Temple of Zeus

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia is an ancient Greek pagan temple, dedicated to the chief of the gods, Zeus. Built in 470-456 BCE, it was the very model of the fully-developed classical Greek temple of the Doric order. [http://traumwerk.stanford.edu:3455/Archaeopaedia/243 Temple of Zeus] at Archaeopaedia, Stanford University] The temple stood in the most famous sanctuary of Greece, which had been dedicated to local and Pan-Hellenic deities and had probably been established towards the end of the Mycenaean period. The "Altis", the enclosure with its sacred grove, open-air altars and the tumulus of Pelops, was first formed during the tenth and ninth centuries BCE, [ [http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2358 (Hellenic Ministry of Culture: The sanctuary site at Olympia, including the Temple of Zeus] ] when the cult of Zeus joined the established cult of Hera. [Preceding the Temple of Zeus in the "temenos" at Olympia were the archaic structures: [http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2358 "the temple of Hera, the Prytaneion, the Bouleuterion, the treasuries and the first stadium."] ]

It housed the cult statue of Zeus which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Chryselephantine statue was approximately 13m high and was made by the sculptor Phidias in his workshop at Olympia.

The temple was constructed by the architect Libon, with carved metopes and triglyph friezes, topped by pediments filled with sculptures in the Severe Style, now attributed to the Olympia Master and his studio.

The main structure of the building was of a local limestone that was unattractive and of poor quality, and so it was coated with a thin layer of stucco to give the appearance of marble. All the sculptural decoration on the temple was made of Parian marble, and the roof tiles were of the same Pentelic marble used to build the Parthenon at Athens.

The unifying theme of the iconography of the temple is the "dike" or custom-based justice as represented by Zeus, its upholder. [Jeffrey M. Hurwit, "Narrative Resonance in the East Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia' "The Art Bulletin" 69.1 (March 1987:6-15).]

The east pediment, [Marie-Louise Säflund, "The East Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia: A Reconstruction and Interpretation of Its Composition", Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, 27 (Götheborg) 1970, summarised fifty-eight previous reconstructions; her reconstruction has been widely but not universally accepted.] erroneously attributed to Paeonius by Pausanias, who gave a detailed account of its sculptures in the late second century CE, depicted the myth of the chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus, [Oenomaus' violation of "dike" was symbolised by the thirteen heads of unsuccessful suitors, hung on columns in his palace. After the successful race, Zeus with a thunderbolt destroyed the palace. One wooden column left standing was shown to Pausanias with this commentary.] with Zeus standing in the centre, flanked by standing pairs of heroes and heroines, and the two chariot groups, with recumbent figures in the corners. Hippodameia and her maid stand to Zeus' left (north), and Pelops to Zeus' right. A great part of all fifteen figures has been recovered, in carefully documented excavations; scholars still discuss the placement and interrelationships of six seated or kneeling figures in the composition, and their specific identifications.

The west pediment depicted the Centauromachy, the fight at the wedding of Peirithoos between the Lapiths and the centaurs, who had violated "xenia", the sacred rules of hospitality that support the social norms. Apollo [A.F. Stewart and N.D Tersini, "The gesture of Apollo in the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia", "American Journal of Archaeology" 86 (1982:287f).] stood in the centre, flanked by Peirithoos and Theseus. [http://www.sikyon.com/Olympia/Art/olymp_eg00.html Pediments of the temple of Zeus, 470 - 456 BCE] at www.sikyon.com] The Lapiths have been taken to represent the civilised Olympian order of the Greeks themselves, while the Centaurs represent primitive nature of chthonic beings; the frieze also reminded fifth-century Greeks of their victory over the Persians, "outsider" threateners of the Hellenic order.. The "pronaos" and "opisthodomos", the entrance portico and the balancing false portico at the rear, were constructed "in antis", with six metopes at either end, carved with the 12 labours of Heracles, in which Heracles successfully defeats a series of creatures and monsters that threaten righteous order. [Hurwit 1987:6.]

The Roman general Mummius dedicated twenty-one gilded shields after he sacked Corinth in 146 BCE; they were hung upon the columns. In 426 CE, Theodosius II ordered the destruction of the sanctuary, and earthquakes in 522 and 551 devastated the ruins and left the Temple of Zeus partially buried. [ [http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2358 Hellenic Ministry of Culture] .]

The site of the ancient sanctuary, long forgotten under landslips and flood siltation, was identified in 1766. In 1829 a French team partially excavated the Temple of Zeus, taking several fragments of the pediments to the Musée du Louvre. Systematic excavation began in 1875, under the direction the German Archaeological Institute, and has continued, with some interruptions, to the present time.


External links

* [http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/ARTH209/Olympia_Temp_Zeus.html Collection of images of the building layout and sculptures of the temple of Zeus]

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