This is a follow-up from last week’s post titled Caryatids: Images of the Queen Archetype. Deborah wondered what the Caryatids on the Maiden Porch of the Greek temple on the Acropolis in Athens called the Erechtheum (or Erechtheion) might have been carrying in their hands. So I’ve just done some digging through my photographs taken on a trip to Greece nine years ago and found these pictures. I love that this one shows the Maiden Porch amidst the iconic blues and whites of the Greek islands.
Here’s a brief summary of the history of the temple:
The Erechtheion, designed by the architect Mnesikles, was a complex building constructed in the last twenty years of the 5th century BC. It replaced the “Archaios Neos” (Ancient Temple) of Athena Polias, part of which had been destroyed by the Persians sixty years earlier. The new temple was divided into two chambers: an eastern room dedicated to Athena, which held the goddess’ wooden cult statue; and a lower western room that accommodated shrines of Poseidon-Erechtheus, Hephaistos and Boutes, the brother of Erechtheus.
The Erechtheion’s unusual form resulted from the architect’s need to accommodate all of these cults within one building, while also adapting its structure to the site’s uneven ground. Moreover, the complex had to incorporate the sacred symbols of Poseidon’s struggle with Athena for hegemony over Αthens: the olive tree given to the city by Athena; the marks in the bedrock left by Poseidon’s trident; and the spring of salty water that arose after he smote the rock.
The Erechtheion’s best-known feature may be its south porch, whose roof, instead of being supported on columns, rested on the heads of six Korai statues – the famous Karyatids. Five of them are now in the Acropolis Museum, displayed on a special balcony and visible from all sides, while the position of the sixth Kore, still held in the British Museum, has been left empty. Source
The World History Encyclopedia writes this:
The real stars of the Erechtheion are without doubt the Caryatids or korai as they were known to the ancient Greeks. The finely-sculptured figures are not unique to the building as other examples exist in the architecture of the Archaic period, particularly in Treasury buildings at sacred sites such as Delphi and Olympia. Their clinging Doric clothes (peplosand himation) and intricately plaited hair are rendered in fine detail. Their bold stance and the firm set of the straight standing leg give the impression that the task of bearing the weight of the porch entablature and roof is effortless. Rather cleverly, the straight leg also creates folds in their clothing remarkably similar to the flutes on an ordinary Ionic column. Originally, the figures raised slightly their robe with one hand and held shallow libation vessels (phialai) with the other. This may have been in reference to the fact that it was believed that the tomb of the mythical King Kekrops lay under the building, and perhaps the libations poured by the Caryatids replicate the practice of pouring libations into the ground as an offering to the dead. The Caryatids now on the acropolis are exact copies; five of the originals reside in the Acropolis Museum of Athens and the other is in the British Museum, London.
Shallow libation vessels? I guess that’s one possibility. Personally, I’m not a fan of the above painted rendition, though.
The leader of our group was the prolific author, lecturer, independent scholar, mythologist, screenwriter, and documentary filmmaker, Phil Cousineau. I especially love his book, The Art of Pilgrimage. After beginning our tour in Athens we visited several other places, including the town of Heraklion in Crete. I especially enjoyed the spectacular Heraklion Archaeological Museum which contains an assortment of relics from ancient Greece.
Although the Athenian, Mycenaean, and Minoan civilizations would have worshiped different Gods and Goddesses in different eras and used different styles, materials, and motifs, the objects pictured below are nonetheless representative of the kinds of artifacts that were in common use throughout the lands bordering the Aegean Sea.
Since the Erechtheum is believed to have been a temple to Athena and Poseidon, archaeologists assume the Caryatids would have carried objects for religious rituals: decorated amphoras, bowls, boxes, and other containers for wine, water, precious oils, fruits, and spices, plus small votives, statuettes of the god and goddess, and carvings or sculptures of religious symbols. Perhaps they even carried scrolls, as Deborah suggested after last week’s post.
Following are some pictures I took of the kinds of things the Caryatids might have carried. Enjoy.
Finally, Fred took this candid photo of me walking through an ancient ruin, engaging in my favorite occupation, especially when traveling. I should look for that journal. It would be interesting to read it again.
Image credit: Erechtheion with Original Paintwork Reconstruction, Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)
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