The Parthenon Enigma

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Joan Breton Connelly
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2014-01-28
The Parthenon Enigma Joan Breton Connelly
Ryan Melogy about 1 month ago
There is a tendency to see likeness to oneself when approaching a culture as foreign as that of Greek antiquity. How much more so when looking at a monument that has become the icon of Western art, the very symbol of democracy itself. With these labels comes a projection onto the Parthenon of all our standards of what it means to be civilized. In looking at the building, Western culture inevitably sees itself, indeed, it sees only what flatters its own self-image or explains it through connection to the birthplace of democracy. This association has been reinforced again and again by the adoption of Parthenonian style for civic architecture beginning with the neoclassical movement and culminating in the Greek Revival. From the early nineteenth century on, financial and governmental institutions, libraries, museums, and universities have reproduced classical architectural forms to communicate a set of values, implicitly aligning them selves with the flowering of democratic Athens. One need only look at the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia, the British Museum, the U.S. Custom House on Wall Street, Founder's Hall in Philadelphia, the U.S. Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., or the U.S. Supreme Court Building to recognize quotations from the iconic form of the Parthenon. Ironically, these unequivocally secular civic structures have appropriated what is, fundamentally, a religious architectural form. Preoccupied with the political and the aesthetic, we have become all too comfortable with the constructed identity of Parthenon as icon, neglecting its primary role as a deeply sacred space.