Approximately ten years after the completion of the Parthenon, the great tragedian Euripides taught his drama “Erechtheus”. It was based on the popular story of the mythical king of Athens and was received so well that some lines became famous sayings on their own. The play was then lost for centuries, until researchers unwrapped an Egyptian mummy at Sorbonne in Paris. The body was partly covered with a papyrus containing several groups of lines from the long-lost “Erechtheus”. The discovery of this drama reveals the details of a human sacrifice that took place in the mythical past of Athens, and supplies a possible solution to an enduring mystery: what does the Parthenon frieze actually depict?
The frieze is considered a masterpiece of classical Greek art but, perhaps surprisingly, we have no conclusive proof as to what it depicts, since no ancient author mentions it in any great detail. It was a pair of Englishmen who visited Athens in the 17th century that came up with the theory that the frieze was inspired by the Great Panathenaea festival, a seminal event in the Athenian religious calendar. Every four years, the city dedicated a new veil to the statue of the goddess Athena in a grand procession that involved the entire population of Athens. And yet there are many elements of the festival that appear to be missing from the frieze. Is it possible that its subject matter is something else altogether?
During a visit to the Acropolis, participants will have the opportunity to learn its story from the time of the Mycenaean kings to the glorious years of Pericles. They will discover a radical new interpretation of the frieze and explore the meaning of this theory for our understanding of a temple that has no equal in terms of beauty and symmetry.