National Geographic : 1944 Mar
Pericles and Pheidias in the Parthenon THERE can be no doubt that the architectural magnificence of the Athenian Acropolis is due as much to Pericles as to any other. He came of a fine family and his father had fought at Salamis, but he owed his greatness to his own ability as a statesman. Although he soon abandoned the con servative oligarchic party for the more liberal people's party, he believed in the restriction of the franchise. He knew the importance of keeping the mass of the people gainfully em ployed, and, to quote Plutarch, "It was his desire and design that the un disciplined mechanic multitude should not go without their share of the public funds, and yet should not have these given them for sitting still and doing nothing." Funds for constructing the massive buildings that still adorn the Acrop olis were obtained by transfer of the treasury of the Delian League to Athens. The Parthenon itself was built to hold the heroic-sized gold and ivory statue of the goddess Athena. We are told that 44 talents (2,545 lbs.) of gold went into this figure. It is difficult to draw comparative values of money across so many years, but the amount has been computed as the equivalent of about $6,000,000, an enormous sum for those days, and relatively far greater in purchasing power than it would be now. The artist who was responsible for the building and for its sculpture was Pheidias, already an elderly man. With him as architects worked Cal licrates and Ictinus. The Parthenos, as the statue was called, stood some 45 feet high. All the flesh parts were of ivory. The rest was of gold so attached, as Peri cles carefully pointed out to the peo- ple, that it could be removed and bor rowed for the treasury in case of need. Presumably there was a carved wooden core to which the plates were attached, since we hear of the statue's being regilded many years later, after its gold had been taken away. We have from Pausanias a full de scription of the figure, and a few small-scale copies, all rather poor in workmanship, survive-sufficient to give us some idea of the statue, but contradictory in a number of details. It appears, however, that the goddess stood on a pedestal of marble which was carved across the front with a scene representing the birth of Pan dora. Beside her was a great shield with reliefs showing combats of Greeks and Amazons. One of the figures was said to re semble Pheidias, and this was held against him as an act of impiety when he was accused of withholding some of the gold. The only light for the interior of the temple came through the east doorway, but in the brilliantly clear air of Greece, and especially at the time of year when, on Athena's feast, the rising sun shone directly through the opening, the illumination must have been entirely adequate. Pheidias worked on the building for nine years, from 447 to 438. After his accusation, he was released on bail by his friends and went to Olympia, where he made the colossal gold and ivory figure of Zeus, and where his descendants for many generations re mained as the special technicians in charge of its upkeep. This great work, which has also disappeared en tirely, and is known to us only by Pausanias' description and by coins of Elis, was rated as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.