Online Review: Book

I frontoni arcaici dell’Acropoli di Atene

Fabrizio Santi


Reviewed by Andrew Stewart

Supplementi e Monografie della Rivista Archaeologia Classica 4. Pp. 357, figs. 267. L’Erma di Bretschneider, Rome 2010. Price not available. ISBN 978-88-8265-578-5 (paper).

Since their discovery in the 1880s, the archaic pedimental sculptures from the Acropolis have featured in countless publications and have been authoritatively treated in three weighty monographs (T. Wiegand, Die archaische Poros-Architektur der Akropolis zu Athen [Cassel and Leipzig 1904]; R. Heberdey, Altattische Porosskulptur, ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der archaischen griechischen Kunst [Vienna 1919]; H. Schrader, Die archaischen Marmorbildwerke der Akropolis [Frankfurt 1939]). Santi's contribution, a revised version of his 2004 doctoral dissertation, is by and large a useful supplement to the literature on the subject, though suffers somewhat from its unfortunate timing and largely conservative stance.

During the past decade, and particularly when Santi was going to press, new studies of Late Archaic Athenian art and architecture appeared; the traditional chronology came under serious fire; and the New Acropolis museum opened, with new displays of the fragments and several important additions to them. I refer in particular to the down-dating of the invention of Attic red-figure suggested independently in appendix 1 of Neer's Style and Politics in Athenian Vase Painting (Cambridge 2002) and in Rotroff's public lecture at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 2006; my own venture ("The Persian and Carthaginian Invasions of 480 B.C.E. and the Beginning of the Classical Style," AJA 112 [2008] 377–412, 581–615) into the chronology of the Acropolis and other deposits and the beginning of the classical style; Kissas' Archaische Architektur der athener Akropolis (Wiesbaden 2008); Klein's complete restudy of its small poros buildings, begun in 2002, which aired in several public lectures, conference papers, and published abstracts (esp. N.L. Klein, "The Reuse of Archaic Architecture on the Athenian Acropolis," Archaeological Institute of America 108th Annual Meeting Abstracts. Vol. 30 [Boston 2007] 112); and the new additions to the Temple H and Old Temple pediments now on display in the New Acropolis Museum.

Unacquainted with these new displays, apparently unaware of most of this new archaeological work, and unable because of their last-minute appearance to address the two items he does cite (Kissas' and my own), Santi nevertheless strives for nothing less than a complete reappraisal of his subject, carried out with relentless thoroughness. Illustrations are plentiful, including many of the standard plans, drawings, reconstructions, and German Archaeological Institute (DAI) photographs, and a number of his own (rather mediocre) photographs, but no new drawings of the fragments or new reconstructions appear.

Chapter 1 discusses in detail the discovery of the fragments and previous scholarship on them, offering useful tables of dates and findspots, republishing distribution maps and sections. (Yet was Stahler's attempt in 1972 to insert a quadriga in the Old Temple's Gigantomachy really "the last [scholarly] contribution of real relevance" [43] to the topic?)

Chapter 2 tours the archaic Acropolis, revisiting all the familiar sites and firmly repudiating minority views on three key issues: the beginning of the citadel's monumentalization (after the first Panathenaia in 566 B.C.E.); the date and location of Temple H (ca. 560, under the Parthenon); and the date and function of the Dörpfeld foundation (ca. 520, to support the Old Temple).

Chapter 3 focuses on Temple H, again echoing received wisdom (Dörpfeld on its identification as the Hekatompedon of IG 13 4; Korres on the architecture; and Schuchhardt and Dinsmoor on the pediments) and rejecting Beyer's addition of the Introduction Pediment to the ensemble despite suggestive evidence to the contrary.

Chapter 4 turns to the oikoi and their pediments; it would have benefited from an acquaintance with recent work on the Acropolis deposits, since it has become clear that not everything found in them originally stood on the citadel and/or was the result of Persian vandalism. As Klein (pers. comm. 2006) and I (Stewart 2008, 389) realized independently a few years ago, the almost 50,000 m3 of material required to backfill the massive southern and eastern (Kimonian) fortification walls of ca. 460–430 cannot have been supplied by the Acropolis itself, since it was dumped on top of its natural coating of dirt (the so-called black earth, a humus layer up to 2 m thick) where this coating existed and on the bare rock where it did not. So this gargantuan fill must have been hauled up cartload by cartload from the lower city, together with (presumably) much of its eventual contents, such as the sherds of Geometric funerary vases, white-ground lekythoi, erotica, and ostraka that have so puzzled scholars wrestling with this material. Likewise, those buildings represented by relatively few blocks, all or most of them found in this deep fill (A2, A3, D, E, and others still unlabeled), need not have stood on the Acropolis at all, and indeed probably did not.

All this, in turn, helps to explain why not one of the small poros pediments has been satisfactorily connected with these particular oikoi. Yet with the exception of the lion and boar pediment (159, 218) (Heberdey 1919, pediment X) these pediments were found not in the deep post-Kimonian fills but in the Older Parthenon's construction terraces (fig. 3), datable to the 480s. Probably, then, they did indeed embellish buildings that stood on the Acropolis, perhaps on or uncomfortably near the site of this new temple, necessitating their demolition. This, in turn, could suggest that (as often argued) some of them were the "oikemata [in? the Hekat]ompedon" of IG 13 4, and that (contra Santi) the H-temple was not this building and did not stand on the site of the Older Parthenon but on the Dörpfeld foundation, eventually to be succeeded there by the Old Temple. Santi sidesteps this whole debate, but Klein's forthcoming study (mentioned above) may help to resolve it.

Chapter 5 tackles the Old Temple itself, again dutifully revisiting the architecture, the marble frieze slabs often associated with the building, the pediments (Gigantomachy and lion attack), and the miscellaneous fragments (some unpublished but catalogued here and illustrated with photographs unearthed in the DAI archives). Santi decisively rejects both Stähler's quadriga (as does the New Acropolis Museum display) and the latter's opinion, now gaining increasing support, that the traditional date of ca. 520 for the ensemble is too high. Instead, he follows Croissant's study ("Observations sur la date et le style du fronton de la gigantomachie, Acr. 631," RÉA 95 [1993] 61–77), charting similarities between figures such as the fallen giant with his distorted abdominal musculature and vase paintings by Psiax and Oltos. Unfortunately, this argument overlooks (1) the principle that archaeological ensembles should be dated by the latest element in them; (2) Neer's and Rotroff's tentative down-dating of the beginning of red figure to ca. 515/10; and (3) the likelihood that some advances, in particular foreshortening and the "new anatomy" of bodies twisting and turning credibly in space, were essayed first in painting and only afterward taken up by sculptors. Since the two lunging giants at the corners of the Gigantomachy pediment indeed twist in this fashion, they and not the fallen one should be our guides. Even on the traditional chronology, they point ineluctably to the last decade of the century and on the new heterodox one to ca. 500.

This is no mere archaeological hairsplitting, as chapter 6 ("The Interpretation of the Pediments") at last demonstrates, a wearying 293 pages into the narrative. Santi breaks no new ground in his treatment of the lion attacks and starring role for Herakles (as Athena's protégé and favorite, agonistic hero par excellence, runaway favorite of the vase painters and their public) and omits an exploration of the wider implications both of this thoroughgoing attempt to co-opt this quintessentially Panhellenic hero by a city with which he had had almost no connection and of his demotion in favor of Theseus after the demos' triumph and the century's end, on the Athenian treasury at Delphi. As for the Old Temple and its imposing marble pediments, these are explained as a manifestation of the pretensions of the tyrants. But what if they postdated 510 and the tyranny's fall, or even the repulse of the Spartan, Boeotian, and Euboean triple invasion in 506? Any reader of this book—indeed, of this review—can easily guess what they would then proclaim.

Andrew Stewart
Departments of History of Art and Classics
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, California 94720-6020


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