Greek Temple Architecture

Greek Temple Architecture May 4, 2018

Mary Emerson’s Greek Sanctuaries and Temple Architecture is a concise, informative introduction to her topic. After introductory chapters explaining the meaning, uses, architecture and artistic adornments of sanctuaries in the Greek world, Emerson devotes a chapter to the major cultic sites of Greece –  Delphi, Athens, the sanctuary of Apollo at Bassae, the temple of Olympian Zeus on Sicily.

The book is richly illustrated with diagrams and black-and-white photos, some of which show the stunning settings of these Greek temples. Emerson’s bibliography makes it clear that she is conversant with recent literature, but nearly every quotation in the text comes from an ancient source. The book is blessedly free of academic trendiness.

Emerson focuses on the details of each particular temple, but at the outset she sets some of the parameters of the discussion.

If you’ve seen one Greek temple, you’ve seen them all: So some might say. Emerson disagrees. Of course, “it is quite normal for building design to contain not only innovation, but also deliberate conformity to a type.” But she argues that “to the interested eye, each temple is unique. Even Doric temples, though said to conform to strict rules, all differ. As in any field of interest, what seems uniform to outsiders is – on inspection – full of nuance, innovation and individuality” (3).

Greek sanctuaries weren’t used only by those who “made a particular choice to be religious.” The shrine of a city “belonged to the citizen body as a whole,” and civic feasts were part of a citizen’s life (5). Though sanctuaries were manned by priests, everyone participated in the festivities, which were varied – “sacred song and dance, special costumes, sacrifices, competitions and feastings” (10).

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