Friday, October 24, 2014


Cropp on Queyrel on Connelly. Response to 2014.09.14

Response by Martin Cropp, University of Calgary (

Version at BMCR home site

François Queyrel's review of Joan Breton Connelly's The Parthenon Enigma expresses some serious and well-justified reservations concerning Connelly's interpretation of the Parthenon Frieze's so-called 'peplos scene', but like most of those who have discussed Connelly's theory over the last twenty years he says little about the form of the Erechtheid myth which Connelly thinks the scene represents, namely a story in which Erechtheus sacrificed his youngest daughter and her two older sisters then sacrificed themselves (probably by leaping to their deaths from the Acropolis). Connelly assumes that Euripides' Erechtheus, whose fragments provide the basis for her interpretation of the peplos scene, also featured the sacrifice of the youngest daughter. There is however a difficulty: the only source which states that the youngest daughter was sacrificed is the Library of Apollodorus, a mythological handbook composed at least four hundred years after the Frieze and Euripides' play. Connelly cites this as if it recorded a simple truth ("Apollodorus tells us . . .": pp. 172, 178), but most of the sources that relate the sacrifice of a single daughter say just "his daughter", and one of them, which Connelly cites as if it agreed with ps.-Apollodorus (p. 404, n. 108), actually specifies the eldest daughter. This is 'Demaratus in Book 3 of his Tragoidoumena' as cited by Stobaeus, which at least has the merit of referring to a tragic plot (presumably Euripides' plot as no other Erechtheus tragedy is known).

Our sources for the sacrifice story are collected and analysed by Maurizio Sonnino in his Euripidis Erechthei quae exstant (Florence, 2010: see pp. 90–110, 119–24, 152–61, 439), which I reviewed in BMCR 2011.07.16. Connelly cites Sonnino's book but does not confront the difficulties which his analysis poses for her theory. The sources reflect two differing accounts: (1) the Erechtheids offered themselves for sacrifice (or sacrificed themselves) collectively, as in other myths in which one or more unmarried sisters give their lives to save their community from famine or plague and are commemorated with a cult; (2) a single daughter was sacrificed and her sisters then sacrificed themselves, fulfilling an oath that all should die together. Both accounts are reflected in plays of Euripides, the first in Ion 277ff. (where Creusa tells Ion that her father Erechtheus sacrificed all his daughters except herself as she was an infant at the time), the second in the plot of Erechtheus. As Sonnino shows, the first account must have been the earlier and was probably formulated in the fifth century to re-brand the daughters of the Spartan Hyacinthus as daughters of Erechtheus (hence the identification of the latter with the Hyacinthides). The second, hybrid account will then have been a specially motivated innovation and may well have been invented by Euripides for the sake of his play. To explain this adaptation Sonnino suggests that Euripides made the sacrificed daughter a deceived and reluctant victim, and her sisters sympathetic to her reluctance, but this is very unlikely (see my BMCR review); more probably Euripides chose to add a heroic role for the girls' parents while preserving the element of self-sacrifice in the deaths of her sisters. Praxithea's famous speech justifying the sacrifice of her daughter reflects the kind of patriotic reasoning that we find in Pericles' funeral speech as recorded by Thucydides. On the other hand, a play in which the girls' mother enthusiastically persuaded their father to sacrifice all three of their daughters would have been rather macabre and not very dramatic.

Such an adaptation of the collective sacrifice story is more likely to have been made towards the end of the Archidamian War, when Euripides was composing his play, than in the 440s or 430s when the Parthenon was being designed and built. But even if it was not invented by Euripides, and even if the designers of the Frieze preferred this hybrid version of the myth to the collective one, neither Euripides' play nor any precursor of it is likely to have featured the sacrifice of the youngest daughter, especially if she was about ten years old and two older unmarried daughters were available. Connelly's only attempt to explain the choice of the youngest ("the younger and more unsullied, the better": p. 394, n. 74) is no more than special pleading. Virgin-sacrifice stories (and their iconography) typically feature either a group of girls of marriageable age or an eldest daughter, also of marriageable age, such as Iphigenia or the daughter of Heracles in Euripides' Heraclidae. Persephone, who demanded the sacrifices of both the daughter of Heracles and (according to Demaratus) Erechtheus's daughter, was herself of marriageable age when Hades carried her off. The 'marriage with death' motif that typically accompanies virgin deaths in Athenian drama presupposes that the girls who die are ready to marry. So does the association of the Erechtheids/Hyacinthids with young warriors which is found in Praxithea's speech (F 360.15ff.), in the warriors' pre-battle offerings to them ordained by Athena (F 370.81ff.), and perhaps in the characterization of the sisters' oath as a precedent for the Athenians' ephebic oath.

Connelly further assumes that the sacrificed girl was named Parthenos (e.g. pp. 136, 204), and argues that Athena's title Parthenos "comes to the goddess by attraction, referring not to Athena herself but to the youngest daughter of Erechtheus, who is called 'Parthenos' throughout Euripides' play. So intimately was this maiden associated with Athena that in time their identities merged" (p. 236, cf. p. 275). This explanation of Athena's title is implausible in itself, and all the more so because there is no evidence at all that the sacrificed girl was ever called Parthenos. The fragments of Euripides' play refer to the three girls as parthenoi (F 357 ζεῦγος τριπάρθενον, F 370 παρθένων: cf. Ion 278 παρθένους), and that is all. Phanodemus apparently called them 'The Parthenoi', but this was in a collective-sacrifice account featuring two sisters with their own names (if the details are due to him), Protogeneia ('First-born'!) and Pandora. (This incidentally makes it very unlikely that the individual 'Pandora' portrayed on the base of the Athena Parthenos statue was the sacrificed Erechtheid as Connelly proposes, pp. 278–82: cf. Sonnino, p. 107.) The mishmash of alternative names found in other mythographic sources — some borrowed from the Cecropids, some from other daughters of Erechtheus — only serves to show that the daughters in the sacrifice myth were basically an anonymous group, and very probably remained so in Euripides' play. Mythographers were always keen to supply such details. And compilers of mythological handbooks were always keen, as they still are, to combine what were originally separate but loosely related myths into a comprehensive narrative. (This might go some way towards explaining why ps.-Apollodorus makes the sacrificed girl the youngest daughter. His composite narrative in 3.15.1–4 deals first with Erechtheus's married daughters Procris, Creusa, Chthonia and Oreithyia, and then relates how Oreithyia's grandson Eumolpus joined the Eleusinians in attacking Athens, how Erechtheus sacrificed "his youngest daughter" and "the rest" sacrificed themselves, and how Erechtheus killed Eumolpus — now defined as his great-grandson! — in the battle and then perished himself. In this scenario the sacrificed daughter has to be at least younger than her four married sisters.)

No less tenuous is Connelly's suggestion (pp. 229–35) that the Parthenon itself, or rather its western chamber which originally had the name parthenôn, was named after the Erechtheid Parthenoi because their tomb lay beneath it. If that is so, it is surprising that no ancient writer appears to have been aware of it. Connelly's argument hinges on the meaning of the word παρθενών, which she translates, a little tendentiously, as 'Place of the Maidens' (pp. 140, 143, 232). More precisely a παρθενών is a maidens' apartment (not a tomb or a temenos containing a tomb). Connelly rightly notes that this was an ordinary word, so that the name Parthenon cannot have been derived from Athena's title Parthenos (but neither is it similar to a word like Erechtheion as she suggests: pp. 140, 232), and that words of this type (γυναικών 'women's apartment', ἐλαιών 'olive-grove', and so on) typically imply a plurality of occupants. They do, but that does not mean that they must. A νυμφών 'bride-chamber' was normally occupied by one bride, and a maidens' apartment does not cease to be a maidens' apartment if it is used by a single maiden. The room in question may well have been designated (as is often supposed) as the goddess's personal chamber, housing her possessions and later lending its name to the whole building.

Connelly's interpretation of the peplos scene stems from her dissatisfaction with the identification of the peplos in this scene as as the one woven annually for Athena and presented to her at the Panathenaea. She nevertheless sees a connection between Athena's peplos and the Erechtheid's funeral garment which she identifies in the peplos scene: "the peplos of Athena could represent the funerary cloth of the daughter of King Erechtheus" (p. 275); "For historical Athenians the peplos was very much a mantle of victory . . . The mythological basis for the peplos, however, is the funeral shroud of the parthenos who gave her life to ensure Athenian victory over Eumolpos" (p. 277). This bizarre proposition hardly needs to be debated at length, but it should be noted that the parallels she cites for attributing this kind of dual function to the peplos are illusory. There is no evidence that the chiton presented annually to Apollo at Amyklai "was woven as the funeral shroud of Hyakinthos" (p. 275), and it is not true that in Heliodorus's Aethiopica 5.31 Chariklea's sacred garment "is described as her 'mantle of victory' . . . or her 'funeral shroud'" (pp. 276f.): what is said there is that Chariklea's sacred garment will be either a victory garment (if she and Kalasiris succeed in escaping from the pirates) or a funeral garment (if they fail and she kills herself to avoid a forced marriage with one of them). This melodramatic rhetoric has nothing to do with any ritual reality.

Lastly, the design of the peplos scene itself. In Connelly's reading the youngest daughter, half-undressed, receives her funeral garment from her father. Connelly reasonably argues that the designers of the Frieze would have avoided showing the sacrifice itself, but this does not explain why they chose this rather undignified moment when they could very well have shown the girl already clothed in her funeral garb. Nor does it explain why the girl's father is assisting her when that would normally have been her mother's role. (Aristides, possibly reflecting Euripides' play, and translated a little inaccurately by Connelly p. 179, says that her mother dressed her as if she was sending her to a festival: not, we note, a funeral or a wedding). Meanwhile the sisters approach their mother carrying their funeral garments on their heads, even though they are supposed to have concealed their intended suicides from their parents. Connelly explains this as follows (p. 179): "That the other two are shown carrying their own funeral dresses with unannounced plans of leaping from the Acropolis ironically foreshadows an even greater sacrifice than the parents expected to make." But is ironic foreshadowing what we expect to see in the central, emblematic scene of a great monumental work?

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