Temple of Hera II at Paestum -- similar to the Temple of Zeus of Olympia
Note that there are 6 columns in front and 13 on the side. Formula used x
for the width and 2x + 1 for the length.
This temple was dedicated to Zeus, the father of all gods and some
mortals (Jupiter was the Roman version of Zeus). Zeus was mostly known
for too much libido and lots of children. He was often associated
Why would this site be dedicated to Zeus? Greek history begins
in 776 B.C. with the first written records of games. According to Greek
mythology, the Olympian contests were founded by Herakles, who was Zeus’s son.
(Olympia was chosen as the site for the games in order to
honor King Oinomaeus, who appears in the pediment sculpture described
below). Zeus was also the sky god associated with the storms and
rain that fertilize the earth. He was associated with high places,
including his home, Mount
However, Zeus’s cult was very different from his mythological
nature. Zeus was also associated with fate. What ever happens is the will
of Zeus. Aeschylus writes that “Zeus brings suffering to men, but
through suffering, man gains wisdom.”
Zeus is not about conflict, but about the resolution of conflict. This temple was built after 470 B.C. and was the first Greek temple that had pedimental sculpture and sculpture in the metope frieze.
East Pediment, detail, Temple of Zeus at Olympia
There were two pediments — one on the east side and one on
the west. Here we are examining
sculpture from the East Pediment.
The subject was based on the story of King Oinomaeus, a local ruler who originally owned the land. He had a daughter — Hippodameia, who everyone wanted. The King said that the person who would marry Hippodameia would have to race the king in a chariot from Olympia to Corinth. If the suitor beat him, he could marry Hippodameia. If the suitor lost, he would die. However, there was a prophesy that the King would die if Hippodameia married. Unbeknownst to the suitors, Oinomaeus had “immortal” horses which were given to him by the god Ares (also his father). So the king always won. But Pelops outwitted father. He promised the King’s servant (Myrtilos) a large bribe to rig the King’s chariot so that it would collapse during race. Indeed, the chariot did collapse, Oinomaeus died, and Pelops got the daughter and the land. The story continues that Pelops reneged on his bribe and instead drowned the King’s servant. The servant, in turn cursed Pelops and his descendents.
So, let's look at the figures in this composition:
At the center stands Zeus, who is larger than the
On the right is Pelops (the suitor) and Hippodameia (the king’s daughter)
On the left King Oinomaeus (note that his attire is
similar to the "Calf-Bearer) and his wife
Entire array of sculpture of the East Pediment, Temple of Zeus at Olympia
Here is a larger view of the East Pediment. Not the
horses on either side if the five central figures.
The “river gods” fit into the corners of the pediments. These are sitting figures — the position of the figures takes into account the triangular shape of the pediment.
Finally, note the Seer at the far right.
Seer, East Pediment, Temple of Zeus at Olympia
Most of the figures in this composition are static and
placid, but the Seer is one major exception. This is a rare figure in Classical Greek Art;
he is an old man, with wrinkles on
his face, sags on his body, and expressive face. He does not display the
Archaic smile. Instead, we finally see the inner consciousness that the
Greeks sought in their statuary. This is a seer, or a person who can
see the future, and he is reacting with dismay to the future events that are to
West Pediment, Temple of Zeus at Olympia
The West Pediment of the Temple of Zeus is not
in your textbook. The subject was a centauromachy with Apollo standing at the center.
Apollo was associated with battles and conflicts.
In this pediment, the centaurs are battling between men and women, the Lapiths. The mythological event is a wedding party where the centaurs got drunk and carried off the women. The Lapiths don’t like it and fight the centaurs. Thus, the scene is about "half men" fighting "real" men. This is complex emotionally and artistically.
The women do not show emotion. The men have strained faces. One centaur is forced to his knees by the Lapiths, but is biting. His actions are not fair and not heroic. The centaurs are actually more naturalistic than the humans, although the Lapith men does show a fleeting sense of pain.
Phideas, Cult Statue of Zeus, Temple of Zeus
This cult of Zeus was made of gold and
ivory. It was created by Phideas, an Athenian who was called
to Olympia because of his fame. Phideas wanted to capture the
character of Zeus. Today, this piece no longer exists; we have only
of this work. However, it it important to recognize that Phideas was known for his
skill and could market it.
Metope sculptures, Temple of Zeus
At the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, there were also 12 metope sculptures on the pronaos and opisthodomos. These corresponded to the 12 labors of Herakles (there are are actually more than that, but the cycle is usually limited to 12). The story begins with Herakles, who In a fit of madness killed his wife and children. In the aftermath, he was ordered by the Oracle at Delphi to serve the King at Tyrns for twelve years. Herakles was given these "labors" or impossible tasks by the king.
Below are sketches of the 12 metope sculptures from the Temple of Zeus with the identification of each story on the right. Two details are shown on the bottom of this table.
|Herakles and the Golden Apples from the Garden of Herperides — Golden apples grew on a tree in the garden of Herperides (who were daughters of the evening). These apples were guarded by a Serpent. Herakles had to go to the end of the world to the Island of Hesperides to get the apples. In this case, he persuaded Atlas to go there on his behalf and agreed to hold up the world for Atlas. Atlas did come back, but Hercules now has a problem. Atlas doesn’t want his old job back. Herakles says “Well, will you take it for just a minute.” As soon as Atlas takes the load, Herakles takes off.||Herakles Cleans the Augean Stables — A rich, but dirty king had a lot of cattle — 1000 cattle that had not been tended for 40 years! The stables had never been cleaned and Herakles was assigned this unpalatable task. Herakles appeals to Athena (goddess of wisdom). He then has an idea to divert a river through the stable to wash away the muck.|
After completing his 12 labors, everyone realizes that
Herakles has experienced a lot of suffering. Zeus is his father and, because Hercules has accomplished so much,
Zeus transforms this mortal man into a god. The lesson is that mankind can learn through suffering.
Many people could identify with all of Herakles' trials and tribulations.