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Parthenon    by Lynn Curlee order for
by Lynn Curlee
Order:  USA  Can
Atheneum, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Lynn Curlee introduces the Acropolis to us as the ancient Greeks' 'High City', sacred to Athena, goddess of wisdom. One of the elegantly columned structures in this 'rocky citadel' is Athena's own temple, the Parthenon. Though I walked and wondered amongst the ruins of the Acropolis in 1970, before so much was closed to tourists, I learned a great deal more about the site from this informative, interesting, and beautifully illustrated, book.

The author reminds us that 'today the Acropolis of Athens is considered to be the birthplace of western civilization' and one of 'the magical places of mankind.' She tells us about myths and archaeological discoveries, and also about the history that led up to the world's 'first democracy'. This includes the Persian Wars and the great sea battle of the Bay of Salamis - in which small mobile ships triumphed over larger ones in a similar fashion to the defeat of the Spanish Armada. There's the Delian League and the Athenian Empire, with a Golden Age, during which the Acropolis was built under the leadership of Pericles. The huge bejeweled statue of Athena must have loomed over the pond below it, and caught people's imaginations, as dramatically as the Statue of Liberty does today.

We learn about the architecture of Greek temples, and about Doric and Ionian columns (which I always confuse). Curlee tells us that the 'glory of the Parthenon was its sculptural decoration', and she paints a verbal picture for us of lifelike statues and friezes of exciting mythological battles (some of which ended up in the British museum). What destroyed the Acropolis? Apparently there was a fire in the 3rd century A.D. and further damage in a war between Venetians and Turks, in 1687. For a time, the Parthenon was used as a Christian church, and later a mosque was built on the site, before restoration was begun by archaeologists in 1834. Today, the site's marble is at risk from pollution.

The author ends with words from Plutarch that the Parthenon 'always looks untouched by time, as if it were suffused with unfailing life, and a spirit that cannot grow old.' Read Parthenon together, to learn more about this magical place, where western civilization was born.

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