The University of Wisconsin Press

Art History / Architecture / Art / Classical Studies


Myth, Ethos, and Actuality
Official Art in Fifth Century B.C. Athens
David Castriota

Myth, Ethos, and Actuality examines the depiction of mythic themes on Athenian public monuments in the period following the Persian wars, during the second and third quarters of the fifth century B.C.

Using material remains, as well as the evidence of contemporary Greek history, rhetoric, and poetry, David Castriota interprets the Athenian monuments as vehicles of an official ideology intended to celebrate and justify the present in terms of the past.

Castriota focuses on the strategy of ethical antithesis that asserted Greek moral superiority over the “barbaric” Persians, whose invasion had been repelled a generation earlier. He examines how, in major public programs of painting and sculpture, the leading artists of the period recast the Persians in the guise of wild and impious mythic antagonists to associate them with the ethical flaws or weaknesses commonly ascribed to women, animals, and foreigners. The Athenians, in contrast, were compared to mythic protagonists representing the excellence and triumph of Hellenic culture.

Castriota’s study is innovative in emphasizing the ethical implication of mythic precedents, which required substantial alterations to render them more effective as archetypes for the defense of Greek culture against a foreign, morally inferior enemy. The book looks in new ways at how the patrons and planners sought to manipulate viewer response through the selective presentation or repackaging of mythic traditions.

David Castriota is assistant professor of art history at Duke University.

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December 1992
LC: 92-050247 N
352 pp
.   6 x 9
53 half tones and line art
2 maps

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