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The Parthenon and the Pantheon in Their Cultural Context Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 23rd, 2022

Summary

Despite Ancient Rome can be considered a “direct heir” of the ancient Greek cultural tradition, these two significant cultural strata have their own peculiarities and differ from each other. The architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome can be considered an embodiment of their culture and spirit, and it is rather interesting to compare and contrast two outstanding buildings of these cultures in terms of their structure and reflection of the cultural context.

Ancient Greek Culture

The ancient Greek philosophy focused on seeking the regularities which could be considered the pillars of the universal order and finding harmony in everything. It represented the world as a unity, where all the elements interact and influence each other. All the fields of an individual’s life are also a part of world harmony (Burckhardt 128). Religion in ancient Greece also served to understand the essence of the universe; at the same time, it is important to mention that gods were personified and often behaved like humans, while a human was considered able to be godlike, and the aim of an ancient Greek’s life was to approximate to gods as close as possible by means of perpetual self-improvement. On the whole, the ancient Greek culture can be called democratic and humanistic (Burckhardt 4).

Structure of the Parthenon

The Parthenon is a main ancient Greek temple constructed in honor of the goddess Athena who was the patron of the city. This temple is considered the highest point of ancient Greek architecture and sculpture and stays the symbol of the ancient Greek democratic culture.

Parthenon’s stylobate is 69.5 meters by 30.9 meters; there are three steps made of marble, a total of 1.5 meters. The temple is an example of the Doric peripteros with the elements of the Ionic order: it has 8 columns at each façade and 17 columns at the sides (including the corner ones), while the Doric order implies using the proportion of 6 to 13. The dimensions of the temple’s inner space are 59 meters by 21.7 meters; it has two more steps (total 0.7 meters) and has a construction of an amphiprostyle. The temple had a cella of 29.8 meters by 19.2 meters. Besides three marble steps, the temple has stairs with lower steps for the visitors to enter. The pediments show the plots from Athena’s life: the east one depicted Athena’s birth from Zeus’s head (this piece is rather damaged); the west pediment depicts the contest between Athena and Poseidon for a right to become a patron of the city (Neils 25).

Cultural Context in the Parthenon’s Construction

Parthenon is a perfect embodiment of the ancient Greek spirit. This can be felt from the very beginning: even the temple’s situation is consonant to the ancient Greek philosophy, as it stays closer to the South-Eastern edge of the Athenian Acropolis, and the visitors first see it from afar (Neils 11). Thus, a huge building does not suppress a human and “grows” gradually when a visitor approaches it.

The building’s architecture also reflects the principle of the indissoluble and close connection between the gods and a human, as well as the democratic spirit of the ancient Greek culture: details which can be hardly noticed serve to adapt the architecture of the temple to the visitor’s eye. The approach developed by the temple’s architect Iktinos is called curvature, and it is used rather intensively in the building’s construction: despite the temple seems ideal straight, almost all of its lines are curves (Neils 103):

  • the stylobate has a slight increase in the center, otherwise, the floor would seem to bow;
  • the corner columns have a slight slope to the center, and those central – to the corners: this is aimed at making them perceived as straight ones and to correct the perspective;
  • all the columns have the entasis and do not seem thin in the middle; however, the entasis is not as significant as the archaic temples have;
  • the corner columns are thicker than other ones, otherwise, they would seem thinner;
  • sculptures situated at the height are also created taking into account the matters of perspective.

The spirit of the temple is democratic, harmonious, and friendly; every detail of the temple helps to feel the unity of the divine and earthly essence.

Ancient Roman Culture

Unlike in Ancient Greece, the culture of Ancient Rome was earthly and focused on a human and its existence. Ancient Romans were more interested in discussing society and an individual’s place in it. Despite religion was rather important in Ancient Rome, its position and function differed from that in Ancient Greece: instead of being a source of the philosophical idea and a means of building general regularities of the universe, religion in Rome served to more material aims: it was a tool for strengthening the power and influence of the Roman governors (Jones and Sidwell 235). Impressive religious buildings were aimed at suppressing an individual, making him realize his insignificance for the gods.

The Roman culture was oriented at both civil and military communities, that is why the Romans paid attention to constructing both civil buildings, such as houses, aqueducts and temples, and military constructions, such as bridges, roads, fortifications. On the whole, ancient Roman architecture is characterized by austere, modern silhouettes: the Romans were more interested in a building’s contour than in decoration, unlikely in the ancient Greek architectural tradition (Jones and Sidwell 290).

Structure of the Pantheon

The Pantheon was built during Marcus Agrippa’s government in honor of all the Roman gods which helped Rome in its warfare. The Pantheon has a porch that consists of eight columns that carry a pediment. The pediment’s height is greater than its width, which is traditional for the classic Roman pediments (MacDonald 28). The second part of the temple is a structure with niches for the sculptures in the walls. The third part is a circular space crowned with a huge dome.

Despite the idea of circularity is usual for Roman architecture, the construction of the Pantheon’s Roman concrete dome can be considered a huge breakthrough in the Roman architecture of that period. Its weight is 4,535 tons, its diameter is over 43 meters, and its thickness is from 1.2 meters to 6.4 meters. The dome depicts heaven which lies on the strong, inviolable walls (MacDonald 30).

Cultural Context in the Pantheon’s Construction

The Roman governors often constructed the buildings in honor of their military success and tended to glorify themselves. All the Roman Fora provide examples of this tradition; however, the most eloquent detail is Nero’s huge statue in his Golden House, which became an embodiment of his glory. Marcus Agrippa also did not hesitate to glorify himself, and the temple was decorated with the Latin inscription, “M. AGRIPPA L F COS TERTIUM FECIT”, which can be translated as “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, Consul for the third time, built this” (MacDonald 13).

Like in the case of the majority of the Roman buildings, the Pantheon’s spirit is austere; its look is lucid and integrated. The entrance to the Pantheon had five high steps, and the whole building towered above the pavement level. This reflects the Roman spirit of a human’s insignificance for the divine. The dome has an aperture, and the beam of the sun can penetrate the interior of the temple, which also creates the sensation of the gods’ presence.

The Parthenon and the Pantheon in the Modern Context

The ancient constructions are rather helpful for understanding the culture of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. They stay the embodiment of the ancient spirit, which reflects the social and cultural tendencies of that period; the details of their construction are rather usual for the architecture of that period. At the same time, these two temples keep their title as the gems of the World architecture of all times, as their originality and architectural advance are able to impress a modern visitor. The Parthenon and the Pantheon serve as examples of interaction between a building and a human: having been constructed thousands of years ago, they nevertheless seem alive and apply to the visitor stronger than many modern buildings. The Pantheon has kept the imprint of history, having served as a Christian church and a tomb. The Parthenon has its elements exhibited in the museums of Paris, Vatican, Copenhagen, Vienna, Munich; it has modern copies in Nashville and at the Tobu World Square. These buildings remain the eloquent tokens of their epoch, and at the same time stay beyond time.

Bibliography

Buckhardt, Jacob. History of Greek Culture. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2002. Print.

Jones, Peter V., and Keith C. Sidwell. The World of Rome: An Introduction to Roman Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

MacDonald, William L. The Pantheon: Design, Meaning, and Progeny. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: Harvard University Press, 2002. Print.

Neils, Jenifer. The Parthenon: From Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge, UK; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.

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