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The metopes of the Parthenon, which belong to the external Doric frieze of the temple, resemble different stories of the Greek mythology such as the Centauromachy, the Gigantomachy, the Amazonomachy and the Ilioupersis.
The metopes resembling the stories of the fighting of Lapiths and Centaurs were found at the Southern side of the temple and they are not only a divine depiction of mythological stories, but they are also used as a tool, or as a metaphor, to show the power of the Greeks, represented by the Lapiths, which fought and won the barbarous Centaurs, which show the defeated Persians.
As all the other metopes and sculptures, the metopes depicting the fight between Lapiths and Centaurs were made by Phydia and his trainees, and are therefore advanced classical sculptures which fully explore the phatos and the composition of the sculptures as well as the integration of new elements such as draperies and interactions between the different parts of the sculpture.
The metopes of the Lapith and Centaur have a geometrical nature. The composition of these metopes can be drawn into simplistic shapes which intend to capture the viewers focus into different points of the sculpture. The technical realisation and the geometric nature of these metopes aid significantly the ability of these sculptures to narrate the story.
The myth related to Lapiths and Centaurs is about a conflict created between the two factions after the Centaurs were offered wine and lost control during the marriage of the Lapiths’ King, resulting in the Centaurs trying to rape the women and the leader of the faction, Eurytion, trying to take the brief. The following battle saw the Lapiths victorious.
The metopes are able to effectively narrate the story firstly because they depict the scenes of the battle in chronological order, making the mythological story recognisable and understandable. The scenes were unfolded chronologically and sequentially all along the southern frieze.
The narrative of the stories, though, is aided by the technical realisation of the sculpture. In my opinion the fluidity of the movements and actions in the fight, and the fact that the sculptures in relief seem to come out of the frame of the frieze, are able to make the viewer’s eye look at the metope as if it was the page of a book, reading the whole action step by step as the eye looking for the movements and the chaos of the conflict is accompanied by the graciousness of the actions themselves. Despite the fact that the metopes are representing a bloody conflict, the figures seem to be dynamically dancing rather than fighting. This makes it easier and more pleasing to analyse the story as the composition of each metope is continuous and flowing. The composition which is full of serpentine shapes, circular shapes and drapery is able to make each metope readable over and over, in order to make the narration of the sculpture even more vivid and effective.
The presence of phatos and dynamic movement also aids the narration of the metopes as they allow the figures semi three-dimensional to be expressive and able to show the pain and suffering of the people getting killed and injured. The expressivity of the figures is able to aid the narration because it is able to let the viewer feel as a direct viewer of the scene and therefore the mythological story becomes reality in front of the viewer.
The artwork is an example of how the human body is used as narrating tool in sculpture. If we consider the stationary and static sculptures of the archaic period, we can see that the development of sculpture has integrated a “dynamic” element to the sculptural arrangements of the classical period. The dynamism of the bodies is a narrating tool which captures a moment of the story, which is unwrapping in front of the viewer’s eyes and lets the viewer decide or imagine what follows the moment that has been portrayed through the sculptures.
Image credits: http://www.ancient.eu/article/780/