Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia

   The theme of Return to the Parthenon is the discovery of sculptures from the Parthenon taken from the shipwreck of Elgin's ship HMS Mentor and hidden on the island of Kythira.    

   When the Temple of the Virgin Athena was being built by Pericles, he commissioned Pheidias to create the great statue of Athena. Later in 458 BC, Pheidias, was invited to construct a statue of Zeus to be placed in his Temple at Olympia.

   The statue was over thirteen metres tall and made of gold and ivory. Like Athena, Zeus held aloft in his right hand a statue of Victory. It was an awe-inspiring sight and later generations would rate the statue as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

   As the power of Rome grew Greece became subject to its will. Nero came to the Olympic Games in AD 67 and swore an oath at the foot of the statue of Zeus.  Soon many of the statues of past victors at the Games were taken from their plinths and shipped to Rome, including the statue of Hermes in the Temple of Hera by Praxiteles.

   The Emperor Caligula tried to ship even the statue of Zeus to Rome, but was foiled when unearthly noises from beneath the statue caused the workers to flee.  A later attempt in around 390 AD was successful and the statue was removed to Constantinople.

  By now the Christian religion was firmly estabished in the Empire. The statue still inspired awe in all those who viewed it in Constantinople and symbolised ultimate power.  For Christians it could only mean that this was the true likeness of their own God.  Although the great statue was destroyed by fire in 462 AD, when icon painters were creating images of their new Christian God they gave him the face of Zeus.

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