right and wrong on each side of the conflict. Although Antigone's uncle eventually acknowledges a leader's responsibility to listen to his people, the play offers no easy resolution of the competing interests of divinely-sanctioned moral tradition expressed by a woman and the political rules of the state enforced by a man.

Developments in Free-Standing Sculpture

Sculptors were certainly not the only artists of the Golden Age who experimented with new techniques and approaches, but the work of sculptors who specialized in making free-standing statues60 dramatically illustrates the new ways in which Greek artists began to portray the human form during the fifth century B.C. Such sculptures could either be public or private in the sense that they could be paid for by state funds or the funds of private invidiuals, but even privately-commissioned works did not serve as pieces of private decorative art in the modern sense. Greeks who ordered statues from sculptors had not yet developed the habit of using them to decorate the interior of their homes. Instead, they set them up on public display61 for a variety of purposes. In this sense, all free-standing sculpture in the Golden Age was public art.


The sculptors who achieved the greatest successes in this genre of art became international celebrities, like the Athenian Pheidias62 (c. 490-425 B.C.). His dazzling creation of an enormous image in gold and ivory63 of the goddess Athena, standing in full armor nearly forty feet high and serving as the cult statue for the interior of the Parthenon, won him fame and the friendship of leaders such as Pericles as well as invitations from other Greek states to make great statues for their temples. For instance, he also created the famous statue of Zeus seated on a throne for the main temple in the sanctuary at Olympia64. Like the design of the sculpture attached to the outside of the Parthenon, the enormous size and expense of the free-standing figure of Athena placed inside the Parthenon expressed the innovative and confident spirit of Athens in the Golden Age.

Private Sculptural Commissions

Privately commissioned statues65 as well as those paid for by public funds could be placed in a temple as a representation of a god66. In the tradition of offering lovely crafted objects to divinites as commemorations of important personal experiences such as economic success or victories in athletic contests, people also placed sculptures of physically beautiful human beings in the sanctuaries of the gods as gifts of honor67. Wealthy families would commission statues of their deceased members68, especially if they had died young, to be placed above their graves as memorials of their virtue. In every case, private statues were meant to be seen by other people. In this sense, then, private sculpture in the Golden Age served a public function: it broadcast a message to an audience.

The Emergence of a New Sculptural Style

Statues in the Greek Archaic Age69 had been characterized by a stiff posture imitating the style of standing figures from Egypt. Egyptian sculptors had gone on producing this style unchanged for centuries. Greek artists who made free-standing sculptures, on the other hand, had begun to change their style by the time of the Persian Wars, and the fifth century B.C. saw new poses become more prevalent in this genre, continuing an earlier evolution toward movement visible in the sculpture attached to temples70. Human males were still being generally portrayed nude as athletes or warriors71, and women were still clothed in fine robes.72 But their postures and their physiques were evolving toward ever more naturalistic renderings. While archaic male statues had been made striding forward with their left legs, arms held rigidly at their sides, male statues might now have bent arms or the body's weight on either leg73. Their musculature was anatomically correct rather than sketchy and almost impressionistic74, as had been the style in the sixth century B.C. Female statues, too, now had more relaxed poses75 and clothing76, which hung in such a way as to hint at the shape of the body underneath instead of disguise it. The faces of classical sculptures, however, reflected an impassive calm77 rather than the smiles that had characterized archaic figures.

Sculpture in Bronze

Bronze78 was the preferred material of the sculptors who devised the daring new styles in free-standing sculpture in the fifth century, although marble was also popular. Creating bronze statues79, which were cast in molds made from clay models, required a particularly well-equipped workshop with furnaces, tools, and foundry workers skilled in metallurgy. Because sculptors and artists labored with their hands, aristocrats regarded them as workmen of low social status, and only the most famous ones, like Pheidias, could move in high society. Properly prepared bronze had the tensile strength to allow outstretched poses of arms and legs, which could not be done in marble without supports. (Hence the intrusive tree trunks and other such supporting members introduced in the marble copies made in Roman times of Greek statues in bronze. These Roman copies of the sort commonly seen in modern museums are often the only surviving examples of the originals.)

The Sculpture of Myron and Polyclitus

The strength and malleability of bronze allowed innovative sculptors like the Athenian Myron80 and Polyclitus81 of Argos to push the development of the free-standing statue to its physical limits. Myron, for example, sculpted a discus thrower82 crouched at the top of his backswing, a pose far from the relaxed and serene symmetry of early archaic statuary. The figure not only assumes an asymmetrical pose but also seems to burst with the tension of the athlete's effort. Polyclitus' renowned statue of a walking man carrying a spear83 is posed to give a different impression from every angle of viewing. The feeling of motion it conveys is palpable. The same is true of the famous statue by an unknown sculptor of a female (perhaps the goddess of love Aphrodite) adjusting her diaphanous robe with one upraised arm. The message these statues conveyed to their ancient audience was one of energy, motion, and asymmetry in delicate balance. Archaic statues impressed a viewer with their appearance of stability; not even a hard shove looked likely to budge them. Free-standing statues of the classical period, by contrast, showed greater range in a variety of poses and impressions. The spirited movement of some of these statues suggests the energy of the times but also the possibility of change and instability.


Sculpture, Stewart' One Hundred Greek Sculptors

2 Lys. 30.18, Hdt. 6.105.2, Plut. Per. 8.6


References to Olympus, Mt. Olympus on vases

4 Hdt. 1.132, References to Croesus

5 Thuc. 1.71.5

6 Aesch. Eum. 169, Antiph. 4.1.3

7 Soph. Ant. 1, Funeral scenes on vases

8 Hom. Od. 17.487

9 Perseus Encyclopedia entry for sacrifice, Sacrifice on vases, Xen. Ec. 5.3, Lys. 30.18-19, Aristoph. Ach. 247

10 Priene, Altar of Athena [Building], Samos, Main Altar [Building], Perseus Encyclopedia entry for altar

11 Perseus Encyclopedia entry for sacrifice, TRM OV 10.1.3

Boston 13.195 [Vase], Sacrifice on vases

12 Aristoph. Ach. 246

13 Lys. 30.18


Boston 13.195 [Vase], TRM OV 10.1.3


Athena in Sculpture, Athena on vases, Athena on Coins

16 Artemis in Sculpture, Artemis on Vases


Apollo in Sculpture, Apollo on vases, Apollo on Coins, Hes. WD 770-771

18 Aristoph. Thes. 295, Isaeus 8.19


Boston 13.195 [Vase], TRM OV 10.1.3

20 Theseus at Marathon-Plut. Theseus 35, Theseus on vases

21 Plut. Cim. 8.3-6, Plut. Thes. 36.1-2, Paus. 1.17.6


Demeter on Vases, References to Mysteries

23 Eleusis [Site]

24 HH 2.480


Eleusis, Telesterion [Building]

26 Hdt. 1.32


Eur. Ba. 1, Dionysos on vases, Dionysos in sculpture, Dionysos on coins, References to Dionysos

28 Greek dictionary entry for tragoedia, Aristot. Poet. 1449b

29 Aesch. Pers. 1 ff.

30 Thuc. 5.20.1


Eur. Ba. 1, Dionysos on vases, Dionysos in sculpture, Dionysos on coins, References to Dionysos

32 Eur. Cycl. 1 ff.


Satyrs on vases

34 Plut. Cim. 8.7-8

35 Athens, Theater of Dionysos [Building]


37 Xen. Cav. 3.2, Dem. 21.17

38 Berlin 100 [Sculpture], Masks on vases


40 Aristot. Poet. 1449a 18

41 Perseus Encyclopedia entry for Aeschylus

42 Perseus Encyclopedia entry for Sophocles

43 Perseus Encyclopedia entry for Euripides

44 Paus. 1.14

45 Aesch. Ag. 1 ff., Soph. Aj. 1 ff, Eur. Tro. 1 ff.

46 Perseus Encyclopedia entry for Sophocles, Sophocles' works

47 Plut. Cim. 8.7-8

48 Aristot. Poet. 1452a 22


50 Soph. Aj. 1, portraits of Ajax on vases

51 Malibu 86.AE.286 [Vase], Apollod. vol. 2.219


53 Pindar Nemean 8

54 Soph. Aj. 1332

55 Soph. Ant. 1, References to Antigone

56 References to Oedipus, Soph. OT 1, Boston 06.2447 [Vase]

57 Photos of Thebes, Perseus Encyclopedia entry for Thebes, References to Thebes

58 Aesch. Seven 1

59 Soph. Ant. 192, Aesch. Seven 1011

60 Artifacts with free-standing statues

Stewart' One Hundred Greek Sculptors

61 Paus. 1.8.4-5

62 Plut. Per. 13.4, Stewart on Pheidias

63 Paus. 1.24.5, Plut. Per. 31.2

Athena Parthenos reconstruction [Sculpture]

64 Paus. 5.11

Olympia, Temple of Zeus [Building], Olympia [Site]

65 Paus. 1.29.16, Paus. 5.21.1

66 Athens, NM Br. 15161 [Sculpture]

67 Delphi 3484, 3520, 3540 [Sculpture]


69 Korai statues, Koroi statues

70 Olympia West Pediment [Sculpture]





Louvre Ma 688 [Sculpture]




78 Bronzes in Perseus

79 Athens, NM Br. 15161 [Sculpture]

80 Stewart's discussion of Myron, Paus. 1.23.7, Louvre Ma 2208 [Sculpture]

81 Stewart's discussion of Polyclitus, Plut. Per. 2.1, Paus. 2.17.4

82 Discussion of the Diskobolos, Pliny on the Diskobolos

83 Pliny on the Doryphoros

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (58):
    • Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 1
    • Aeschylus, Eumenides, 169
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 1
    • Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes, 1
    • Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes, 1011
    • Antiphon, Third Tetralogy, 1.3
    • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Epitome, e.5.6
    • Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, 295
    • Aristotle, Poetics, 1449a
    • Aristotle, Poetics, 1449b
    • Aristotle, Poetics, 1452a
    • Demosthenes, Against Midias, 17
    • Euripides, Bacchae, 1
    • Euripides, Cyclops, 1
    • Euripides, Trojan Women, 1
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.132
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.32
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.105.2
    • Hesiod, Works and Days, 770
    • Homer, Odyssey, 17.487
    • Homeric Hymns, Hymn 2 to Demeter, 480
    • Isaeus, Ciron, 19
    • Lysias, Against Nicomachus, 18
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.14
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.17.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.23.7
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.24.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.29.16
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.8.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.17.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.11
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.21.1
    • Pindar, Nemean, 8
    • Sophocles, Ajax, 1
    • Sophocles, Ajax, 1332
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 1
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 192
    • Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, 1
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.71.5
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.20.1
    • Xenophon, On the Cavalry Commander, 3.2
    • Xenophon, Economics, 5.3
    • Aristophanes, Acharnians, 246
    • Aristophanes, Acharnians, 247
    • Andrew Stewart, One Hundred Greek Sculptors, 1.1.0
    • Andrew Stewart, One Hundred Greek Sculptors, 2.2.1
    • Andrew Stewart, One Hundred Greek Sculptors, 2.2.2
    • Andrew Stewart, One Hundred Greek Sculptors, 2.2.3
    • Thomas R. Martin, An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander, 10.1.3
    • Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, tragw|di/a
    • Plutarch, Pericles, 13.4
    • Plutarch, Pericles, 2.1
    • Plutarch, Pericles, 31.2
    • Plutarch, Pericles, 8.6
    • Plutarch, Cimon, 8.3
    • Plutarch, Cimon, 8.7
    • Plutarch, Theseus, 35
    • Plutarch, Theseus, 36.1
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