Monday, May 26, 2008

Statue of Zeus at Olympia

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the classical Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was made by the well-known classical sculptor Phidias (5th century BC) circa 432 BC in Olympia, Greece.

The seated statue, some 12 metres (39 feet) tall, occupied the whole width of the aisle of the temple built to house it. "It seems that if Zeus were to stand up," the geographer Strabo noted early in the 1st century BC, "he would unroof the temple." Zeus was a chryselephantine sculpture, made of ivory and accent with gold plating. In the sculpture, he was seated on a magnificent throne of cedar wood, inlaid with ivory, gold, ebony, and precious stones. In Zeus' right hand there was a little statue of Nike, the goddess of victory, and in his left hand, a shining sceptre on which an eagle perched. Plutarch, in his Life of the Roman general Aemilius Paulus, records that the victor over Macedon "was moved to his soul, as if he had beheld the god in person," while the Greek orator Dio Chrysostom declared that a single glimpse of the sculpture would make a man forget his earthly troubles.

Perhaps the greatest discovery in terms of finding out about this wonder came in 1954-1958 with the dig of the workshop at Olympia where Phidias created the statue. Tools, terracotta molds and a cup inscribed "I belong to Pheidias" were found here, where the traveller Pausanius said the Zeus was construct. This has enabled archaeologists to re-create the techniques used to make the great work.

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