The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The statue of Zeus in the temple at Olympia stood more than 40 feet high (Copyright Lee Krystek, 2011)
In ancient times one of the Greeks most mportant festivals, the Olympic Games, was held every four years in honor of the King of their gods, Zeus. Like our modern Olympics, athletes traveled from distant lands, including Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and Sicily, to compete. The Olympics were first started in 776 B.C. and held at a shrine to Zeus located on the western coast of Greece in a region called Peloponnesus. The games helped to unify the Greek city-states and a sacred truce was declared. Safe passage was given to all traveling to the site, called ...view middle of the document...
A gently-peaked roof topped the building. The triangles, or "pediments," created by the sloped roof at the ends of the building were filled with sculpture. Under the pediments, just above the columns, was more sculpture depicting the twelve labors of Heracles, six on each end of the temple.
Though the temple was considered one of the best examples of the Doric design because of its style and the quality of the workmanship, it was decided the temple alone was too simple to be worthy of the King of the gods. To remedy this, a statue was commissioned for the interior. It would be a magnificent statue of Zeus that would become one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Another artist interpretation of the Statue of Zeus. (Copyright Lee Krystek, 1998)
A Statue Worthy of the King of the Gods
The sculptor chosen for this great task was a man named Phidias. He had already rendered a forty-foot high statue of the goddess Athena for the Parthenon in Athens and had also done much of the sculpture on the exterior of that temple. After his work in Athens was done, Phidias traveled to Olympia around 432 B.C. to start on what was to be considered his best work, the statue of Zeus. On arriving he set up a workshop to the west of the temple. He would take the next 12 years to complete the project.
According to accounts, the statue when finished was located at the western end of the temple. It was 22 feet wide and more than 40 feet tall. The figure of Zeus was seated on an elaborate throne. His head nearly grazed the roof. The historian Strabo wrote, "...although the temple itself is very large, the sculptor is criticized for not having appreciated the correct proportions. He has depicted Zeus seated, but with the head almost touching the ceiling, so that we have the impression that if Zeus moved to stand up he would unroof the temple..."
The Lincoln Memorial with its single large statue and columns probably is very much like the temple of Zeus except the statue of the King of the Gods was more than double the height of Lincoln.
Others who viewed that temple disagreed with Strabo and found the proportions very effective in conveying the god's size and power. By filling nearly all the available space, the statue was made to seem even larger than it really was.
Philo of Byzantium, who wrote about all of the wonders, was certainly impressed. "Whereas we just wonder at the other six wonders, we kneel in front of this one in reverence, because the execution of the skill is as incredible as the image of Zeus is holyâ€¦"
In 97 A.D. another visitor Dio Crysostomos declared the image was so powerful that, "If a man, with a heavy heart from grief and sorrow in life, will stand in front of the statue, he will forget all these."
In his right hand the statue held the figure of Nike (the goddess of victory) and in its left was a scepter "inlaid with every kind of metal..." which was topped with an eagle. Perhaps even more impressive...