Greek Maidens

Caryatides are marble statues of women that take the place of columns in some famous Greek temples, such as the Erechtheum.

caryatid porch

Somebody’s good idea—to use a pretty woman to hold up a roof?
Somebody’s MEAN idea.
Vitruvius, the Roman architect, explains the origin:

“Caryae, a state in Peloponnesus, sided with the Persian armies against Greece; later the Greeks, having gloriously won their freedom by victory in the war, made common cause and declared war against the people of Caryae. They took the town, killed the men, abandoned the State to desolation, and carried off their wives into slavery, without permitting them, however, to lay aside the long robes and other marks of their rank as married women, so that they might be obliged not only to march in the triumph but to appear forever after as a type of slavery, burdened with the weight of their shame and so making atonement for their State. Hence the architects of the time designed for public buildings statues of these women, placed so as to carry a load, in order that the sin and punishment of Caryae might be known and handed down even to posterity.” Vitruvius, Book I, 5

Yet scholars say the device is older than those Persian wars. These may be statues of priestesses of the temple. Here is the one Lord Elgin brought to England two hundred years ago and so saved from further deterioration.

..lord elgin caryatid


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8 Responses to Greek Maidens

  1. Ethereal says:

    I agree with your visitor Bill in NJ, please don’t condone the robbing of historic artefacts and call it ‘saving them’. Yes it’s great we get to see these things in museums, but they are stolen property and it’s exploitation.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    wow great poem it explains everything!!

  3. Emma Zimmer says:

    Hi i am somewhat new at all this. Caryatides sound beautiful yet sad, but you see i have writen a poem about it, well it is more about the slavery, please read, and i how you like…….

    ink falls into a puddle of blood,
    Into a figure, it does not flood,
    a figure of fire,
    a figure of desire,
    a figure of crows,
    a figure of a rose,
    Alyssia, Alyssia let me in,
    Alyssia, Alyssia white silky skin,
    Wait with me,
    Wait for the train, its coming over yonder, over yonder,
    Holy water drizzles into a puddle of ink,
    Past the ice it sink,
    It sink with fire,
    It sink with desire,
    It sinks with crows,
    It sinks with rose,
    Alyssia, Alyssia keep me in,
    Alyssia, Alyssia small and thin,
    Wait with me,
    Wait for the train, its coming over yonder, over yonder.

  4. 100swallows says:

    Bill: Lord Elgin said the statues lay buried or half-buried and were being trampled underfoot. No one respected them. He saved them from being broken and forgotten. He spent great amounts of his own money to salvage and restore them. He was given permission to take them home by the Turkish Sultan of the time–perhaps he bribed him (I don’t remember the story exactly). Whether now they should be returned to Greece is another question. This is not comparable to the looting of works of art done by Napoleon’s soldiers in Spain and elsewhere, for example.

  5. Bill in NJ says:

    Ah, so THAT is what robbing other cultures of their historic artifacts is called now-a-days…so as to be “saved from further deterioration”.
    This non-sense is so transparent as to be laughable. Those statues, and others like them, have existed in Greece for millenia. How many artifacts have survived in England that long?

  6. 100swallows says:

    Kim: Sorry–I don’t have many that aren’t on-line and the ones I do have are in books; and now I don’t have the time to scan them for you.

  7. Kim says:

    hi, can you e-mail me some Greek pictures??

  8. erikatakacs says:

    I’ve always loved Caryatides. If their origin is true, it’s quite sad. I find it hard to believe they would use women of such “low” status for those highly visible decorations. What I find really great about them, they all look the same from distance, but from up close they differ from each other slightly. Thanks, Swallows, great post!

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