The Sculptures of the East and West Pediments of The Temple of Zeus at Olympia

The Sculptures of the East and West Pediments of The Temple of Zeus at Olympia

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Use of Movement and Characterisation in the Sculptures of the East and West Pediments of The Temple of Zeus at Olympia The architectural sculpture of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia dates from between 465 and 457BC. Putting the temple into historical context, this was a somewhat flourishing time in Greek history, drama, and philosophy. In 490BC, the Athenians won a great victory at Marathon against the Persians, and in 480BC the Persians sacked Athens but were eventually defeated in a naval victory for the Athenians at Salamis. Greek tragedy was thriving during the fifth century, with Aeschylus’ Oresteia being written roughly around the same time as the sculptures for the temple of Zeus were created, and fifth century philosophy was developing ideas regarding how one should act in society. This information proves to be relevant to our understanding of the development of Greek sculpture in this period, and encourages us to recognise how the sculptures on the Temple of Zeus at Olympia may reflect this prosperous time of Greek history.
In this essay, I will specifically be discussing the use of movement and characterisation in the two pediments of the Temple of Zeus, and how they enhance the narrative of the two stories depicted. I will also explore how the sculpture on these pediments represent the ‘flourishing’ period of Classical Greece - a period when the Greeks were celebratory of their defeat of the Persians, and when new ideas were starting to emerge from sculptors adapting concepts from Greek drama and philosophical ideas.
In his publication, E.N. Gardener argues against the lack of appreciation for the sculptures on the east and west pediments of the Temple of Zeus:
‘The r...


... middle of paper ...


...fazed by the fact that she is being carried off by a drunken half man half horse creature on her own wedding day (see fig 6). The fact that she is a female victim does not make her exempt from expressing the appropriate civilised ‘Greek’ countenance.
In conclusion, the characterisation depicted on the west pediment enhances the narrative concerning the idea of civilisation vs barbarism, and the use of movement enhances the fast pace of the narrative. The philosophical concepts surrounding fifth century Greece reinforced the awareness of human emotional expression and how to conduct oneself with a manner of self-restraint, and the Lapiths on the west pediment certainly reflects this. In the east pediment, themes from Greek tragedy and the characterisation featured in figures such as the old seer heightens the tension, which in turn enhances the narrative.

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