Book review - Periklean Athens and its Legacy: Problems and Perspectives

Periklean Athens and its Legacy: Problems and Perspectives
Edited by Judith M. Barringer and Jeffrey M. Hurwit
Colour illustrations 1
b/w illustrations 167
ISBN 0292 706227

by Dorothy King

Minerva, May/June 2006

A good Festschrift is notoriously difficult to produce, but this volume, organised in honour of Jerome J. Pollitt, is exceptional both in the concentration and high level of its scholarship, with papers by his colleagues and students. Hurwit has written several brilliant books on Fifth century Athens, so the scope of the book falls neatly within his area of expertise, and must be a tribute to the encyclopaedic knowledge of Periclean Athens that he and Barringer have.

Several of the papers published are particularly noteworthy. David Castriota, who has previously examined the iconography of the Acropolis, now turns his attention to the earlier Stoa Poikile, which is unusual for having represented the battle of Marathon, a historical event amongst mythological ones. Hurwit’s parallels between the Parthenon and the temple of Zeus at Olympia are succinct but thought-provoking. Barringer publishes a study of Prokne and Itys, a statue group on which she first wrote about in an essay on Alkamenes at Yale for Pollitt, a touchingly personal touch to the festschrift. The group is closely related to post Periclean Athens through its sculptor, who was one of the leading students of Pheidias, and executed many of the Acropolis sculptures.

Ian Jenkins relates the riders from the Parthenon frieze to the creation of the Periclean cavalry. A contentious topic, on which he failed to persuade this reviewer, it is still fascinating to read his study and arguments. Olga Palagia’s comparative study of the Ilissos and Nike temple friezes helps to shed more light on both. We associate the Parthenon with Periclean architectural sculpture yet, as she points out, the sadness of the Ilissos frieze and the triumphalism of the Nike frieze provide an interesting counterpart to it: both were built a generation later, during the Peloponnesian War. Susan B. Matheson, Pollitt’s wife, writes about scenes of departing warriors on Greek vases. Although the volume begins with this paper, it also seems apposite to end with mention of it, as we are biding farewell to Pollitt, retiring as Professor at Yale, where he was one of the great scholars of Greek art and archaeology.

The section on the legacy of Periklean Athens has some interesting papers, but also bears only a tangential relation to the rest of the volume. The volume gains much from having followed such a narrow scope, and I only wish that future festschrifts would follow this formula rather than the more usual mess of accepting any contributions they can possibly get. Barringer and Hurwit deserve a great deal of credit for having gathered together so many interesting papers, which are not only of a universally high standard, but are also very readable.

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