Thursday, 20 February 2014

Those Ancient Greeks follow me everywhere!

reproduction of Phidias' Athena Parthenas
Reproduction in the Royal Ontario Museum
of Phidias' statue of Athena,
finished 438 BC for inside the Parthenon in Athens.
Not long ago, I was in Toronto, Canada, spending holiday time with family. They had asked me to stop thinking about writing for a few days, as we don't see each other very often. 'No problem,' I said. 'No writing.'

We decided to go to the Royal Ontario Museum as a worth-while afternoon occupation during a snowy weekend. Once there, I walked round a corner into the Greek gallery, and look who I found!

I have seen photographs of this reproduction of Phidias' statue of Athena in the Parthenon again and again. In my ignorance, I thought it was in New York or somewhere, and 12 metres tall like the original (and the reproduction in Nashville). But it's in a small alcove protected from people who would like to touch (like me) by a sheet of glass. Athena is only about two and a half feet (70cms) tall. 

According to PlutarchPhidias* had a lot of trouble with that statue of Athena, culminating in two court cases. Apart from his obviously supreme talents, Phidias was a close friend of the powerful politician Perikles, and so he was a target for the jealousy of lesser mortals. 

One court case accused him of stealing some of the gold Athena was covered in. That fact became part of the plot of my novel The Boy with Two Heads. In my story Phidias and Themis' father had had to invest their own gold when they discovered that indeed some gold and jewels were missing from the Athena. They had never got their money back, but the oracle had told them, 'When the boy with two heads ... wins without a fight, Athena will pay her dues.' 

You can see why Phidias and statues of Athena are quite important to me as I research the sequel to The Boy.

shield of Athena - possible portrait of Phidias
left to right: Amazon, ?Perikles, ?Phidias, ?Greek soldier
from the reproduction shield of Athena
in the Royal Ontario Museum.
And evidence for Phidias' other court case is there in the Royal Ontario Museum, too. They have made a reproduction of the shield of this Athena, where Phidias is supposed to have incorporated a self portrait (and one of Perikles) among the fighters in the battle between Greeks and Amazons depicted there. These portraits constituted a punishable offence in the Athens of the 430s BC, and led to a court case that saw Phidias supposedly imprisoned.

Athena Lemnias head - marble copy
Athena Lemnias
Roman copy of bronze
by Phidias in circa 450 BC
Head of Zeus - marble copy
Roman copy of bronze
by circle of Phidias
However, he then went on to make the huge statue of Zeus that features so strongly in The Boy with Two Heads, which became one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. He made many statues, and, in the museum hall adjacent, there are two marble heads, alleged copies of bronzes also by Phidias or his circle. Again I had seen pictures of them. but never expected to find them unprotected and at eye level. 

For me this was an afternoon of treasure trove. 

As for my companions, they just rolled their eyes and went off to see the bat cave and the dinosaur fossils. Much more fun, they said! 

*Phidias in Greek is spelled Pheidias, but he is pronounced simply Phidias, so I use this spelling.

All photos ©Julia M Newsome. Please credit me if you borrow them. 

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