The Caryatids Have Hair – Lots of it!

Six famous women hold up the Porch of the Maidens of the Erechtheion, a temple on the Acropolis of Athens. These statues are admired for their graceful poses and drapery, but who notices the hair? An Art Historian who specializes in the sculpture of the Acropolis, Katherine Schwab, has studied the hairstyles and made a project of it for her students at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Here’s a summary of a presentation she gave last night at the Greek Embassy in Washington.

In the New Acropolis Museum, Athens –which was just built a few years ago — one can see the statues from the back with their beautiful long braids of hair, falling in fishtails followed by more curls. In fact, the hair of the statues is in better condition than the faces and bodies whose arms are completely missing. (Caryatid is the name given to a feminine statue which acts as a column to hold up a building; Kore is a statue of a maiden.)

These six caryatids are

labeled Kore A – Kore F.

Every hairstyle is a bit different. Most have fishtail braids down the back, along with regular braids wrapped around the head. Some of the caryatids have sidecurls, while others do not. Professor Schwab did the Caryatid Project with hair stylist Miloxy Torres who recreated the braids on 6 students, all of whom had long, thick and mainly curly hair. The students acted out the caryatid poses other at the Fairfield University campus in 2009.


 The Porch of the Maidens adorns the Erechtheion which honors Athena, Poseidon, and two legendary kings Erechtheus and Krekops.  It is an unusual building in many ways: three porches of different sizes going out in different directions.  It was of special civic and religious significance to the ancient Athenians, because it marked the site of the contest between the god of the sea, Poseidon (Neptune) and Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, for control of Athens.  In that competition presided over by legendary King Kekrops, Poseidon’s Neptune struck a hole on a rock to bring forth a spring of salt water.  Nearby, in front of the building, Athena miraculously brought to life an olive tree. Athena’s gift was deemed greater and she became the ruler of Athens.  One portion of the Erechtheion contains a wooden statue of Athena which fell from heaven during the reign of Erechtheus, but the Porch of the Maidens stands over the hole where Poseidon tapped his trident.

The original caryatids are now on view in the New Acropolis Museum, Athens

The photos are from the Caryatid
Project and Wikipedia. For more information and a video, see                                Here’s the video

Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016

Archeology in Sicily: Giant Temples………..Fallen

In Selinunte, Sicily, the remains of several Greek temples from the 6th- 5th century
BC can reveal much about temple construction, although they fell to Carthaginian invasions
and earthquakes not long after their building.                     Architect Mark Schara,
with his good eye for detail, took almost all of these photos. 

Temple E has most of its outer colonnade, the peristyle, restored.Classical harmony is apparent in the rhythm of fluted columns, continuing up into the triglyphs raised to the sky.

But many of the capitals have fallen. On the ground level, we can appreciate their large scale.

Temple F was badly damaged. Much of the white stucco facing for the fluted limestone column on right is still visible.

Temple G, below, was the largest of the 7 temples of Selinunte, the ancient city of Silenus.

This temple had columns about 54 feet tall. Here, we see the columns were made of individual segments called drums, each of which are 12 feet high.

The overturned capitals, echinus on top of the abacus, has an 11′ diameter. Here, the abacus and echinus were carved in one piece, unlike above at Temple E.
At the time of destruction, not all of the capitals had been fluted. Thus we
know that the temple was never completed

Nearby in Agrigento, the ancient city called Akragas, had a series of ten temples in the Valley of the Temples.
The Temple of Concord is one of the best preserved Doric temples.
It had been converted into a church in the early Christian period.

In the 8th -3rd centuries BCE, Sicily was a battleground between Greeks who settled 3/4 of the island and Carthaginians who settled the western portion; then it became the target of Roman conquest.

Though only a small portion of the peristyle remains, the
Temple of Hera was in better condition than most of these temples
which fell victim to Carthaginian destruction, then earthquakes.

But an even taller temple to Olympian Zeus would have been the largest of Doric Greek temples, the height of a 10-story building; it was incomplete when the disaster struck.

Construction began in 480 BCE and was still in progress when it was decimated in 407 BCE. The Telemon or Atlas figures whose bent arms support the architravemay in fact represent Carthaginian prisoners who had been made to build the temple.
But even these giants, who appear to have held up the building, have fallen,
struck down by the Carthaginians who conquered Akragras.
Only a replica of one of the ruined giants remains on the site.

Ancient Akragas may have had 200.000 people in the 5th century BCE.Today we witness the fallen giant as a symbol of human pride grown too large,
and, consequently, fallen.
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016

Archeology in Sicily: The Morgantina Acroliths

This is the first of 5 blogs on archeology in Sicily which will cover topics in art and architecture that can trace the island’s history from the Archaic Greek period through the late Roman period in Sicily. I must thank Mark Schara and Kelli Palmer who have shared their photos.

As with so many archeological sites, the excavation of a Greek settlement in east central Sicily, Morgantina, was subject to theft and sale of its treasures, notably a cache of fine silver and the Morgantina Acroliths, statues with only the marble heads hands and feet. The rest of the bodies may have been wood or cloth. These acroliths can be compared to the “Warka Mask,” a marble head dating back at least five millennia to ancient Uruk in Iraq, which was looted in 2003 but recouped by authorities at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. The Morgantina acroliths have also returned close to home recently, on display since 2008 in Aidone, a town of about 6,000 inhabitants near Morgantina.
For the archeologist, art hist
orian, the regional and national governments, and the museum world, the Morgantina acroliths pose many questions:
  • Why were statues made of marble only in the head, hands and feet?
  • Who are the subjects or goddesses represented by the statues?
  • How do we repatriate stolen goods? And do museums have the moral obligation to return items if they are later found to be looted?
  • When back in their home location, how should the statues, with missing parts, be displayed?
These expressive faces charm us with their smiles . Marble–not as abundant in Sicily as in Greece–was limited to head, feet and hands. However, it is easy to see the Morgantina heads as comparable in style and date to the well-known Peplos Kore from Athens.c. 530 BCE. They could have been made later if made in a provincial location, such as Morgantina. (Morgantina is 126 km from Sircusa, the great city of Syracuse in Greek Sicily.) Unquestionably feminine, the Morgantina heads are very much alike, although one woman is clearly more mature than the other, giving us hints of their relationship.
Below, a Sicilian fashion designer has clothed the acroliths. Demeter has both her
hands and feet, while only one hand and foot belong to Persephone, also called Kore.

Demeter, goddess of grain, and her daughter, Kore, are the likely identities of the goddesses who sat in a sanctuary of ancient Morgantina. The particular honor given to these goddesses in Sicily was tied to mythology and to the island’s fertility, as the soil was less rocky and more fertile than in Greece. According to mythology, Hades of the underworld abducted Demeter’s daughter and caused deep pain. On a frantic search for Kore, the goddess of grain scorched the earth and let all vegetation die. Zeus promised the return of her daughter if she agreed to send her into the underworld for half of every year. For that reason, Kore, also called Persephone, goes underground every autumn. According to myth, Sicily, specifically Enna (Morgantina is in the province of Enna), was the site of Kore’s abduction. When Demeter brought her daughter back from the underworld and restored the grain, Sicily was the first place to which vegetation returned. Paying homage to Demeter and her daughter, goddess of the underworld, insured fertility of the land. The cult of Demeter and Kore was strong throughout ancient Sicily, with more sanctuaries dedicated to these goddesses than any other gods or goddesses.

The unfortunate stealing of Persephone into the underworld played itself out again in 1978, when professional tomb robbers dug up the acroliths and, through a network of dealers, sold them. A private collector, perhaps unaware that the marbles were obtained illegally, paid $1,000,000 for the goods. Through a laborious process of tracking down what happened to the acroliths, as well as other stolen items from Morgantina, Professor Emeritus Malcolm Bell of the University of Virginia pursued the goal of returning them to their region of origin. The collector gifted the marbles to the University of Virginia Art Museum with the knowledge they would eventually go back to Sicily. The problem of repatriating stolen goods has been a difficult one for American museums to address in recent years.

Demeter the mother, left, and her daughter, Persephone (also called Kore), right

The goddesses now sit together in their own room, like a cult chamber, in the Aidone Archeological Museum. The artful display has special lighting and new armatures and clothing designed by a fashion designer from Sicily, Marella Ferrara. The goal is to make the display as authentic as possible, giving the public an impression as they may have appeared in ancient times. (I still wonder if Demeter was holding sheaths of wheat? Kore holding a pomegranate?) Gauze-like coverings are suggestive but not definitive of how the statues may have been in a cult sanctuary. We can once again witness the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone in a space about 2 km from their original home.

Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016