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Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Pheidias and the Frieze of the Parthenon. Oil on panel, 1868.

Φειδίας son of Charmidēs,

lived in the fifth century BCE,

greatest sculptor of antiquity,

"Jeff Koons or Richard Serra of his day,

if not the Michelangelo or Rodin."*

Only bits and pieces survive

thought to be his own work,

but there are Roman renderings

(they copied what they couldn't steal).

Pheidias, it's said, supervised the carving

of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum,

now in such great dispute with Athens.

Of the man himself not much is known.

In his bawdy comedy titled Peace,

about a vine-dresser raising a huge

dung beetle on a smorgasbord of shit

to fly him up to appeal to Heaven,

Aristophanes' Hermes

(i.e., Mercury, a god) says, to wit:

"The start of our misfortunes

was the exile of Pheidias."

He died in prison, Plutarch asserts.

All else memorious art forgets.

Those were wanton, warlike days

impatient of peace, in ways

not unlike our own. Soldiers

brought soup home in their helmets!†

But don't they always do that, you say?


†"I saw a cavalry captain buy vegetable soup on horseback. He carried the whole mess home in his helmet."—Aristophanes

The sections of Pheidias's Parthenon frieze in the British Museum


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