The political manipulation of art in 6th century Athens
Devine, Brian Timothy
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For centuries, cities and nations have used imagery from cultural narratives as a political tool to justify and support their power structures. Nationalized political entities such as the Greek democracy, the Roman Empire, and our own modern American republic have combined popular imagery with the political milieu of the times to create persuasive messages that shape the worldview of its citizens. Archaeology has given us fragments and glimpses of ancient propaganda in vase paintings and grandiose friezes that, on the surface, depict famous scenes from mythology that, within their deeper historical context, make powerful arguments for or against their temporary status systems. Peisistratos, during his rule of Athens, flaunted his victories and political identity by spreading imagery of Herakles throughout the public works of the city – thus making the presence of Herakles as ubiquitous as his own. Through a historiographical review in my first chapter built around the arguments of John Boardman, we will explore how the Peisistratids turned artistic renderings of an icon into self-serving propaganda. In chapter two, a brief history of the tensions between Athens and Delphi from 590-490 BCE will be discussed, culminating in an examination of treasuries, and how and why they function in the greater cultural identity of a polis. Afterwards, two major treasuries at Delphi will be examined- the Siphnian Treasury and the Athenian Treasury. Both treasuries are adorned in representations of popular myths intended to compliment the influential powers of the time. The Siphnian Treasury is a clear example of how a city can use art and myth as political discourse by inserting allusions into a city-state's politics. Interpretations by John Boardman, L.V Watrous, and Richard Neer will be reviewed in this analysis of the Siphnian treasury, as well. This analysis will then be juxtaposed with an assessment of the Athenian Treasury's metopes that exhibit symbols of a suddenly democratic polis heralded by the new pervasiveness of a mythological hero, Theseus.