Phidias: Famous Athenian Sculptor

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Phidias was said to be Ancient Greece's best sculptors. None of his works survive.

He is most famous for creating one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. He started the massive project in 438 B.C. and finished it eight years later. The statue stood 42 feet high and filled the temple in which it was housed. The statue featured Zeus sitting a throne, his left hand holding a scepter and his right hand holding an image of Nike, the goddess of victory. The statue was made of a mixture of gold and ivory with the very long name of chryselephantine.

Athena Parthenos

Phidias created another very famous ancient work, the Athena Parthenos, a 40-foot-tall statue of the goddess Athena that once stood in the Parthenon. This statue, too, was chryselephantine. It stood behind a pond of oil that made a reflection of the statue. The reflection would ahve shown the goddess wearing a tunic and helmet, carrying an image of Nike and a shield adorned with the head of Medusa (a nod to the Perseus legend).

Phidias also worked in bronze, and his creations honored famous Greeks like Miltiades, hero of the Battle of Marathon, and the gods and goddesses, among them Apollo and Athena.


He was also supervisor for the rebuilding of the Parthenon, which had been destroyed during the Persian Wars.

Not much is known of Phidias's life, at any time. Excavations in the 20th Century located the workshop that he utilized while overseeing the construction of the Zeus statue. He is known to have been a friend of the famed leader Pericles. Some historians have written that he stole amounts of gold and ivory for himself and included portraits of himself and Pericles on the shield of the Athena Parthenos. Plutarch in particular wrote that these allegations led to his imprisonment and death in prison, perhaps by poison. Other historians discount those allegations.

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