8 months ago (Oct. 2013) I was gazing at the wondrous spectacle known as the Parthenon sitting atop the Acropolis hill in Athens, Greece. I roamed the sites and toured the amazing museum. I tried to appreciate what I was seeing, but my lack of Greek history and culture limited my ability to comprehend it all--that is, until I read The Parthenon Enigma by Joan Breton Connelly.
Anybody that's ever seen the Parthenon should read this book. It details the history of the building (and others), delving into the half mythological, half factual explanations of the sculptured works that adorned it. The "enigma" part basically asks and answers "Why?".It's a fascinating story.
Like us (in general), the ancient Greeks were very religious, worshipping many gods. Their roots are steeped in mythology. The goddess Athena (a female!) was the dominant figure. A gigantic statue stood atop the Acropolis. The Parthenon was built to honor and worship her. She and the building were to serve as potent symbols of Greece's wealth and power and supremacy. The vivid and abundant sculptured adornments served to tell what it meant to be an Athenian. They tell of their genealogy, origins and rituals, and values. Little wonder they continue to be a proud people.
Oh those silly Greeks, we Americans think--worshipping all those mythological gods and goddesses. However, in many respects, the United States shares a parallel history with Greece. Yes, we're a democracy (republic), but belief in our "gods" (including Jesus) continues to dominate our culture and politics. Ours being a "Christian nation" is oft repeated. The U.S. has a plethora of Parthenon-like symbols, including churches and cathedrals. That's alright, we have reason to be proud.
I'm glad I read the book after I had been to Athens. Now I need to return. By the way, 60% of the sculptured artwork is in the British Museum (which I, too, have seen). The subject of its return to the homeland is still being debated. 94% of British residents think it should be!