The architecture of a civilization is a window into its values and intended legacy. Greek religious architectural feats are often tied to expressing strength and power, which honor the gods. The Parthenon, built by Iktinos and Kalikrates, honors the legacy of Athens through divine allegory. So too does the The Altar of Zeus, a hellenistic temple from the Turkish city of Pergamon, embellish the city’s own prowess. Understanding the basis for this architecture is informative about the ways in which both cities intended to .
Though the two buildings similarly celebrate their military victories and power, the Altar of Zeus is a transformation from the Parthenon’s adherence to classical architectural canon to a more dynamic and interactive space. The structural differences in the Altar of Zeus and the Parthenon demonstrate an evolution in focus from idealized canonical structures to structures that allow for individual connection and interaction. Built in the classical period, the Athenian Parthenon is an idealistic canon of proportions for doric Greek temples.
To the viewer, the stylobate appeared perfectly straight, and columns evenly spaced. In reality, this seeming perfection is the result of optical illusion. To classical Athenians, creating a temple that appeared to have prefect symmetry the ultimate human achievement. But while the Parthenon sets an idealistic standard for architecture, the Hellenistic Altar of Zeus instead inverts these structural elements and departs from this established canon. In classical greek temples, the altar always remained outside the temple. But at Pergamon, the Altar is inside the temple itself.
This shows a dynamic shift in the way Greek religious spaces are to be used. Temples are not just idealized homes for the gods to be admired from afar, but are meant for worshipers to inhabit and interact with directly. Despite the structural differences of both buildings, they maintain similar goals in celebrating the gods as well as their own heritage. Though both the Athenians and the Pegamenes use allegorical sculpture to celebrate their military power as well as connect them to their own religious mythology, the Pergamenes used the frieze to connect themselves with the ancient Athenians as well.
The subject of the Parthenon’s metopes and the Altar’s frieze is the same: the epic triumph of the gods in battle over the giants. This battle is representative of the conflict of civilization versus barbarian forces. For the Athenians, the subject of the sculpture draws parallels to the Persian War, in which the original acropolis was destroyed. The rebuilding the temple commemorated victory over the Persians following the war. The comparison of the righteous battle of the gods to that with the Persians demonstrates the military power of the Athenians.
Similarly, the Pergamenes use this scene to draw parallels their own military campaign against the Gaul tribes in Europe. But the Altar of Zeus is transformative in that it compares the Pergames to not only the gods, but the classical Athenians. It is no coincidence that the sculptural scenes from both the Parthenon and Altar are the same. The Pergamenes intentionally chose to represent themselves in the same way as the Athenians to connect themselves to classical Greece. For the Pergamenes as well as most of the Hellenistic world, the Parthenon was the pinnacle of classical architecture.
To embody that in anyway would be to elevate their own power. But the area in which the sets of ure deviate is in their elements. listic In place of the rigid proportions and poses of sculpture at the Parthenon, the frieze of the Altar of Zeus is dynamic and empathetic, which establishes a connection with the viewer. A major component of this change is the evolution from Classical to Hellenistic sculpture. In classical relief sculpture, all figures are presented with the same canon of bodily proportions with little variation.
But in the Hellenistic era, figures are constantly in motion and shown in a variety of poses. Figures such as the goddess Athena have the freedom to move across the scene and dramatically smite their enemies. Others, such as Gaea, look on in obvious despair. This hellenistic sculpture is meant to elicit pathos in its viewer. This connection of the viewer and the sculpture is intensified by the placement of the sculpture. Unlike the Parthenon, the Pergamon’s frieze resides not within the entablature, but at eye level with the viewer. In doing so, the scene confronts the viewer directly.
In some instances, figures from the frieze even extend onto the staircase. Statues that had remained within their planes in the Parthenon now interact directly with the viewer, as they extend from the frieze and into the viewer’s space. In doing so, the Altar of Zeus continues to transform a religious space to a space that is greater concerned with human connection. Though both buildings are intended to establish power and legacy, by creating human connection and interaction within a religious space, Altar of Zeus transforms from the classical architectural and sculptural canons of the Parthenon.