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Ideas of the Parthenon
Ideas of the Parthenon
The Greek people of the 5th century BC created a culture that was deeply rooted in philosophy and the arts. Their endless search for their place in the grand scheme of the universe and in nature around them influenced everything in their lives especially their love of the arts. Their drama, sculpture, and even architecture are all shining examples of the ideas that were so dominant in the minds of the Greek people. What could be considered the crown jewel of Greek architecture, the Parthenon, is one such of these examples. It brings into form the three principal ideas of humanism, rationalism, and idealism of the 5th century Greek people through not only its structure, but its ornamentation and sculpture as well.
The basis of humanism can be summed up in the words of Protagoras, “Man is the measure of all things.” Humanism is the idea that human beings are the yardstick by with to measure all things in the universe, including Greek gods and goddesses. The Parthenon stands for this very idea through the fact that it is a human organization of space. It brings an understandable order into a chaotic space that would otherwise be incomprehensible to a human being. It allows a human to see the space and recognize it as something that is real. It also consists of repeated patterns and distance intervals throughout its structure that add to this order. The metopes, for example, are set in an alternating pattern with the triglyphs around the entire building at distinct intervals bringing a clear order to the entablature of the Parthenon. The columns that support the Parthenon are also placed in certain distance intervals from each other and coincide with the pattern formed by the metopes and triglyphs. These columns, however, are not in a perfect pattern of equal distances around the entire Parthenon. The columns on either side of the doorway to the Parthenon are placed a little farther apart than the rest to show a clear entrance to the building. Also the corner columns of the building are positioned slightly closer to their neighboring columns in order to compensate for the human eye. Without this compensation the columns would give the illusion of leaning outward and being farther apart than the rest of the columns because of the distortion of such a large structure to the human eye. The stylobate that the columns rest on is also built to allow for this optical illusion of the human eye. It has a gentle arch to it that prevent the human eye from believing the building to be concave or sagging toward the middle. This effect, known as entasis, can be seen throughout the Parthenon from the curve of the stylobate and entablature to the slight bulging of the columns that gives the impression of bearing the load of the structure. Another example of humanism in the Parthenon can be seen in it ornamentation and sculpture.
The Parthenon is a temple to the goddess of wisdom, Athena, and has many references to her though its decorative art work. For example, the East pediment of the Parthenon depicts the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus. All of the figures in the pediment are in a human form, including the gods and goddesses and Athena herself. This is a way of bringing the gods down to a level that can be recognized and understood by humans who worship them. This is true of all the Greek statues of gods and goddesses such as the gold and ivory statue of the goddess Athena that stood in the Parthenon itself.
Another idea of the 5th century Greek people that can be recognized in the Parthenon is that of rationalism. Rationalism is the idea of eternal principles or basic truths that are inherent in the universe and in the human mind. An example is that of Pythagoras’ right triangle theory that a˛ b˛=c˛, which cannot be total proven but yet has never been disproved either. This same theory can be seen in the Parthenon through its rectangular shape which, if cut in half diagonally, would be two right triangles. As it is plain to see, rationalism had a great hand in the
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