The Parthenon, Perfection and Paul

Perfection of the Parthenon

The Parthenon is a famous symbol of Athens. Originally, this temple was dedicated to the virgin goddess Athena. Lasting through the centuries, this edifice reflects mastery, precision, and perfection. 

Sitting atop the acropolis, the Parthenon has overlooked the city of Athens for over 2400 years. For many, it incorporates the golden mean— the ideal ratio in nature in science. Realistically, it is the culmination of decades of study and learning in geometry, engineering and art.  Ironically though, this “perfect” temple only looks perfect to our eyes because the ancient architects understood how to make it appear that way. 

The Acropolis in Athens with surrounding green trees

Basically, in order for there to be perceived perfection, the structure must be imperfect. What? How can that make sense?

What are the Imperfections?

The architects during the Golden Age of Greece knew that subtle tricks or hidden devices incorporated into the columns and pedestal would create the needed balance. This visual balance was required to perceive strength. However, it was also required to perceive proper alignment. 

In order to prevent the stone temple as if it sagged in the middle, the stepped base is domed. This base that supports the structure, also rises ever so gradually to the middle. 

Likewise, the columns appear at first to stand straight and tall. Towering above visitors, those columns lean slightly inward. This is in place of right angles, though it doesn’t seem that way. Additionally, the corner columns are slightly larger in diameter, as well as lean diagonally towards the middle. 

Finally, in order to avoid the optical illusion that the columns appear more slender in the middle, each Doric column has “entasis,” or swelling in the middle.

perfection of the parthenon

Lessons from Imperfection to Perfection

What can we learn from this great accomplishment? What message does this work of stone offer us as travelers today?

I imagine it can have a different lesson for each person. However, one lesson seems clear. Perfection arises from imperfection. Tiny adjustments in degrees and carving create the counter perspective needed to enjoy the perceived perfection. The Parthenon sits majestically, stable, and strong. Not because it is constructed at right angles and straight lines. On the contrary, it is because it was made without them. 

What else can outwardly look like perfection when in reality, it is not?

Destruction of 1687

The huge undertaking of reconstructing the perfection of this edifice is certainly to be appreciated. The patience, skill and understanding by Greece and these organizations, are clearly as advanced as Ictinus and Callicrates of old. While years have certainly worn down the monument,  it is heartbreaking to learn that it could be in even better shape now. This extraordinary surviving edifice was doing relatively well until the Turks decided to use it for gunpowder storage in 1687. When Captain-General Morosini made a direct hit to the ammunition, the gunpowder inside exploded. Causing the collapse of the cella and destroying most of the Phidas freeze.


Visiting Greece in 2019 was a highlight I will never forget. Climbing the “high city” or Acropolis was a profound experience for me.

 I paused walking up the ramp, considering the sandaled feet that would have ascended then as I was now. Along the switch backs, through the Propylaea, onto the remarkably uneven, traffic worn marble surface of the elevated outcrop. Earnestly I viewed the structures from every vantage point. 

I still marvel about the Caryatids gracefully supporting their marble entablature. All this, without any sign of weariness or age.

Caraitids, porch of the maidens on the Erectheum

The Acropolis

Standing atop this rocky platform, the Parthenon is a marvel. It represents both history and culture. Through these, we can admire the incredible scholarship and learning required to accomplish its perfection. 

It is a thrill to see this sacred site which centers the geography of modern Athens. Even more, it is awe inspiring to see it lit up at night. For all who visit, it is unforgettable to stand in its shadow and glimpse the past.

Paul on mars hill, a view from perfection

Mars Hill

Our final view of this incredible group of buildings was from Mars Hill. An equally rocky, but much smaller outcropping to the north-west of the Acropolis. Along side the Parthenon, this spectacular view can be considered perfection. From the hilltop you can enjoy sites of the Parthenon and Erectheum far below. 

This site, known as Areopagus in Greek, is also considered sacred. As Christians, we recognize this hill as the location of Paul’s sermon to the men of Athens about the “unknown God” (Acts 17:23).

Apostle Paul

Imagine the apostle Paul standing here, using his surroundings as the ultimate visual aide for his elite Athenian audience. Here he stood, pointing south-east to the masterful works (Acts 17:16-34).

Traditions teach that this speech was to help Athenians listen and understand more about the “unknown God.” To truly declare that this God is Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, and the Savior of the world. Knowing that Paul’s sermons were often unappreciated, I reflected on his unwavering dedication. While the Athenians in the 1st century BC must certainly have been proud of their monuments, Paul’s message was about a perfect Redeemer. The Son of God that offered his life for ours.

Visiting Greece Today

Thankfully tourists and pilgrims alike can still walk among the somewhat preserved ruins. During which they contemplate history, science, religion, and art of the ancient Greeks. Today, the message of Paul is embraced by most many modern Athenians. Greece now proudly remains predominantly Christian and followers of the Greek Orthodox Church. 

Want to see the perfection for yourself?
Visit Greece with us and walk where Paul did!

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