Classics Professor Presents Research on Male Hero Statues in the Athenian Acropolis
Professor Catherine Keesling of the Department of Classics received an International Travel Grant from the Office of the Vice President for Global Engagement to present her research on the artistic and historiographic trends of statues in the Athenian Acropolis at a conference in Athens, Greece.
An expert in ancient Greek sculpture, epigraphy, and historiography, Keesling gave her talk titled “Warriors, Athletes, and Heroes on the Athenian Acropolis, ca. 480 to 450 B.C.” at the Athens Acropolis Museum’s international conference “From Hippias to Kallias, Greek Art in Transition 527-449 B.C.” on May 19. She was joined by European and American scholars representing institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, the German Archaeological Institute, and the Academy of Athens.
Warriors, Athletes, and Heroes
Keesling’s presentation centered on the Athenian Acropolis’ transformation from a feminine space before the Persian War of 480 B.C. to a masculine space thereafter.
“After the Greeks banded together to defeat the Persian invasion of 480 B.C., we see real changes in the types of statues set up on the Athenian Acropolis, the most important sanctuary of Athena in the Greek world,” she explained. “Most of these statues were dedicated by private individuals, and before 480 most, I would argue, represented Athena herself. After 480, we find a real explosion in male statues on the Acropolis.”
Keesling placed the male statues into three categories: warriors, athletes, and heroes. She believes that these statues were meant to empower the Greek male by bridging the gap between mythological Greek warriors and average Greek men.
“The genre of the freestanding male statue in the second quarter of the fifth century was both elevated and elevating: the statues themselves blurred the lines in people's minds between Greek men and heroes,” said Keesling.
Keesling cited the Greek idealization of agon, ancient athletic contests that were popular in the aftermath of the Persian War, as the reason for the rise of freestanding male statues. She also found that the Acropolis sculptors drew inspiration for their statues from Spartan victories in the Olympics and the hoplitodromos, the race in armor.
A Conference Amidst Art
According to Keesling, the conference’s setting at the Acropolis Museum helped bring her presentation to life, as participants could directly observe the artwork at the center of her remarks.
“The conference was a wonderful opportunity to speak in the auditorium of the new, state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum,” said Keesling. “Since the conference took place in the same building as the collections of sculptures from the Acropolis, the participants were able not only to listen to the talks, but also to look at objects in the museum together and talk about them.”
Keesling added that engaging with international colleagues in panel discussions was a highlight of her time in Athens.
“At the end of my presentation, we sat down as a panel and discussed how our research connects,” she said. “It is great to have an opportunity to spend time with international experts in such a beautiful setting.”