Beauty Secrets of the Parthenon

The World and I, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Beauty Secrets of the Parthenon


Good looks like mine do not come easy ... or cheap. My body was mined, ton by precious ton, from the finest marble of Mt. Pentelicon. Every one of many thousands of monumental pieces, no two the same, was custom-quarried to fit into its singular place, often with tolerances of less than 1/20 of a millimeter (two thousandths of an inch). Many of my surviving joints are so precise that they cannot be examined except under strong magnification. Each nine-ton Doric capital took workers two full months to cut from the quarry, and days more to transport the hilly 10 miles from Pentelicon to the building site. Besides masons and sculptors, my beauty depended on the talents of many trades, including some you might easily overlook: rope-makers, riggers, road-builders, sledgers, scaffolding carpenters, gilders, painters, muleteers, water-fetchers and so forth. Some were freemen, others slaves, but all labored side-by-side and drew decent salaries from the public payroll. Look at me carefully: Can you tell where the sculpting done by a slave ends and that of his master begins? I did not think so--my beauty is classic, my artistry classless.

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