Oscar Wilde compared it to a white goddess, Evelyn Waugh to Stilton cheese. In observers from Lord Byron to Sigmund Freud to Virginia Woolf it met with astonishment, rapture, poetry, even tears–and, always, recognition. Twenty-five hundred years after it first rose above Athens, the Parthenon remains one of the wonders of the world, its beginnings and strange turns of fortune over millennia a perpetual source of curiosity, controversy, and intrigue.
Who built the Parthenon, and for what purpose? How are we to understand its sculpture? Why is it such a compelling monument? The classicist and historian Mary Beard takes us back to the fifth century B.C. to consider the Parthenon in its original guise–as the flagship temple of imperial Athens, housing an enormous gold and ivory statue of the city’s patron goddess attended by an enigmatic assembly of sculptures.
My second non-fiction position this month – I am on a roll! Ok, let’s be concise. If you are planning to visit Greece, do read this book because the history of Partenon, easily one of the most recognizable buildings of the world, is also the history of ancient and modern Greece. Ditto if you are going to the British Museum in London in the near future. If you have ever been interested in Greek myths and culture, it is your book as well – you’ll find a lot of ingenious tidbits concerning Greek gods and godesses, how they were worshiped and why. It is short, well-narrated, factual and wonderfully funny, combining great erudition and sense of humour. Still, the second part, concerning the controversy around Elgin Marbles, currently still housed by British Museum in London, marred the book a bit for me. Perhaps I’d already heard too much about it to find it intriguing. Oh well.
A small book that covers a lot more territory than just the history of the Parthenon- recommendable not only for ancient history geeks.