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Width of the Cella

Earlier I have pointed out that, since the total temple had a width of 111 1/3 feet and the two peripteral spaces on the flanks had a width of 16½ feet each, the cella should have had a width of 78 1/3 feet but, because of the length of the intercolumnia in the colonnades at the two ends of the cella, the cella came to have a width of 78 15/48 feet, that is, 1/48 of foot less than 78 1/3 feet. This difference of 1/48 of foot created some problems of adjustment that have been badly understood and have been exploited to build a far-fetched theory about the entire planning of the Parthenon.

The difference of 1/48 of foot was taken into account by adding this amount to the peripteral space on the south side. On the north flank the peripteral space is 16½ feet or 4,577.9 mm., whereas on the south flank it is 16 ½ feet + 1/48 = 16 25/48 feet or 4,583.7 mm. According to Balanos’ survey the peripteral space is 4,578 mm. on the north side and 4,584 mm. on the south side.

The difference was taken into account by making the euthynteria step of the cella wider on the south side. As I have already stated, the cella was raised over the platform of the peripteros by two steps of which the lower constituted the euthynteria and the higher constituted the stylobate. According to what I have said just above, the euthynteria step should have been made wider by 1/48 of foot, but instead it was made wider by 2/48. The reason for this anomaly was that, by increasing the peripteral space on the south side by 1/48, the cella was displaced to the north by this amount; this effect of thrust to the north was compensated by making the euthynteria step wider on the south side by 2/48 of foot.

Balanos reports that the average width of the euthynteria step is 315 mm. on the north side and 325 mm. on the south side, with a difference of 10 mm.; but he did not pay close attention to the question of the width of this step, which is a more complex matter than he assumed.

At the beginning of this century there were two main schools of thought among archaeologists concerning the module of foot employed in the construction of the Parthenon. There were those who followed Penrose in claiming that the module was the so-called Solonian foot of ca. 296 mm., and those who followed Dörpfeld in claming that it was the so-called Aiginetic foot of ca. 328 mm. When in 1910 Collignon published his monumental work about the Parthenon, he tried to please both sides by intimating that both modules had been used in calculating the Parthenon. In 1912 the American archaeologist Bert Hodge Hill tried to follow the approach of Collignon by asserting that the euthynteria step of the cella had a width of 296 mm. on the north side and 328 on the south side. He linked this assertion, which is not correct, with the conclusion, which is not correct either, that the Unfinished Temple, on top of which the Parthenon was erected, had been calculated by the foot of 296 mm. On these two premises he built the theory that the north part of the Parthenon had been built using blocks originally prepared for the older building, and, hence, measured by the standard of 296 mm., whereas the south part of the Parthenon was built out of new blocks measured by the foot of 328 mm. Hill declared that on the north side ”a large majority of blocks are clearly from the older building.” These blocks would have been cut about half a century before the construction of the Parthenon, using the Solonian standard of 296 mm., whereas at the time of the construction of the Parthenon the Athenians would have reverted to the Aiginetic standard used before Solon’s reforms, with the results that all the blocks of the Parthenon cut on that occasion conform to the standard of 328 mm.

As proof that the blocks on the north side of the Parthenon were originally intended for the Unfinished Temple, Hill submits the fact that the euthynteria step of the cella is 296 mm wide on the north side, whereas it is 328 mm. wide on the south side. As I have said, Hill quotes as evidence in support of his theory a fact that does not occur.

The theory of Hill was questioned by another member of the Archaeological Institute of America, Jay Hambridge, who had been active together with him in surveying the Parthenon. Hambridge disagreed in principle with the view that Greek architects were casual in the matter of measurements and, hence, he questioned Hill’s theory by declaring: ”I regard this hypothesis as impossible for the reason that I cannot imagine the Greeks changing the plan of such an important building as the Parthenon merely to use a few old blocks of marble.” Since the main argument for Hill’s theory is that the euthynteria step on the north side has the width of a ”Solonian” foot of 296 mm. and on the south side has the width of an ”Aiginetic” foot of 328 mm., Hambridge in 1920 proceeded to test what is the actual width of this step. His survey was conducted in a rather crude way, by applying here and there a ruler, graduated by mm., to the width of the step. Given the poor conditions of the two steps of the cella, an accurate survey would have required the stretching of a wire all along the length of the edge of the euthynteria step and of another wire all along the length of the stylobate step, followed by the testing of the distance between the two wires. But Hambridge was interested only in proving that Hill’s figures were incorrect. Hambridge reported the following results (starting from the east end):

 

North side

South side

295 ½

332

328 ½

(290)

330

328

(290)

331

325

314

328

325

315

(318 ½)

325 ½

316

(318)

326

318 ½

(317)

327

317

(327)

326

318

(323)

324

(322)

325

(321 ½)

325

(321 ½)

328

(314 ½)

326

(327 ½)

326

328 ½

327

 

Hambridge measured at more frequent intervals on the south side. He bracketed the data in the areas ”opposite that part of the cella interior where the force of the explosion of the Turkish gunpowder was the greatest.”

In my opinion the data gathered by Hambridge indicate that on the north side the width varied from 54/48 of foot (312.1 mm.) to 55/48 of foot (317.9 mm.), and on the south side varied from 57/48 (329.5 mm) to 56/48 (323.7 mm.) In other words, the width of the step, expressed in 48ths of foot, was the following:

NE

corner

54

NW

corner

55

SW

corner

56

SE

corner

57

The width of the step, adding together north side and south side, is always 111/48 of foot, that is, 2 1/3 - 11/48. But the width on the northern side increases by 1/48 of foot from the east end to the west end and decreases correspondingly on the south side.

The reason for this apparent irregularity is that the two flanks of the total temple are not parallel to each other, since the temple is wider by 1/48 at the western end. Hence, the cella had to be parallel either to the south flank of the temple or to the north flank. For the sake of balance it was decided to let the stylobate step of the cella, and therefore the body of the cella, run parallel to the south flank, whereas the euthynteria step runs parallel to the north flank. The result was that the stylobate step could be said to lie diagonally on top of the euthynteria step.

After the publication of Hambridge’s finding the theory of Hill should have been completely abandoned, but Dinsmoor continued to defend it. Dinsmoor admits that the cella is ”thrust diagonally” in relation to the longitudinal axis of the temple, but, at the same time, dismisses the findings of Hambridge about the variations in the width of the euthynteria step by asserting that these variations are the result of ”clerical errors.” By introducing this novel and obscure concept of ”clerical errors” into Greek architecture, Dinsmoor reduces to irrelevancy the difference of width between the north side and south side of the euthynteria step, but at the same time he restates with more emphasis Hill’s theory: ”The fundamental principle of the new design was that it should incorporate as much as possible of the second-hand material, destined for the Older Parthenon, lying about the Acropolis.” Even though he calls the employment of ”second-hand materials” a ”fundamental principle,” Dinsmoor never submitted any empirical evidence of it. In order to justify his contention he appeals to a more general contention, which would be his original contribution to the understanding of Greek architecture, namely, that ”the economic factor” was a major determinant in the planning of Greek temples, taking the word ”economy” in the sense of ”frugality in expenditure.”


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