The area of the Acropolis at Athens has played host to human activity and construction since before recorded history, but it was in the age of Pericles (c. 495-429 BCE) that the Athenian Acropolis truly became a masterpiece and a world wonder. Starting in 447 BCE, Pericles began a massive campaign of construction and beautification on the acropolis. Utilizing architects such as Callicrates, Iktinos and Mnesikles, as well as the genius sculptor Phidias, Pericles’ cultural campaign brought about the existence of masterful structures on the Acropolis, including the Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Statue of Athena Promachos, the Erechtheion, and the Parthenon.
According to legend, the goddess Athena, the patron deity of Athens, took keen interest in the project. She made her support known, so the story goes, during the construction of the Propylaea, the great entryway of the Acropolis. In a tale related by the Greek-Roman biographer, Plutarch (c. 50-120), it was said that one of Pericles’ craftsmen fell from a high section of the Propylaea and suffered severe wounds from the crash. No one who attended to the injured worker could think of any remedy that would save the man’s life and they could do little but watch as he slowly neared death.
Pericles, after hearing the news, went to bed saddened and distressed. Yet, sleep brought him relief, for while he rested, the goddess Athena was said to have infiltrated Pericles’ dream, and she instructed him on how to save the dying craftsman. When he awoke, Pericles rushed off to where the injured man lay and set about treating the patient in the way that Athena had explained. The godly cure apparently worked wonders, and the craftsman quickly recovered and went back to work on the Acropolis. As thanks for Athena’s help, Pericles reportedly had an unplanned statue built that celebrated the goddess’ feat of healing.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Athena and Odysseus painted by Giuseppe Bottani (1717–1784), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Plutarch’s Lives edited by Charles W. Eliot in the Harvard Classics series. New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909, 1937.