chapter  1
7 Pages

ENVISAGING ZEUS

You recognise gods by their attributes. In the case of Zeus this means above all the thunderbolt that he wields, causing the flash of lightning, the sound of thunder and the impact as it strikes. Lightning can be recognised in art by its double lotus shape (see figs 5, 6, 8). This is based originally on Near-Eastern art, which had depicted a fork of lightning – sometimes doubled. But it was imported into Greece as part of a repertoire of ornamental motifs and in the process was beautifully transmuted into a double lotus flower. Zeus is already holding the thunderbolt in Homer’s Iliad:

Sitting down is not a matter of convenience but one of status: it is majestic to sit, and both gods and kings sit on a thronos, a chair indicating their status. Around 650 BC Homer conjured up a vivid picture of Zeus enthroned with thunderbolt and thus foreshadowed the development of Western art. He captured the spirit of Zeus in a way that set an agenda for sculptors, who by the nature of their art must wrestle with freeze-frame moments. This was the Zeus that dominated the centre of the east pediment of the Parthenon.