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! 

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Comment by Randall Smith on July 7, 2014 at 7:11am

The book mentioned the Nashville exhibit, including what is thought to be a marvelous replica of the Athena statue. I plan to visit next year on my way to Florida.

Like I stated, the book is recommended for those that have been to the Parthenon. Otherwise, it's difficult to visualize. The mythological exerpts are interesting, however, -- if you're in to that.

Comment by Joan Denoo on July 6, 2014 at 11:14pm

I think so, too. I hope you do go back and enjoy the beauty of the building and its story, after reading The Parthenon Enigma. Be sure and keep us informed. 

Comment by The Flying Atheist on July 6, 2014 at 10:42pm

Sounds like a very interesting book.

BTW, if you want a repeat visit to the Parthenon but can't make it back to Greece, there is a replica in Nashville, Tennessee which pretty impressive.  And there's an art gallery in the "basement."  (I bet the original Parthenon doesn't even have a basement!)

http://www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Parthenon.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenon_%28Nashville%29 

Comment by Sentient Biped on July 6, 2014 at 9:02am

Randy, interesting book!   I need to add that to my list!

This Spring I listened to a lecture series,Everyday Life in the Ancient World. I got it though audible, which costs a fraction of what the great courses cost - but maybe your library has it as well.

According to the book, Athenian democracy was confined to the male elite.  Women had no rights whatsoever.  Slavery was accepted and prevalent.  In Sparta, people belonged entirely to the state, and elders selected which babies to live or die, based on whether they looked healthy and strong.  Others were left out in the wilds, for animals to eat.  Even so, the principles contained the spark for freethought, an example of the beginning of democratic thought, and artwork that used the human form as a free style of expression.

This is not a judgement on my part, trying to place Athenians and other greeks into a modern context.  They had their world, and I hope that some of human society has learned a few things in the past few thousand years.  I also think there is a lot to learn from studying past societies, which I do all of the time.

Thanks for posting.  I also think the British should return the Greek works of art.  And Egyptian.  And Roman.....

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