Classics Parthenon
Jenifer Neils
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0070


The Parthenon, the largest and most highly decorated temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Athens, and its sculptures have been the subject of European scholarship since James Stuart and Nicholas Revett visited the site in 1751, with the first monograph devoted to the complex published by Adolf Michaelis in 1870–1871 (Michaelis 1870–1871, cited under General Overviews). Subsequent scholarship has been largely divided between architectural studies and those devoted to the temple’s sculptural program. Parthenon studies are a growth industry owing in part to the Parthenon Projekt under the direction of Ernst Berger and to the extensive restoration of the building, which has been taking place since 1984 under the direction of the architect Manolis Korres and others. In the Basler Skulpturhalle, Berger assembled plaster casts of nearly all the sculptural fragments (opened in 1979), and his systematic publications based on these casts are major scholarly and bibliographic contributions to the field. Korres’s work has resulted in many new architectural discoveries (e.g., a shrine in the north peristyle, windows, a possible second Ionic frieze over the entrance). The application of modern technologies (laser cleaning, computer simulations, special photography) has resulted in new readings of the building and its decoration, but controversy still exists regarding the Parthenon’s exact purpose and the meaning of much of its imagery. The opening of the Acropolis Museum in 2009 reignited the question regarding the legitimate home of the Parthenon marbles (London or Athens), and thus the so-called Elgin marble debate continues unabated.

General Overviews

The books in this section and in Edited Volumes and Conference Papers provide general introductions to the Parthenon and its decoration, ranging from the scholarly to the more popular (Ashmole 1972, Jenkins 2006). The Parthenon in its entirety is such a daunting subject that it has resulted in few monographs (Michaelis 1870–1871, Collignon 1912, Boardman and Finn 1985); much more common are edited volumes (see Edited Volumes and Conference Papers).

  • Ashmole, Bernard. 1972. Architect and sculptor in Classical Greece. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    Written by a former British Museum keeper, this volume is devoted exclusively to Greek architectural sculpture. Chapter 4 describes the building, pediments, and metopes, and chapter 5 discusses some of the vexing artistic questions regarding the frieze (whether it was carved in situ, proportions of horses versus riders, time and space). Although some of his conclusions are out of date, Ashmole is sensitive to the artistic nuances of the project.

  • Boardman, John, and David Finn. 1985. The Parthenon and its sculptures. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

    Primarily a picture book with stunning, mostly black-and-white photographs of the sculptures accompanied by a fictional narrative describing a visit to the Acropolis in Antiquity that reflects the personal views of the author. An appendix provides a survey of the historical and archaeological evidence for the temple and its sculptures.

  • Collignon, Maxime. 1912. Le Parthénon: L’histoire, l’architecture et la sculpture. Paris: C. Eggimann.

    An account of the history, architecture, and sculptural decoration of the Parthenon by one of the leading French scholars of Classical art; often reprinted. Illustrations are by the great French photographer Frédéric Boissonas and include the first plan of the relative positioning of the frieze’s numerous figures.

  • Jenkins, Ian. 2006. Greek architecture and its sculpture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    In a book devoted to Classical architectural sculptures in the British Museum, one chapter provides an up-to-date and succinct overview of the Parthenon and its sculptural decoration. Illustrations include computer-generated photographs and helpful plans and drawings.

  • Michaelis, Adolf. 1870–1871. Der Parthenon. 2 vols. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel.

    This classic treatise is the first systematic description of the Parthenon. While much of it is out-of-date, some of Michaelis’s identifications are enjoying a revival (e.g., Hebe as the goddess standing next to Hera on the east frieze).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.