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The Parthenon Enigma Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 28, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030759338X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307593382
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Universally recognized as a symbol of Western democracy, the Parthenon emerges in Connelly’s bold new analysis as a shrine memorializing myths radically alien to modern politics. Newly recovered classical literary texts and surprising archaeological finds compel readers to acknowledge the implausibility of the usual interpretation of the Parthenon’s frieze sculptures as a depiction of fifth-century Athenians celebrating their Panathenaic Festival. To buttress a quite different interpretation, Connelly cites lines from a long-lost Euripides play, so investing the Parthenon statues with mythical—not historical—significance, enshrining the legendary King Erechtheus and Queen Praxithea and the three daughters they heroically sacrifice to save their threatened city. The discovery that Athenians believed their political order originated with virgin sacrifice may shock readers, despite the ubiquity of human sacrifice in the world’s prehistory and the centrality of blood sacrifice in Christianity. Yet in Athens’ violent founding myth, Connelly sees a reminder of how completely Athenians put community welfare above self-interest. Newly aware of the potent message embedded in the Parthenon frieze as a whole, many readers will endorse Connelly’s concluding appeal to British authorities, asking them to return to Greece the priceless pieces of the frieze that have long been held in London. An explosive reinterpretation of a classical icon. --Bryce Christensen

Review

“A highly detailed, often technical history . . . these pages spring to life with Breton Connelly’s excitement . . . The sources are treated with considerable even-handedness, with the result that the interpretation is quite compelling . . . [The frieze’s] procession is not political, or even contemporaneous with Pericles's Athens, she suggests, but religious and mythological.”

—Daisy Dunn, Literary Review (UK)
 
“A valuable argument about the purpose of the temple as a visual memento of the invisible past . . . Connelly’s theory is attractive and plausible, and is backed by a considerable breadth and depth of scholarship – archaeological, visual, and textual.”

—A. E. Stallings, The Weekly Standard

“Learned, ambitious, generously illustrated and pugnacious . . . up to date with the excellent theoretical work of recent decades . . . [Connelly] aims to address both specialist and general audiences simultaneously . . . The stakes are therefore higher than in most disagreements in classical archaeology . . . What we know of the operation of the institutions of the democracy . . . works strongly in favour of Connelly’s argument . . . Even those who have doubts must surely now recognize that Joan Breton Connelly’s ideas deserve to be taken into the mainstream . . . Personally I am convinced that, in her main claim, Connelly is right. She has not solved the “enigma” but dissolved it . . . It is time to change the textbooks and the museum labels.”
   
      —William St. Clair, Times Literary Supplement

“Exciting and revelatory…the subject of this matchless narrative is a matter of extraordinary significance for understanding the ancient people we so admire…The Parthenon Enigma serves as a bracing reminder that first-rate scholarship not only takes no visible fact for granted, but also digs deep into the unknown unknowns…Her book is that rare thing: the exposition of a truly great idea, and a reminder of what a thrilling subject the past, that foreign country, can be.”
 
      —Caroline Alexander, The New York Times Book Review

“A careful, learned account and a good read … There is plenty of learned and intricate argument here.”

      —Mary Beard, The New York Review of Books

“The thrilling notion that a great monument has been decoded, that centuries of misunderstanding have been put to flight, will captivate many readers…one of the most original theses of modern classical scholarship.”
 
      —James Romm, The Wall Street Journal
 
“A detailed portrait of the Parthenon as seen through what Connelly calls “ancient eyes.” 
 
       —Eric Wills, The Washington Post

“Engaging and intensely interesting . . . [makes] a thoughtful, stimulating, and unquestionably valuable contribution to our understanding.”

       —J. J. Pollitt, The New Criterion

“Usually recognized as a symbol of Western democracy, the Parthenon emerges in Connelly’s bold new analysis as a shrine memorializing myths radically alien to modern politics…An explosive reinterpretation of a classical icon.”
 
     —Booklist, starred review

"This detailed, smart, and tantalizing study offers much to savor while immersing readers in a 'spirit-saturated, anxious world' at the mercy of mercurial gods."

      —Publisher's Weekly
 
“Joan Connelly's groundbreaking work will forever change our conception of the most important building in the history of western civilization. By cracking the hidden code of the Parthenon, she reveals the classical world in a radical new light that will reorient how we all view its legacy for the 21st century.”
 
   —Tom Reiss, author of The Black Count, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
 
“Joan Connelly's learned and elegant study makes a powerful case for a new understanding of the Parthenon, its original meaning as a religious object and for the fullest possible restoration of its many parts still scattered far and wide.”
            
   —Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Classics and History, Yale University, and author of The Peloponnesian War

 “I so admire the historical approach of this luminous book: courageously and intelligently starting from scratch, Joan Connelly reconstructs the meaning of the Parthenon from the perspective of Perikles and his contemporaries in Classical Athens. The unfamiliar picture that emerges gives us all a sharper vision of what this timeless monument can still mean to our own troubled world.”
 
      —Gregory Nagy, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature, Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University
 
“Readers born before 1960 may be reluctant to break with some long established “truths” about the meaning of the Parthenon frieze but Joan Connelly’s book is one for the 21st century, full of new finds and fresh insights.”
 
      —Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History and Classics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton 
 
“We are a species of storytellers whose tales have shaped our reality since ancient times. Joan Connelly’s brilliant study of the Parthenon shows how a myth can reveal as many secrets as a rock or a ruin, and how rethinking what we know about antiquity can help us better understand ourselves today.”
            
      —George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars saga

Customer Reviews

Although it is an academic book, it is very well written and easy to read.
Ulysses A. Yannas
As a lifelong scholar and researcher, the author has dedicated herself to this subject and the results are readily apparent in her writing.
B. Thomas Henry
A breakthrough book by one of the finest authors working today in the archeology field.
Patrick Garner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By James Klagge on March 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This was an amazingly good book. I am a fan of Classical Greek culture with some background, having taught an interdisciplinary course on The Classical Age 9 times over a period of 20 years at Virginia Tech. I know a good deal about Classical sculpture and architecture, and was pleased to find that I haven't been misleading my students about anything, except...the Parthenon frieze. While this book is incredibly wide-ranging, its real contribution to scholarship is a reinterpretation of the frieze. It is traditionally thought to represent the Panathenaic Procession, an annual event (though more significant every 4 years) staged for several centuries from the 5th Century BCE until a Roman emperor outlawed pagan celebrations in the 4th Century CE. The author does a very respectable job of questioning and marshaling evidence for interpretations. Her theory is that the frieze represents the sacrifice of the daughter of Erechtheus, required by the Oracle at Delphi for an Athenian victory pitting Athena and her allies against Poseidon and his allies (who had wanted to be the local god). This general conflict between Athena and Poseidon is known from the West Pediment. The story of the family of Erechtheus and his daughters is only known from a fragmentary play by Euripides named "Erechtheus." She apparently first put forward this hypothesis over 20 years ago, and has been building her case ever since. That mythical event was apparently the origin of the Panathenaic Procession, so the traditional interpretation is not wildly off. But she argues, for instance, that the Procession was a contemporary event, and no other art on the Parthenon (or really anywhere on temples) depicted contemporary events.Read more ›
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Garner on February 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A breakthrough book by one of the finest authors working today in the archeology field. Connelly is also author of "Portrait of a Priestess"--if you don't already have it, find a copy, as it similarly reevaluates an area of ancient studies that was in need of a thoroughly unique analysis. Connelly, in both of these texts, reinterprets long-standing beliefs about Athenian thought. In addition to the "Parthenon Enigma" being an engrossing read, it becomes a sweeping look at the ancient Mediterranean world.

I read it front to back in about 10 days, finishing it would a small "Wow." I'm currently rereading the book. Highly recommended.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Linda Johnsen on April 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A total eye-opener, this book brings ancient Athenian spirituality back to life in a way I haven't experienced since Roger Lipsey's "Have You Been to Delphi?" Connelly writes so lucidly, you can vividly feel yourself strolling through the Parthenon 2500 years ago. (Such skill in taking readers on a journey into the past is regrettably rare in archeological writing!) Connelly's insights into the foundation myth of Athens are amazing and thoroughly convincing. Fascinating, readable, revelatory.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Aubrey Price on March 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who has read multiple sources and, indeed, spoken occasionally on the Parthenon sculptures, I found this book to be a revelation. Truly it stands in a class by itself. While the author brilliantly explains the complexity of historical myth development, she manages to provide interpretive clarity based on deeply researched relationships that exist across multiple shrines and local mythic traditions. I can certainly believe, as Mary Beard asserts in her New York Review of Books article and the author confirms, that her thesis has been in development for more than twenty years, A book of this interpretive power is the project of a lifetime.
For modern democracies, individual sacrifice for the common good may come in more ways than were available to the ancient Athenians, but it is a requirement for their survival none the less. This is a realization brought home by the powerful imagery of the Parthenon itself as explained so beautifully by Joan Breton Connelly. Her interpretation only enhances the Parthenon as the archetypal symbol of democracy.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A bit slow here and there but ESSENTIAL for anyone going to Athens (as I was when I read this) who intends to go to the Parthenon and the new and fabulous Parthenon museum.The subject is the meaning of the band of decorative sculpture that used to surround the building -- so high up it was not easily visible from the ground. But that set of sculptural panels is now wonderfully displayed in the museum and you can look at it and really consider Connelly's argument. Her view is that it depicts the preparations for the sacrifice of the young daughter of an early (and possibly mythical) king of Athens--to ensure victory in a critical battle. This is not how we like to think of the "rational" Greeks but she persuasively argues they were a far more superstitious and "Gods-fearing" people than we learn about in middle school. Friends in the field tell me her view is still very controversial but it really made my visit much more interesting.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Yodie on March 10, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Delightfully researched. Many insights I have not read about to this date. Lots of History and detail. Worth your time and interest..
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By F. T. Kettering on December 30, 2014
Format: Paperback
Kudos to Ms. Connelly for pursuing her thesis with such ardor. Unfortunately her evidence for that thesis comes primarily from history and literature. Visually the Parthenon frieze itself tells a different story. Try reading the image of the central scene as it appears to your eyes. At the right a man takes a large, folded cloth from a boy. [The idea that this boy might be a girl contradicts three centuries of Greek sculpture]. At the left a woman accepts both a basket and a large, vertical object from a younger female. Behind this girl another walks forward carrying a similar basket; what she carries in her left hand is unclear. This reading of the image completely supports the traditional idea that the entire Parthenon frieze depicts a Panathenaic procession. The human figures at the center of the action are priest and priestess. The priest is shown receiving the peplos of Athena -- crucial to the festival's central rites. The priestess is shown receiving the sacrificial knife, or short sword, in its scabbard -- for the bull sacrifice, also a central rite. The two younger women are the "kanephoroi" or "basket-bearers," who traditionally led the procession carrying baskets, along with the knife, just as they do here. [Much of the "enigma" pertaining to this central group arose from an early misreading of the baskets as "stools," upon which the priest and priestess would eventually sit for the rites. Why would these stools figure so prominently in the frieze? Why were no basket-bearers leading the procession? Once one realizes that the "stools" show the cross-hatching of woven baskets, and that the ONE "stool leg" supposedly depicted is actually a knife or short sword in its scabbard, there is no longer any puzzle, any "enigma." Every item in the scene supports the traditional interpretation of the frieze.]
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More About the Author

Joan Breton Connelly is a classical archaeologist and Professor of Classics and Art History at New York University. In 1996, she was awarded a MacArthur fellowship for her work in Greek art, myth, and religion. A field archaeologist, Connelly has excavated throughout Greece, Kuwait, and Cyprus where, since 1990, she has directed the NYU Yeronisos Island Expedition. She is an honorary citizen of Peyia Municipality, Cyprus.

The Parthenon Enigma: A New Understanding of the West's Most Iconic Building and the People Who Made it was named among the Notable Books of 2014 by the New York Times Book Review. The Daily Beast listed it as one of the Top Ten Nonfiction Books of the Year.

Connelly's Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece, was also named a Notable Book of the Year (2007) by the New York Times Book Review. It won the Archaeological Institute of America's James R. Wiseman Book Award and was named best scholarly/professional book in Classics and Ancient History by the Association of American Publishers.

Prof. Connelly has held visiting fellowships at All Souls College, Magdalen College, New College, and Corpus Christi College at Oxford University, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She has received the Archaeological Institute of America's Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, NYU's Lillian Vernon Chair for Teaching Excellence, and NYU's Golden Dozen Teaching Award. From 2003 - 2011, she served on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, U.S. Department of State.

Joan Connelly majored in Classics at Princeton University and received her PhD in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College, where she later served as Assistant Dean and as a member of the Board of Trustees.

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