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Tripods, Triglyphs, and the Origin of the Doric Frieze

Mark Wilson Jones
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 106, No. 3 (Jul., 2002), pp. 353-390
DOI: 10.2307/4126279
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4126279
Page Count: 38
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Tripods, Triglyphs, and the Origin of the Doric Frieze
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Abstract

The standard wisdom on the origins of the Doric order revolves around the doctrine of petrification, by which a previously established timber vocabulary came to be perpetuated in stone once society acquired the means to build in this material. While the petrification doctrine takes its authority from the Roman architect-writer Vitruvius, and finds support from parallel processes observable elsewhere in the world, it none the less copes inadequately with the archaeological realities of Greece in the late Geometric and early Archaic periods. In particular, the form, size, and placement of the triglyphs in the frieze are not necessarily demanded by the logic of timber construction and the configuration of early temple superstructures. A growing number of scholars accordingly challenge the Vitruvian consensus, whether by tracing the Doric frieze back to Mycenae, Egypt, the Orient, and idioms of pattern making in Geometric art, or by arguing for symbolic modes of interpretation. After briefly reviewing these approaches, this paper presents connections between triglyphs and tripods, ritual objects of considerable significance for early Greek cultural and religious life. The formal characteristics of tripods and representations of tripods find echoes in the generic compositional structure of the triglyph. Depictions of multiple tripods alternating with decorative motifs recall the rhythmical disposition of the triglyph and metope frieze, while certain small-scale details on bronze tripod legs find counterparts in non-canonic types of triglyph. The concluding section initiates a debate over the explanation for these affinities by exploring the significance of the tripod and its many associations: as aristocratic gift with heroic overtones, as agonistic prize, as oracular instrument, as Apolline symbol, as the Greeks' ultimate votive offering. Some of these themes can strike chords with Greek temples, so there thus emerges the possibility that the triglyph frieze was invented to articulate visually the programmatic concerns of their builders.

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