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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Metopes of the Parthenon

Metopes of the Parthenon - British Museum - Joy of Museums

Metopes of the Parthenon

The “Metopes of the Parthenon” are the surviving set of what initially had been 92 square carved plaques of marble initially located above the columns of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens. Typically each metope depicts two characters in combat. The Metopes were part of the relief sculptures that were integral to the architecture of the Parthenon. They are square marble blocks that were positioned high on the exterior of the temple walls.

There is a different battle theme depicted on each side of the building. On the west wall metopes is the portrayal of the mythical battle between the Ancient Greeks and the Amazons, a nation of all-female warriors in the west. On the north wall, metopes portray the fall of Troy. On the east wall, metopes describe the battle between the Giants with the Olympian gods. Finally on the south wall metopes is depicted the fight of Centaurs and Lapiths. A centaur is a mythological creature with the upper body of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse. The war theme of the metopes demonstrates the battle between order and chaos or between civilisation and barbarism and the triumph of the city of Athens in this battle. The Metopes illustrate scenes from Athenian mythology and history. For Athenians, they also symbolised the victory of Athenian reason and order over chaos.

Many of the Metopes were damaged by Christians when the Parthenon was transformed into a Christian church towards the sixth or the seventh century AD. Later during the period of the Ottoman invasion, the Ottomans placed a gunpowder magazine in the Parthenon. The Venetians, during the siege of Athens in 1687, targeted the gunpowder magazine in the Parthenon with cannons and with a direct hit exploded the massive powder dump and destroyed the roof of the Parthenon. This explosion caused the most dramatic destruction in the 2,000-year-old Parthenon’s structure in its most recent history.

Reflections

  • When the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church in the 1400s, many of the metopes were systematically destroyed by the Christians. What do you think the early Christian saw in the Metopes of the Parthenon?
  • In the eighteenth century, Western travellers to the Parthenon increased, and many seized pieces of sculpture as souvenirs. Years, after the relic was acquired, do you think their descendants recognised the significance of that long-held piece of marble?
  • For Athenians, the Metopes of the Parthenon symbolised the story of the victory of Athenian reason and civilisation over chaos. Does history support the view that culture or reason will conquer chaos?
  • An image to represent the End of the Year: “A battle between Reason and Chaos”. Soon we start anew again. Renew your spirits. Will you join humanity’s or your personal battle for “Reason over Chaos”?

Explore

Metopes of the Parthenon

  • Title:         Metopes of the Parthenon
  • Builder:     Phidias
  • Built:         447–438 BC
  • Material:   Marble
  • Origins:    Athens, Greece
  • Collection: 15 of the 92 Parthenon metopes
  • Museum:    The British Museum

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“The art of being a slave is to rule one’s master.”
– Diogenes of Sinope

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Photo Credits: 1) JOM

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