Pericles: the Wonderful Tyrant
When the Athenian Acropolis was destroyed during the Persian sack of 480 BC, Pericles was only a teenager. Following the Persian sack, in 478 BC the Greeks formed an alliance with all the Greek city states, known as the Delian League. While all members of this alliance were said to have an equal vote, Athens, by 454 BC was recognized as the leader of this alliance and had the treasury transferred to Athens, purportedly for security reasons. By this time, Pericles was widely recognized as the Athenian leader.
It was under the leadership of Pericles, who was the leader of Athens during the Persian Wars, that the Athenian Acropolis was reconstructed. The reconstruction of the Acropolis was and is one of the most ambitious construction projects ever undertaken and would not have been possible without Pericles’ leadership. This was because when tributes were paid to the Delian League, instead of being used for the common good, including the security of all the allied city states, Pericles had the money diverted to pay for the massive reconstruction project. While Pericles was lambasted by his peers for, what was deemed by many as a misappropriation of funds, the result was some of the world’s finest architectural and artistic treasures. Instead of being the built by way of democracy and for the greater good of the people, the resulting artistic masterpieces, were the result of the abuse of power and tyranny.
Still, by the time of his death in 429 BC, Pericles was viewed as a hero. The statues and busts of Pericles, particularly the one by Kresilas, which show Pericles in “heroic nudity” are evidence of this (Kleiner pg. 125). Pericles was also said to have had an enormous head, and Kresilas’ piece also shows this, but in a respectful manner.
While the Athenian Acropolis has many fantastic pieces of art and architecture, perhaps the most famous and enduring is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. The architects of this piece, Iktinos and Kallikrates, believed that “perfect beauty could be achieved by using harmonic proportions.” (Kleiner pg. 127). Taking only nine years to build, the Parthenon was a majestic structure that stood at the center of the Athenian Acropolis. It was the first building constructed at the Acropolis, followed by the Propylia, The Erechtheion and, finally, the Temple of Athena Nike.
Despite years of wars and the ravages of time, the basic site of the acropolis is still standing and massive reconstruction projects are underway to restore this site—and particularly the Parthenon—to their former glory. It is interesting to note that, while the original construction, with less reliable technology then is available today, took only nine years to construct, the current rebuilding project has taken decades.
The Parthenon, and other column based structures constructed during Pericles’ time, are now the basis for the design of many modern buildings, including banks, museums and courthouses. The Doric, Ionian and Corinthian columns have shown to be, not only beautiful, but also exceedingly strong and durable and we owe these designs, at least in part, to Pericles. Had Pericles used the money for the intended purposes instead of to rebuild and redesign the Acropolis, the world, and the buildings in it, might look vastly different. Perhaps we should thank Pericles for his selfish tyranny. Because of him, we have many enduring and beautiful pieces of artwork.
Kliener, Fred S. History of Western Art, Vol. 1. Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning, 2008. (print)