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The Parthenon Enigma
A revolutionary new understanding of the most famous and influential building in the world, a thesis that calls into question our basic understanding of the ancient civilization that we most identify with.
For more than two millennia, the Parthenon has been revered as the symbol of Western culture, the epitome of the ancient society from which we derive our highest ideals. It was understood to honor the city-state's patron deity Athena, and its intricately sculpted surface believed to depict a celebration of civic continuity in the birthplace of democracy. But through a close reading of a lost play by Euripides, accidentally discovered on a papyrus wrapping an Egyptian mummy, Joan Connelly began to develop a new theory that has sparked one of the fiercest controversies ever to rock the world of classics. Now, she recounts how our most basic sense of the Parthenon and of the culture that built it may have been crucially mistaken. Re-creating the ancient structure from its natural environment to its pediment, and using a breathtaking range of textual and visual evidence, she uncovers a monument glorifying human sacrifice set in a world of cult rituals quite unlike anything conventionally conjured by the word "Athenian."
About the Author
JOAN BRETON CONNELLY is a classical archaeologist and the author of two previous books, Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece and Votive Sculpture of Hellenistic Cyprus. She received her A.B. in classics from Princeton University and Ph.D. in classical and Near Eastern archaeology from Bryn Mawr College, where she now serves on the board of trustees. In 1996, Professor Connelly was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. She received the Archaeological Institute of America’s Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2007 and held NYU’s Lillian Vernon Chair for Teaching Excellence in 2002–2004. She has held visiting fellowships at All Souls College, Magdalen College, New College, and Corpus Christi College at Oxford University, and at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, and has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Professor Connelly has excavated throughout Greece, Kuwait, and Cyprus where she has directed the Yeronisos Island Excavations since 1990. She is currently a professor of classics and art history at New York University.
Praise for The Parthenon Enigma…
“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."
“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