Parthenon’s “Deep Frieze”

At the Parthenon in 1998 or thereabouts. (Photo by David Brussat)

Parthenon in 1998 or thereabouts. Note horse in corner of pediment. (Photo by David Brussat)

Daniel Mendelsohn’s essay about the Parthenon (and what the Parthenon “means”) in the April 14 issue of The New Yorker made a deft grab for my heart. Ever since I demonstrated my ability, in grade school, to sit and listen while other children analyzed this or that to the hilt of plausibility and beyond, I have had a soft spot for writers who debunk the creative analysis of other writers. Mendelsohn’s essay supplies this service in spades.

Me at the Parthenon. (Photo by David Brussat's camera)

Me at the Parthenon. (Photo by David Brussat’s camera)

The essay takes a while (a delightful and informative while) to get under way but evenually Mendelsohn gets down to defenestrating The Parthenon Enigma, by Joan Breton Connelly. It is great good work. Connelly has upended the field of Parthenon analysis, a field that has persisted for millennia, with her supposedly sudden revelation that its frieze – “Deep Frieze” may be one of the best titles since a review in The New Republic of Scotty Reston’s autobiography called “Reston On His Laurels” – was about the sacrifice of virgins.

I regret to say that the full piece lurks behind a firewall. I cannot get by it. Nevertheless, the link gets you to the essay’s introductory fillip, which is most engaging. Mendelsohn imagines archaeologists of the future looking back 2,500 years at the ruins of One World Trade Center and has them wondering what it means. He thereby places the “creative interpretation” of the Parthenon’s “meaning” in deep context. Read and enjoy! I hope you can find it, even if you must buy a copy at the newsstand!

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Parthenon’s “Deep Frieze”

  1. I haven’t checked in here for some time since I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are good quality so I guess I will add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it friend 🙂

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    • Thank you, GRNPK! I suppose a blog can get tiresome and wallow in a given topic for too long, and since everyone has their favorite slants on what I write, I imagine that’s true of most viewers. Not sure I can do anything about that. I can’t tickle every reader’s fancy every day, but I can express my appreciation when a reader decides to take a second look. Thank you!

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  2. Shawn says:

    your post is amazing.About parthenon,it is my own most glorious architectural example of all time,after pyramid.I wish ,someday I will must go there.

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    • Thank you, Shawn. I visited the Parthenon in something like 1998. In my first moments in Athens I tried and tried to get a glimpse of it after leaving my hotel at Syntagma Square, but only after a while did I see it in the distance down a street. I walked into a romantic festival in which people with colorful plastic clubs tapped other people they liked on their backs without being seen. Very curious! The day I went to see the Parthenon was gray but when I got there the sky was sunny and the Acropolis was glorious. I got some nice shots of the Parthenon, one of which served as my computer “desktop” for years. Alas, I lost that photo (this was before I got my first digital camera and had an iPhoto library). I ran a couple of the photos with my post on the Parthenon that you read. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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