The Parthenon frieze has over the years formed a subject of heated interpretation and debate thus leading to numerous problems such the actual size of the freeze and the ideal meaning of the frieze to the Athenians. There are numerous ways in which the identification of Parthenon scenes has been done, for example a representation of historical or mythical event, a Panathenaic festival, or Athenian ideology assertion. Records are not available to show the actual artists who carved the frieze but it has been assumed that if the frieze was finished in about five years and owing to the fact that one sculptor could manage to carve about four meters in a year, it would then have taken an average of nine sculptors to complete the frieze. Today, the Parthenon that stands was a project of Periclean and it sits on the base of the former temple. The obvious problem with this piece of art is that there is lack of primary sources that give a descriptive documentation of what was to be the meaning of freeze. What has to be noted is that the scenes do not depict a particular procession. The argument that opposes a Panathenaic festival is derived from the fact that there are representation of soldiers and chariots. In fact the biggest hurdle with the interpretation of the frieze is its missing parts and could be found that the missing parts may have provided a very important clue (Gorham, 1962).
The Panathenaia festival
In order to have a good comprehension of the frieze one should be able to get a well rounded definition of Panathenaic procession. It was a birthday festival about the city of Athens, and therefore celebrated Athena’s birthday. The Panathenaia was distinct from other festivals due to the lack of disturbing, nocturnal, and ludicrous aspects. What has been left only shows the magnificence of the classical period in the ancient Greece. The Great Panathenaia has been celebrated since 566 BC after every four years, but the most significant components of the festival, such as procession of sacrifice were also found at the lesser yearly Panathenaia.
As a basis of celebration there is a night festival named the pannychis. At the wee hours of the morning a new fire is fetched, carried in a torch race from the outside of the city past Agora culminating on the Acropolis at the alter of Athena. The formation of the Great Panathenaic Procession occurred at the Dipylon Gate that formed the entrance of the Sacred Way from Eleusis. It is well preserved on the Frieze, as shown by every member of the Panathenaia occupy their positions. Merry making is depicted from the venerable elders, young horsemen and girls having the sacrifice accessories such as jugs, baskets and even victims for the sacrifice as over one hundred sheep and cows are slaughtered for the festival at the Great Alter. One of the most significant parts of the festival prior to the sacrifice is found in the presentation of the yearly gift for Athena referred to as peplos, which was intended for being a statue of Athena. On the east side of the frieze is what can be ideally interpreted as the ten Eponymous Heroes, thus the frieze can also be hypothesized as a recent past event for the structure of the ten-tribes was a democratic creation of the recent past and would be out of context in a scene that deals with the ancient historical or mythical past. This would also exonerate other ancient or mythical figures in the procession, for the Heroes of Eponymous would seem not relevant in a scene that displays historical or mythical past.
The Eponymous Heroes
Since the beginning of the twentieth century it has been thought that the ten figures have represented their closeness to the gods that illustrates their status is between mortals and the gods. It could not be said that the men may have depicted magistrates for they would have formed part of the procession. The reason why the Eponymous Heroes were displayed was due to their statues standing in the Agora. Since classical works of art such as the frieze have basically served as paradigms of Western European tastes, values, and styles in arts. The task of iconographic messages revelation that mostly naturalizes sexual roles and gender are very crucial. Such artifacts and artworks have not only been the key drivers of communication during that time, but have continued impact for over a long time. Despite a vested interest in the psychological and mythological origins of the vast imagery of rituals, and eros that signals the passage through stages of life. Generally little focus has been given to unraveling the visual methods that can reinforce and regulate gendered roles. The main reasons for the sheer lack of theoretical acuity in the field of classical archaeology have been attributed to the focus on localized and specific objective of placing funds into inappropriately defined stylistic and chronological categories. It has been descriptive and remedial as opposed to interpretative when it comes to finding out how gender can be effectively used in the interpretation of material remains. It is also not without sufficient grounds how women are just merely used to spice up in what may be considered as standard recipes. According to Koloski-Ostrow and Lyons (1993), the ways of viewing women have pitted archeologists in sharp contrast with so many prehistoric archaeologists and the New World hence showing how slow it has been to embrace theoretical structures that fully acknowledge gender as a key construct in the interpretation of the material remains of the past. It has been suggested that most of the classical archaeologists have greatly assumed that male and female are basically fixed concepts, and due to that they present a dichotomized and simplistic perspective of the female life.
Just as in frieze, a resourceful survey of the use of post-structuralist and feminist research strategies to artifacts and art over the past centuries have preoccupied positivist readings to material culture and images. It has been cited that the pleasing and canonical forms of the nude female formed a fundamental theme of the masculine gaze, which is generally dehumanized, as an ideal erotic sight for male pleasure. The studies of frieze has also offered an insight in the treatment of monuments of architecture and fine art that displays gendered messages in religious and civic contexts, which are collectively referred to as minor arts. The collective imagery is primarily a reflective of the shared values, understandings and the daily life of artifacts that express attitudes and private actions. Specific examples emanating from the Archaic to the Imperial periods highlights the more controversial topic of representing sexuality and gender in contexts and situations as varied as the public monument, and private residence.
As there is no true description of the frieze from antiquity, what has remained to be a mystery is exact meaning of the sculpture for it has never been resolved. The first documented attempt to interpret the frieze was in the fifteenth century by Cyriac of Ancona. He called it the victories of Athens in the time of Pericles. Further interpretations have basically built on such hypothesis even though they could not permit that a temple sculpture may at times represent a contemporary event as opposed to historical or mythological events.