“Thus, over the course of the fifth century, a new Athenian identity emerges, one carefully constructed to glorify Athens and incite fear in the hearts of its enemies. The trappings (and overreach) of empire continued to bloat Athenian self-regard. Still, it must be said that the picture that Athens consistently projected of itself–in funeral orations, speeches in the law courts, dramatic performances, and the sculptures of the Parthenon–stands in contrast to the self-image expressed by other cities. We continually hear from the Athenians about their exceptionalism, how they are resilient, competitive, aggressive, quick but thoughtful in action, innovative, aesthetically aware, and open to engaging outsiders on the world stage. And many non-Atnenians accepted this characterization…”
Joan Breton Connelly, The Parthenon Enigma Knopf 2014
This is a brief comment in a fascinating work about the interpretation of the Parthenon’s sculptural frieze, much of which has been looted by Lord Elgin and others. It is in part an eloquent plea that the pieces be restored to their home, and a magnificent contribution to our understanding of classical Greece. It just struck me as ironic that the Athenians appear to have been as vain, contradictory, and self-serving as Americans today. Exceptionalism…Hubris!