The sculptural decoration of the Parthenon
consists of three units, the metopes, the frieze and the pediments, and is the
work of Pheidias and his pupils. The pediment sculptures (438-432 BC) are
compositions of figures of supernatural size, isolated or in groups, cut in the
round from Pentelic marble. According to the 2nd century AD traveller Pausanias,
the theme of the east pediment was the birth of the goddess Athena, and of the
west pediment the fight between Athena and Poseidon over the protection of
The figures at the centre of the east pediment have not survived. They would
have been the main participants in the event of Athena's birth from the head of
Zeus, i.e. Zeus, Hera and Athena herself, surrounded by the other Greek gods.
The chariots of Helios (sun) and Selene (moon) occupied the two corners of the
pediment, delineating the time-span of the event.
The casts that are exhibited here are from the original sculptures that
decorated the left side of the pediment. Depicted from left to right are:
Helios, and the heads of the four horses of his chariot, as he rises from the
waves of Oceanos (ocean); opposite him, another of the greek gods - Dionysos, half-lying on a rock which is
covered by his garment and the panther skin he usually wears. Then follow two
seated greek goddesses, Demeter and Kore, and a standing figure (Hebe or Artemis) who
moves towards them, announcing the event.
The central group, with the birth of the goddess, was lost when the Parthenon
was converted into a Christian church (5th cent. AD). Modern reconstructions
have been based on fragments of torsos found on the Acropolis and in accordance
with other representations of the same subject. The sculptures that remained in
their original position on the building were sketched by J. Carrey (1674). They
were almost entirely removed by Lord Elgin from 1801 onwards and, since 1816
they are in the British Museum, where they are exhibited. Now, the two inside
horses from the chariots of both Helios and Selene, as well as the torso of
Selene, are in the Acropolis Museum.