Myron’s Athena

Roman replica of a bronze group of ca. 450 BC

Height 173.5 cm



The early classical sculptor Myron enjoyed great renown. He succeeded in depicting an athlete shortly before releasing the discus, entirely caught up in the dynamic of his movement. Today, that figure is the best-known work of Greek and Roman antiquity. No less significant is Myron’s version of the virginal goddess Athena. The artist cast this sculpture in bronze together with the figure of Marsyas, and erected it on the Athenian Acropolis.

As in many similar cases, the original is now lost. The bestpreserved ancient copy was discovered in the late nineteenth century in the Gardens of Lucullus in Rome. It is thanks to the initiative of the citizens of Frankfurt that the figure was donated to the Liebieghaus on the occasion of its opening. The forms assumed by this marble statue of the girlish, virginal goddess are marked by a classical repose that was entirely new. Athena wears a peplos that falls in elegant folds. In the early Greek period, a goatskin, the hideous mask of the Gorgon, and full armour were all still permanent features of the goddess’s image, but Myron only signals her identity by means of the helmet resting loosely on her head.

In order to imitate the wailing of the Gorgons, Athena had invented the double flute. She took pleasure in the sound of her instrument, but the gods made fun of her because her cheeks puffed out when she played it, disfiguring her face. Disgusted, she cast the instrument aside. It was soon discovered by the silen Marsyas. A natural talent and a prodigy at the flute, Marsyas aroused the jealousy of Apollo. After defeating Marsyas in a musical competition, the god had him flayed alive.