Group of people gathering on the Pnyx

The Pnyx

14 October 2021 – 1 August 2022

The second installation as part of our Impressions of Greece exhibition series. 

'The Pnyx' was the second iteration of our ongoing exhibition series, Impressions of Greece that brings together ancient Greek artefacts with the landscapes and culture of modern Greece captured in the photographs of William J Woodhouse between 1890 to 1920. 

The installation focused on the area of the Pnyx, a prominent hill located southwest of the monumental entrance to the Acropolis. From around the fifth to perhaps the first century BC, the Pnyx was the official meeting place of the Athenian democratic assembly. 

One of Woodhouse's photographs captures the speaker's platform carved into a rocky outcrop that was the site where Pericles gave his funeral oration recorded by the ancient historian Thucydides. The oration is one of the earliest and most cited declarative statements of democratic principles we have from the ancient world. The photograph was paired with a copy of Thucydides' History of the Grecian [Peloponnesian] War, translated by Thomas Hobbes, 1723. 

Other photographs featured in the exhibition capture a celebration, likely related to Easter, which demonstrates the continuity of the site from the ancient past to early modern Athens as a place for community gatherings (today as a popular tourist spot). One image depicts women with children, walking up the side of the Pnyx with the Acropolis visible in the background, while the other image depicts a group of men in a traditional dance circle being watched by men and women. 

This image was paired with a glass plate negative of the same group, while the former was paired with a terracotta figurine of the Hellenistic period that represents a woman wearing multiple layers of clothing including a head scarf and veil. 

Although the Pnyx may be seen as the site of the formation of democracy – the democracy of ancient Athens was highly exclusionary and women, as well as slaves and foreigners, were unable to participate and had severely limited autonomy and social mobility. 

Header image: William Woodhouse, [People gathered on the Pnyx], Πνύκα, Αθήνα, Ελλάδα (Pnyx), Athens, Greece, ca.1890-1910, Nicholson Collection, NM2007.30.12