Athena (Minerva) and Artemis (Diana)

Section 5 covers two more of the major Olympians, Athena and Artemis, and one minor goddess, Nike, who is often associated with Athena. Athena and Artemis have one major characteristic in common: they are both sworn to virginity, and have absolutely no sexual relationships whatsoever; thus these two represent the sacred purity of young women before the age of marriage.

Included in this section is a thorough description of the Parthenon of Athens, probably the most well-known ancient Greek temple.

Athena, the Warrior Goddess of Wisdom

Athena (Minerva to the Romans) was the principal goddess of Athens, a city named for her as a result of the contest with Poseidon (seen previously in Section 3). Although easily recognized as a warrior by her armor and weapons, she was not like the brutal, violent war god Ares. Athena was much more a goddess of strength and power with virtue; indeed, one of her primary characteristics was her virginity which was inviolable. A recurrent theme in the stories involving Athena is justice, or the triumph of civilization over barbarism, as described in the Oresteia and the Odyssey.

Here are a few basic representations of Athena: the first is a coin from classical Athens, with Athena's face on one side, and her symbolic bird, the wise owl, on the other. The second image is also from the classical period, a relief sculpture known as the "Mourning Athena", probably intended as a tombstone.

The next image is a red figure vase painting depicting Athena in the company of Herakles, the great hero, who is covered later in Section 9. She often will be seen advising the great heroes, assisting them in their great challenges.

The last image is a Renaissance painting by Botticelli of Athena vanquishing a centaur. In section four we viewed several paintings by Botticelli featuring Aphrodite/Venus, but here he has used this goddess instead for the allegorical symbol, the message being the triumph of civilization over savagery. The last painting is a 20th century work by Gustav Klimt.

The Birth of Athena

The first significant story of Athena is that of her unusual birth. Once again, the source for the story is Hesiod's Theogony, the same poem which told the story of Zeus' rise to power (covered in section 2). Hesiod tells how Zeus' first mate was a goddess named Metis, who became pregnant. Then Zeus learned that the second child of Metis would be a son who would be stronger than his father, the one thing he had most to fear. His solution was to simply swallow Metis whole, similar to the way his father Cronus swallowed his own children. But then later he developed a headache so painful that he asked Hephaestus to use his axe to split open his head to relieve the pressure; when he did this, out sprang the goddess Athena, fully grown, wearing armor and carrying weapons.

In the four images below, we see this event: the first black-figure vase shows Zeus surrounded by other Olympians, Hermes and Apollo on the left, Ares and Aphrodite on the right. The second black-figure vase, as well as the red-figure version, includes Hephaestus still holding his axe. The final image is a modern 20th century sculpture is by Rudolf Tegner. See the section below on the Parthenon pediments for one more version of the birth of the goddess.

The Temple of Aphaia at Aegina

Not far from Athens is the island of Aegina, the location of a fairly well-preserved temple from the very beginning of the classical period (i.e., about 490-475 B.C.). The temple itself was dedicated to a minor local goddess named Aphaia, a character whose primary myth concerns the preservation of her virginity; it is clearly this characteristic which connects Aphaia to Athena, the virgin goddess, and would explain why Athena is the featured figure in the sculptural decorations of the pediments.

The first image below shows the temple as it is today (notice that there are six columns on the end, unlike the Parthenon which has eight). The second image shows the fragments of the pedimental sculptures arranged as they were on the temple. One unusual discovery there was evidence of a third pediment group, apparently displayed at ground level, probably an earlier group which had been replaced but was kept.

The main figure in the east pediment is Athena, the only one able to stand fully erect in the triangular space available in a pediment. On either side of the goddess are soldiers fighting or falling; one is recognizable as the hero Herakles (Hercules), but it is not known what particular conflict this group depicts. The close-up of Athena's face shows the "Archaic smile" typical of the previous century - art historians classify this style as 'transitional' between the archaic and classical styles. Also noteworthy are the holes visible for bronze attachments added separately, but now missing.

The Parthenon and its sculptures by Pheidias

Probably the most famous monument from ancient Greece, the Parthenon is the main temple of Athena in her city of Athens, located on a large hill known as the Acropolis. The first image below is an aerial photograph of the Acropolis, with the Parthenon near the center; to the lower left is the entrance to the Acropolis known as the Propylaea.

The next image is a portion of a painting done by German architect Leo Von Klenze in 1846, a ground-level view, with the buildings restored to their original appearance. Looming over the walls of the Acropolis on the left is the giant bronze statue of Athena known as the Athena Promachos ("foremost in battle"); only a few fragments of its pedestal are visible today. This statue was also the work of Pheidias, the master sculptor who designed the decorations of the Parthenon itself, as discussed below.

The third image is a current photograph of the west end of the Parthenon, then a drawing by Gorham P. Stevens from 1938 from the same perspective in a restored view. Since the actual building is little more than a shell, with most of its decorations damaged or missing, perhaps the best way to grasp the appearance of the intact Parthenon is this view of the exact duplicate built in the 1920s in Nashville, Tennessee (although it is made of concrete, not marble like the real Parthenon).

The Pediments

By the time modern archaeologists were able to document the remains of the Parthenon, the decorative sculptures of both pediments had suffered terrible damage; many figures had been completely destroyed, and some existed only as small fragments. The first diagram below shows the total amount of original fragments still existing, on display at the British Museum ever since their acquisition by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s.

As you can see, the western pediment has suffered a little less than the near-total destruction of the east pediment. Along with some drawings made in the 1600s when the west pediment was in better condition, it is possible to reconstruct this one with a fair degree of accuracy. We have seen this view of the Nashville west pediment previously in Section 3, depicting the contest of Athena and Poseidon.

The east pediment, however, is a different story. This end of the building was demolished in the early Christian period when a church was constructed inside the remains of the Parthenon. Originally the east end of the building was the main entrance, and thus its pediment would be considered more significant than the west, the back end of the building. What we do know is that it depicted the birth of Athena, goddess of the Parthenon, but exactly how the figures were arranged is speculation. The model shown below is a conjectural restoration, which is now known to be inaccurate in several details. The final image is a drawing based on the most recent architectural analysis (the markings on the base of the pediment, which provide clues to the arrangement). It seems that Zeus dominated the center position, with the newly-born Athena to the right; even on her own temple, Athena has to take second place to Zeus.

The Frieze

Another form of sculpted decoration on the Parthenon is known as the frieze, a term meaning a continuous horizontal relief. On the Parthenon, the frieze is elevated, at the level of the tops of the columns within the outer perimeter or colonnade. The first image below shows an imaginary bird's-eye view of the people participating in a ritual known as the Panathenaic procession in honor of their primary goddess Athena. Next is a modern photograph with a portion of the west frieze visible behind the outer columns and pediment.

The subject of the frieze is somewhat unusual in that it depicts mostly ordinary citizens. Dozens of figures, male & female, some on foot, some riding horses, some bearing offerings are seen forming a procession which begins at the west (back) end, moving along both long sides towards the central scene over the main (east) entrance. Here we see one of the many riders, and then a group of three Olympian gods watching the arrival of the people.

The next image shows the eroded figures at the exact center: an adult male and a young female are shown folding a large cloth. Since this is the exact center, it must be a scene of extreme significance, but what exactly are they doing? The traditional explanation was the presentation of a sacred garment to Athena, but a recent theory may have hit upon the right answer: one of the most crucial myths of Athens told of the daughter of an early king who sacrificed her life to save the city; a story likely to be more meaningful to the Athenians, and so what we are actually seeing is the preparation of her burial shroud.

The final image is a romanticized painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, a very popular Victorian artist. Here he has recreated a scene of the Parthenon frieze under construction; Pheidias, the master sculptor, is displaying his work to a group of visitors who have climbed a scaffold. Note how the frieze figures are painted in bright colors, which is a historically accurate detail.

The Athena Parthenos

Pheidias' ultimate masterpiece for the Parthenon was the colossal cult-image which stood inside the temple, known as the Athena Parthenos ("Athena the Virgin"). Standing about 30 feet tall, the statue was not only a great work of art, but extremely valuable just for its material, gold and ivory. We have previously described another colossal gold and ivory statue by Pheidias, the Zeus at Olympia in Section 3. Many of the same difficulties regarding the giant Zeus apply to the Athena Parthenos as well: the statue itself no longer exists, so we must rely on written descriptions by ancient visitors, and small scale copies made when the original still existed, such as the Varvakeion statue seen below, from the Hellenistic or Roman period.

The second image is a romanticized restoration by Eduard Loviot, a member of the Ecole des Beaux Artes in the late 1800s. Although he has taken some liberties with the details, it is nevertheless a very impressive painting. In the 1960s, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto sponsored a project to collect all existing data on the Parthenos, resulting in the closest possible appearance of the original. The model seen in the photograph is one-tenth scale, so it is about three feet tall.

The Nashville Parthenon (described above) orignally stood empty in the center, but they have recently added a replica of the Parthenos, although it is not made of gold and ivory. Although the Nashville Parthenos is rather stiff and manikin-like, it does properly convey the sense of its size, something the smaller models cannot, seen here in the this recent photograph.

The Athena Parthenos was formally dedicated in 438 B.C., establishing a terminal date for the construction of the building and its decorations.

Myron's Athena and Marsyas

One of the many stories involving Athena tells how she was the inventor of the flute; we see her in the center of the first red-figure vase painting playing the instrument. But then the others around her began laughing and Athena wondered what they found amusing. They told her that she looked silly when she played it, with her cheeks puffed out. Athena was angered at this mocking, so she threw the flute to the ground in disgust. This was witnessed by the satyr named Marsyas, who eagerly snatched up the instrument the goddess had thrown down. The second red-figure vase painting shows the pair, with Marsyas seen just before he picks it up.

This scene was the subject of a famous Classical sculpture by an artist named Myron. His career is contemporary with Pheidias (both active around 440 B.C.), and this masterpiece was displayed on the Acropolis. As in other Classical works, we no longer have the original work, but we do have copies, or portions of copies, made in Hellenistic and Roman times. The first photograph shows the fragments of both figures in the Vatican collection; although Athena's head is missing from this copy, a different copy has the head, seen in this photograph.

Combining all the available evidence, it is possible to recreate the original composition, seen here in two versions, one black and white, one in color. Note that the original was in bronze, but the copies were made of marble.

The final image has nothing to do with mythology, but it is one of the most famous sculptures from ancient Greece, the Discus-thrower, which was also by the sculptor Myron.

Nike, Goddess of Victory

One of the minor goddesses was Nike, a name which means "Victory" in Greek. Nike is frequently seen associated with Athena; in the images above depicting the Athena Parthenos, a small figure of Nike can be seen standing in her hand. (It only looks small in comparison to the colossal Athena; actually, it would have been about life-size).

The Nike of Paeonios at Olympia

As seen prviously in Section 3, the temple of Zeus at Olympia was one of the most famous sites of the Greek world, and this next sculpture was discovered near it in the late 1800s, an independent, free-standing figure which stood near the main temple building. Our information on this statue is primarily from a written description by the author Pausanias (2nd c. A.D.), as well as the inscription from the base of the statue, which still exists.

This inscription states that this Victory, made by Paeonios, was commissioned by the Messenians and Naupactans to commemorate their defeat of the Spartans in 424 B.C., putting an approximate date on the work, just a few decades after the Parthenon sculptures.

The image below shows the actual remaining fragments, along with a conjectural restoration based on other sculptures from the same time period. The figure of Nike is seen hovering with wings spread, the subtle details of the drapery enhancing the effect of a human figure in flight. The Nike was mounted on a triangular pedestal which tapered towards the top, seen in the diagram below.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

This magnificent sculpture was discovered in 1862 at Samothrace, a coastal city in the northern Aegean. The name of the sculptor and its exact date are unknown, but stylistically, it fits into the same time frame as the Altar of Pergamum, that is, approximately 180-150 B.C.

It was certainly intended as the previous figure was, a monument to commemorate a military victory, most likely a naval battle, which would explain the context of the figure, as seen in the second image. The Victory was placed on a pedestal shaped like the prow of a ship; she is leaning into the wind as the ship seems to move forward.

Now on dispaly in the Louvre in Paris, the Winged Victory is a powerful work of art, even as damaged as it is. The flowing lines of her garment display an energy, a vitality that ranks among the finest works of the Hellenistic period. There are some small similar representations of Nike on coins which suggest that she may have been blowing a trumpet and/or bearing a victory wreath.

Images three and four show the same side view, but the black and white version has some better detail than the color photograph.

Artemis the Potnia Theron

Many of the earliest representations of this goddess depict her in the role of the Potnia Theron (in English "the Mistress of Beasts"), clearly a goddess of nature and fertility whose has the power over all forms of wildlife. The first image below is from an important black-figure vase painting known as the Francois vase, which will be seen again in Section 10; Artemis, here winged, is gripping a lion in either hand - an image which connects her to certain goddesses from the Near East, particularly Cybele of Phrygia. The same image appears on this elaborate golden necklace from Rhodes; both of these artifacts were produced in the Archaic period.

Artemis the Huntress

By the time of the Classical & Hellenistic periods, the most frequent depictions of Artemis portray her as she is seen here, the goddess of the hunt, armed with her bow & arrows. Below are three views (one, two, three) of a well-known sculpture of her in this form, a work known as Artemis of Versailles, now on display at the Louvre in Paris.

Although no specifics are known regarding the artist or time of its creation, there is definitely a sense of similarity to the statue of Apollo Belvedere, seen in the previous section. Apollo and Artemis are brother and sister - twins - so a connection between the two sculptures is entirely possible; the best we can say is that it is most likely a Roman-era copy of a late Classical work (4th c. B.C.).

Other works from later times employ this conception of the goddess; first is the painting attributed to the school of Fontainebleu (since the specific artist's name is unknown), that is, one of the artists who decorated the palace of Fontainebleu in the time of Francis I, who ruled France from 1515 to 1547. The second painting here is another French work, this one by the famous Pierre Auguste Renoir, known primarily for his impressionist paintings.

The Diana of St.Gaudens

This sculpture by Augustus St. Gaudens, one of the most prominent American sculptors of the late 1800s, was originally commissioned to stand atop Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York City. The first photo shows the building when it was still relatively new in the 1880s. This 19-foot Diana was a source of some controversy, since some public officials found the nudity too blatant. The original figure was then transported to Chicago for the World's Fair of 1893-4, where it crowned the Agriculture building, as seen in the two views below. St. Gaudens was in fact pleased to make a second version for New York, since he thought the first figure was too large. The 13-foot replacement is seen in a 1905 photograph, and in its current location in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Artemis of Ephesus

This form of Artemis is obviously quite different than the previous images; Artemis of Ephesus is a form of the Greek goddess which is more closely related to the Potnia Theron imagery. There is unquestionably an influence deriving from the fertilty goddesses of the ancient Near East (Ephesus is a Greek city on the coast of Asia Minor, geographically adjacent to the kingdoms of the Near East).

There once was a colossal statue of the goddess in this form in her temple at Ephesus, but as in other similar giant statues, nothing remains of the original, but we do have small-scale replicas which duplicate its appearance. She is seen in these two replicas, the goddess standing rigidly upright, her garment and headdress adorned with numerous images of animals, since she is the fertilty goddess of all wildlife. (One, two) Notable are what some believe to represent multiple breasts on her torso, since she is the nurturer of all life, a form of the ancient 'mother goddess'.

The temple which housed the colossal statue became one of the most famous in the Greek world in the Hellenistic period, glorified as another of the Seven Wonders of the World. Although this temple is no longer standing, there are enough remains to at least be able to recreate its appearance, as seen here in two modern restorations, (one, two). Despite a basic similarity to the Parthenon, the Temple of Ephesus was much, much larger, as seen in the comparative diagram. The temple was also much more elaborately decorated, with each column containing sculpted figures around the base.

The Slaughter of the Niobids

This is one Greek story which features Artemis along with her twin brother Apollo, as the angry avengers of their mother's honor. A mortal woman, the queen of Thebes Niobe had had six (or seven) sons and the same number of daughters; she then boasted that this made her a greater mother than Leto, who had had only two children, Apollo and Artemis. The enraged mother of the twins sent her offspring to punish Niobe by slaying her children, known as the Niobids.

The first image below is a red-figure vase painting which shows the twins together, each armed with bow and arrows, shooting down the Niobids. This artist has been given the name of the Niobid Painter from this vase; the other side depicts the assembly of Jason and the Argonauts, a scene we will see in Section 10.

The other images are two views of a Classical sculpture of a Niobid (one, two), believed to have once been a part of a pediment group. The exact date and place of its creation are unknown; this piece, like the Ludovisi Throne seen in section 2, was brought from Greece to Rome at some point, where it was part of the collection at the Gardens of Sallust in the 1st century B.C. Comparison with other Greek works suggests a date of about 440 B.C., roughly the same time as the sculptures of the Parthenon.

Artemis and Actaeon

As in the previous story, one of the key themes in this myth is the goddess inflicting a severe punishment upon a human victim. His name was Actaeon, also from Thebes, and was a renowned hunter; one day as he was travelling through the woods with his dogs, he happened across Artemis and her followers just as they were undresssing to bathe.

But Artemis, like Athena, was an absolute virgin goddess, and even the idea of a man seeing her naked caused her to fly into a rage. Artemis used her powers against the man, transforming him into a deer, so that when he fled, his own hunting dogs attacked and killed the animal, not knowing it was their master.

The first painting below, by Titian, shows Actaeon as he stumbles upon the women undressing; Artemis is giving him an angry glare just before transforming him. The next painting is also by Titian, showing the punishment; Actaeon is seen on the right, a human body with a deer head, attacked by his dogs.

The next painting, by D'arpino has a similar scene, with the deer's antlers beginning to sprout from his head. The last two are works from the Classical period, one a sculpted metope and a red-figure vase painting (overall view and close-up), which both depict Actaeon in his human form being attacked by the dogs. Although this seems to contradict the story, it should be seen as artistic license; these artists realized that if they show him as a deer, you wouldn't know this was really a man who had been transformed. What is clear is that the dogs perceive him as a deer.