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The Statue of Zeus at Olympia

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The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was a giant seated figure, about 13 m (43 ft) tall, made by the Greek sculptor Phidias around 435 BC at the sanctuary of Olympia, Greece, and erected in the Temple of Zeus there.

In the ancient world, there were many temples dedicated to Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. But there was only one temple to Zeus that housed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was home to one of greatest sculptural achievements of ancient history. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia represented the pinnacle of Classical sculptural design, as well as showcased the engineering that was required to construct such a massive chunk of marble and gold. The city-state of Olympia was a center of religious worship, and was also the birthplace of the Olympic games. Believed to have begun in 776 BC, the Olympic games demonstrated the physical prowess as well as the political strength of the participating Greek poleis. The Olympic games were considered to be a part of religious rituals that revolved around the king of the Greek gods, Zeus. So it was only fitting that a grand temple and an even grander cult representation were constructed for the many Greeks who made pilgrimages there in order to worship their father god. The temple of Zeus was built between 466-456 BC, during the height of Classical Greek architecture and artistic endeavors. It was designed by Libon, an architect from neighboring Elis. The temple was constructed of local shell stone in the Doric style, the predominant architectural style of the time, and the same style as the Parthenon in Athens. The temple itself acted merely as a protective home for the real showpiece, the cult statue of Zeus himself. The renowned Greek sculptor Pheidias brought Zeus to life with his creation around 435 BC. After creating the cult statue of Athena for the Parthenon, Pheidias left Athens in shame as a result of a political scandal and an erroneous embezzlement charge. He immediately came to Olympia to begin work on Zeus. Pheidias had developed a technique that allowed his enormous creations of ivory and precious metals to be formed without crumbling under their own weight. Beginning with a wooden frame built on site, he would lay thin plates of ivory soaked in a liquid to make them moldable, and place them upon the mold along with sheets of gold (for Zeus draping clothing). The pieces matched up perfectly, and the joints were nearly invisible. The appearance of the statue must have been imposing, impressive, and awe-inspiring. The seated statue was over 40 feet tall. Zeus' throne was just as impressive, constructed of cedar and inlaid with ivory, gold, and ebony. He held a statue of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, in his left hand, and a staff with an eagle perched atop it in his right hand. The statue inspired reverence for over 800 years in its temple home in Olympia. Kings and even Roman Emperors who gazed upon it were known to cry in veneration. In fact, the Roman Emperor Caligula even tried to have the statue taken for himself in the late 30s AD, with no success. In the 450s AD, it was taken from the temple to Constantinople, where it sat in a palace. The palace was destroyed by fire in 462 AD, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was unfortunately lost forever.


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Statue of Zeus at Olympia Facts The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was created by a sculptor named Phidias. It took him 12 years, from 430 to 422 BC, to complete the statue. Zeus was considered the king of the Greek gods and this magnificent statue was created to honor him. It was placed in the Temple at Olympia, a shrine to Zeus where Olympic Games took place every four years. The statue was destroyed by fire in the fifth century A.D. Interesting Statue of Zeus at Olympia Facts: The Olympic Games were held every four years in honor of Zeus. Zeus was considered to be the ‘Father of gods and men'. He was the king of all the other gods. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was about 42 feet tall. The statue was made of a wooden frame and covered in ivory and gold panels. The sculptor Phidias had previously created a similar sized statue of the goddess Athena. The sculpture of Athena was made for the Parthenon in Athens. Phidias set up a workshop west of the Temple at Olympia where he would complete most of the work on the Statue of Zeus. The size of the Statue of Zeus was so large that if Zeus stood up he would have put his head through the roof of the temple. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was destroyed by fire in the fifth century A.D. and there were no copies ever found. All the details of the statue today are taken from depictions on coins and ancient Greek descriptions. The frame of the statue was made of wood. The statue required special care because the Olympia was a very damp place and humidity could damage the statue. Olive oil was applied to the statue regularly to keep the wood from deteriorating. A visitor to the Statue of Zeus in 97 A.D., Dio Crysostomos described the statue as being made of gold, ebony, ivory and precious stones. He also said that there were images of animals (such as the half lion/half man sphinx) and Greek gods carved into the chair. In Zeus' right hand was a figure of the goddess of victory Nike. In his left hand he held a scepter topped with an eagle. The statue was damaged by an earthquake in 170 BC but it was repaired. When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the early fourth century A.D., he ordered that all gold be stripped from any pagan shrines, including the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. The Olympics were abolished in 392 A.D. by Emperor Theodosius I of Rome. He also felt that the games were a pagan ritual. One theory states that a Greek art collector named Lausus moved the statue to Constantinople. It became part of his private collection. In 475 A.D. a fire swept through Constantinople and the statue was destroyed. Another theory states that the statue was still in its original place in the Olympic Temple in 425 A.D. when it burned down. Archaeologists discovered Phidias' workshop in the 1950s. During their excavation they found the tools that he used to create the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.




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