In the spring semester of 2011 the art history majors at Case Western Reserve University took part in a hands-on project under the direction of Professor Jenifer Neils.  With funding from a Nord Grant for Innovative Teaching we produced an innovative, educational film that we hope will be of considerable interest to classicists, archaeologists and art historians. This was a student-driven project involving research, composing scripts, live interviews, costuming, staging, music, and filming at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

In her 2001 book entitled The Parthenon Frieze (Cambridge University Press) Neils argued that the twelve Olympian gods who are depicted in relief on the east side of the Parthenon should be ‘read’ as sitting in a semi-circle – a radical notion since such a seating plan is unprecedented in ancient Greek art. The twelve gods are actually shown in profile, the norm in Greek art, in two separate groups facing left (south) and right (north), but she argued that the viewer is presented with the artist’s (probably Pheidias) solution to a complex design challenge, namely how to show them seated in a semi-circle facing front, toward the religious ceremony taking place between the two groups.  When teaching a class on this topic Neils asked for a student volunteer to render this concept in a drawing.  The student (Joe Delly) who accepted the challenge used 3-D computer modeling to come up with a convincing arrangement, which was subsequently published in her book on the frieze. She found textual support for this seating plan of the gods in an ode by the fifth-century BC Greek poet Pindar (Nemean Ode 4, 66-69).  While many eminent scholars have accepted her thesis, some remain unconvinced.  Therefore, by recreating this scenario in actuality with live players we endeavored not only to convince the unconvinced but also to use video technology to explore the relatively unstudied concept of three-dimensionality in Greek art.

During the course of the semester each student chose a Greek Olympian god to research, devised the appropriate costume and attributes, and discussed the specific persona of his or her deity in the video.  Individual students were also responsible for choosing period music and documentary photographs to enhance the film, for the budget, publicity, scheduling, and this website. We were assisted in our endeavors by professors in the theatre, music and classics departments at CWRU.

By cooperating in a group project and producing a multimedia educational tool, the CWRU students learned valuable skills. They not only did library research and writing, but were called upon to develop their communication abilities and to perform before the camera.  They were challenged to demonstrate in words and actions a sophisticated art historical concept, and one novel for the fifth century BC.