A sampling of comments on Pausanias: 1.21.4—1.24.7

2018.03.01 | By Gregory Nagy

I continue from where I left off in Classical Inquiries 2018.02.21. I picture here a modern version of the face of the goddess of Athens, Athena Parthenos, whose statue was seen by Pausanias, as he says at 1.24.7. This picturing of the statue surely cannot do justice to the “real thing” as seen by Pausanias. The experience of seeing a colossal gold-and-ivory statue of a divinity is comparable to experiencing a Wonder of the World, as Pausanias is moved to say indirectly at a later point, 5.10.1-2, 5.11.9-10, with reference to the statue of Zeus at Olympia. We read there the impression that Pausanias experiences when he sees at Olympia another colossal gold-and-ivory statue that matches in wonder what he saw earlier in Athens. He says that no measurements, no objective descriptions, can come to terms with the infinite grandeur of such absolute divinity.

Pallas Athena (1898), by Franz Stuck (German, 1863–1928). Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Pallas Athena (1898), by Franz Stuck (German, 1863–1928). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

 

In addition to the modern version of Athena Parthenos as pictured here at the beginning, I will show below, near the relevant passage at Pausanias 1.27.4, a reconstruction of the ancient statue. But even this reconstruction cannot come close to the “real thing” that Pausanias saw. I will have more to say about that “real” Athena Parthenos when I get to my comment on the translation for Pausanias 1.24.7. There we will see that the divinity of that colossal gold-and-ivory Athena was linked with the identity of a mystical son she “never” had.

Plaster model: Reconstruction of Pheidias’ chryselephantine statue of Athena Parthenos on the acropolis of Athens, with serpent. Reconstruction by G. P. Stevens and Sylvia Hahn, ca. 1970. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Drawing by Valerie Woelfel.
Plaster model: Reconstruction of Pheidias’ chryselephantine statue of Athena Parthenos on the acropolis of Athens, with serpent. Reconstruction by G. P. Stevens and Sylvia Hahn, ca. 1970. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Drawing by Valerie Woelfel.

{1.24.7} translation by Jones 1918, modified by GN 2018.03.01:

{1.24.7} The statue [agalma] of Athena is standing [not seated], with a tunic [khitōn] reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medusa is worked in ivory. She holds a [statue of] Nike about four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear [doru]; at her feet is placed a shield [aspis] and near the spear [doru] is a serpent [drakōn]. This serpent [drakōn] would be Erikhthonios. On the pedestal of the statue [agalma] is the birth of Pandora in relief. It has been said-in-poetry [poieîsthai] by Hesiod and others that this Pandora was the first woman; before Pandora was born there was as yet no womankind. And there, as I know because I saw it, is a portrait-statue [eikōn] of ‘King’ [basileus] Hadrian—it is the only one there, but at the entrance there is one [= a portrait-statue] of Iphikrates,[1] who accomplished-for-public-display [apodeiknusthai] many wondrous [thaumasta] deeds.

I now offer this comment on Pausanias 1.24.7, drawing from an analysis of this same passage in HC 1§140:

The wording of Pausanias here makes it clear that he is well aware of the highly charged mysticism of what he is saying when he says that the serpent who attends Athena Parthenos is none other than the autochthonous hero of Athens, Erikhthonios. The potential optative, which I translate as ‘would be’, marks the speaker’s self-awareness at a sacral moment of contemplation. He is touching on a matter of the greatest importance for the ideological self-definition of Athenian citizens as autochthonous supermen who model themselves on the cult hero Erikhthonios as the prototypical autochthon.

I offer further comment, with reference to my earlier comments on Pausanias 1.2.6, 1.14.6, and 1.18.2:

At 1.2.6 we saw the first reference made by Pausanias to the myth about the birth of Erikhthonios from Mother Earth. Then at 1.14.6 we saw a second reference to this myth, and I noted that Pausanias already there points to a mystical understanding of the hero’s birth. He says cryptically that the myth about this birth is saying something mystical about the relationship between Erikhthonios and Athena. One way to describe such a relationship, I suggested in my comment on Pausanias 1.14.6, is to say that Erikhthonios is the son that Athena “never” had. And then, we saw more, much more, in the third reference to the birth of Erikhthonios at Pausanias 1.18.2, where it was revealed for the first time that the nature of this prototypical hero of the Athenians was serpentine as well as human. As I noted in my comment on Pausanias 1.18.2, the biformity of Erikhthonios the autochthon as half-snake and half-human can also be a kind of bivalence. And now, here at Pausanias 1.24.7, we see that Erikhthonios himself can be visualized not only as half-snake but also as all-snake. As I predicted already in my comment on 1.18.2, Pausanias himself experiences such a visualization here at 1.24.7 where he gazes at the colossal gold-and-ivory statue of Athena Parthenos inside the Parthenon. Pausanias sees here, with his own eyes, the hero Erikhthonios standing next to the goddess, and the hero here is all-snake, seen in his fully serpentine glory.

 


Bibliography

See the dynamic Bibliography for APRIP.

 


Inventory of terms and names

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Notes

[1] A famous Athenian, floruit 390 BCE.



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