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Parthenon and Parthenoi: A Mythological Interpretation of the Parthenon Frieze

Joan B. Connelly
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 100, No. 1 (Jan., 1996), pp. 53-80
DOI: 10.2307/506297
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/506297
Page Count: 28
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Parthenon and Parthenoi: A Mythological Interpretation of the Parthenon Frieze
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Abstract

Since the late 18th century, the Parthenon frieze has generally been viewed as a representation of the fifth-century Athenian citizenry participating in their annual (or quadrennial) Panathenaic procession. Viewed without a mythological reference, the frieze stands outside the conventions of Greek temple decoration, which regularly derived its subject matter from the mythical past. The story of King Erechtheus, his wife Praxithea, and their three maiden daughters who gave their lives to save Athens is proposed here as the mythological reference behind the images. The east frieze shows the royal family preparing for the sacrifice of the youngest daughter, required by an oracle for victory over Eumolpos. The assembly of gods looks out to the approaching sacrificial procession of the first commemorative festival, ordained by Athena, in memory of Erechtheus and the parthenoi. Erechtheus's triumphant cavalry and chariots follow behind those who bring animals to sacrifice, and those who carry water and honey offerings, all following behind the holy choruses of maidens who lead the procession. Thus, Athenians from the mythical past commemorate the dead hero and heroines and celebrate their first victory over outside aggressors in what may be viewed as a central aition of the Panathenaia itself.

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