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Athena Parthenos by Pheidias

By Mark Cartwright

The magnificent temple on the Acropolis of Athens, known as the Parthenon, was built between 447 and 432 BCE in the Golden Age of Pericles, and it was dedicated to the city’s patron deity Athena. The temple was constructed to house the new gold and ivory cult statue of the goddess by the master sculptor Pheidias and to proclaim to the world the success of Athens as leader of the coalition of Greek forces in the Persian Wars. The cult statue, begun in 447 BCE and dedicated in 438 BCE, would remain the great city’s symbol for a thousand years until, in Late Antiquity, it disappeared from the historical record, possibly taken to Constantinople and there later destroyed. Fortunately, copies and representations, the most complete being the 2nd century CE ‘Varvakeion statuette’, of the statue and some of its sculptural details, along with descriptions by Plutarch and Pausanias, allow us to fairly accurately reconstruct its original appearance.

Materials & Dimensions

The name Parthenon derives from one of Athena’s many epithets: Athena Parthenos, meaning Virgin. Parthenon means ‘house of Parthenos’ which was the name given in the 5th century BCE to the chamber (cella) inside the temple which housed the cult statue, and from the 4th century BCE the whole building acquired the name Parthenon.

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