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ME´TOPA (μετόπη) is the name given to the interval between the triglyphi in the frieze of the Doric order [TRIGLYPHI], and also, according to Vitruvius (4.2, 4), to the interval between the denticuli in the Ionic order. The word is derived from μετὰ and ὄπη, but it is doubtful whether we should interpret it with Vitruvius as “space between holes” (i. e. between the sockets made in the architrave to hold the beams ending in triglyphs) or with most modern authorities as “hole between” triglyphs (Zwischenöffnung).

It is probable that the metopes were originally open, as we hear of the possibility of passing between the triglyphs (Eur. Iph. T. 113 c); but this may be only a story invented to suit the name. No trace of such an arrangement survives, the space being invariably filled with plain or sculptured slabs. It is probable that the use of painting, first in a plain colour, red to contrast with the blue triglyphs, and afterwards with figures, preceded the sculptural ornamentation, and survived in conjunction with it.

Metopes are of particular importance from the use of sculpture to ornament them; for of this sculpture numerous examples have survived, illustrating the various periods of Greek art. From Selinus in Sicily there survive (in the Museum at Palermo) sets of metopes from three temples, belonging to the beginning of the sixth and the beginning of the fifth century B.C. respectively. The earlier are most important examples of uncouth but powerful archaic art; the later have white marble insertions for the nude parts of female figures. From Athens we have metopes of the finest period, those of the Theseum and the Parthenon. The Parthenon had sculptures in all its metopes; the Theseum only upon the east front and the four eastern metopes of the north and south sides. At Olympia, the great temple of Zeus, which is of a somewhat earlier period, has all its external metopes plain, the sculpture being confined to the Doric frieze above the second row of columns upon the east and west fronts. For examples, see the woodcuts under COLUMNA

As in the case of all architectural sculpture, the subjects and treatment are alike prescribed by the conditions of the surroundings. A series of square spaces with massive architectural frames require high and massive relief, and are especially adapted for scenes of violent action; hence we find most commonly various contests or battles, those of the Gods and Giants or the Lapithi and Centaurs, or the labours of Heracles or Theseus. Such subjects also must be chosen as may readily be represented in a connected series of small and concentrated groups; thus while the whole set of metopes should have a similarity or unity of subject, each ought also to be complete in itself. This principle is, however, violated in one or two instances: e. g. The fight of Heracles and Geryon is spread over two metopes on the Theseum. A contemporary description of the metopes of the temple at Delphi may be found in Euripides, Eur. Ion 184 sqq. (Vitr. 4.2, 4; Benndorff, Die Metopen von Selinunt; Feuger, Dorische Polychromie, p. 41; Overbeck, Gesch. d. gr. Plastik, pp. 283-4, &c.)


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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Euripides, Ion, 184
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 4.2
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 4.4
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