Connelly, Joan Breton. The Parthenon Enigma. Knopf. Jan. 2014. 512p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307593382. $35. ARCH
In this masterly volume, Connelly (classics, New York Univ., Portrait of a Priestess) delves into the significance of this Athenian wonder and presents a different interpretation of the frieze that encircles it. For centuries, scholars have interpreted the frieze as being of a Panathenaic procession seeking to honor Athena—the city’s most important deity. Connelly’s exhaustive inquiry into the intricate nature of the artwork, through a deep understanding of fifth-century Hellenic myth, history, and religion leads her to believe that the frieze seeks to tell the tale of King Erechtheus’s three maiden daughters who willingly sacrificed themselves—as decreed by an oracle—to save the city-state of Athens from the approaching Eleusinian army. Connelly expertly re-creates the world engendered by the efforts of the great statesman Perikles, one in which the city-state was worthy of any sacrifice. The author suggests that the misreading of this “mirror in marble” has obscured the didactic message the edifice was intended to imbue in Athenians. VERDICT Connelly’s depth of knowledge and scholastic effort shine through brilliantly. Her thorough research presents a convincing argument for newly comprehending the Parthenon’s frieze and potentially reevaluating long accepted research on the subject. Enthusiastically recommended for all readers interested in ancient Greece.
Graziosi, Barbara. The Gods of Olympus: A History. Metropolitan: Holt. Mar. 2014. 304p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780805091571. $27. HIST
By knowing the history of Olympian gods, argues Graziosi (classics; Durham Univ.), we can better understand the human condition. She starts with a look at the 12 major gods who appear in the Elgin marbles and their origin stories. The gods reflect various aspects of human nature and attitudes, which have shifted over time. For instance, the Greek war god Ares was a marginalized and somewhat despised figure, but in the Roman pantheon, he became the major god Mars. Graziosi also addresses the tensions among archaic poetic descriptions of the gods in Homer and Hesiod and classical Athenian religion, the mythmaking of Hellenistic Egypt, and the allegorical use of the gods in other religions, including the representations of the gods in classical Islamic astronomy. Covering so much in a short book does not always result in compelling explanations for why we still pay attention to the Olympian gods. Nevertheless, the examination of each period is fascinating. VERDICT Accessible to general readers, this work will be fun for anyone wondering whatever happened to the Greek gods over the centuries, as well as those specifically interested in classical reception.