One reporter describied the backdrop for Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver as resembling the Parthenon, “the ancient Greek temple of the goddess Athena.” Â Given that the Greek goddess is the subject of my neglected dissertation and my interest in politics, I find myself uniquely qualified to write about this. Â
Others have weighed it, noting how this set was “built by the same cheesy set team that put togetherÂ Britney Spears’ last tour.” So the set reinforces that he’s no ordinary politician, but a celebrity instead. Â And like most celebrities having delusions of being more than just an actor playing a part a singer entertaining a crowd.
Now, does he style himself some kind of deity worthy of the adoration enjoyed by the owl-eyed goddess?
I mean, there are parallels between our political conventions and the Panathenaia, the great celebration in classical Athens honoring the city’s patroness. Â Each were held every four years, with a variety of events held over a period of several days, with one great culminating event. Â For our political conventions, it’s the nominee’s acceptance speech. Â For the Athenians, it was the presentation of the peplos to Athena.
And what is a peplos, you ask? Â It was the garment Greek women wore in those days. Â But, this was no ordinary peplos. Â Nine months before the Panathenaia, the arrhephoroi, young girls between the ages of seven and eleven, began weaving the robe. Â Later, other women, the ergastinai, would take over the production of the garment, yet with the continued assistance of the younger girls.*
I wonder if we could compare the ergastinai to some of Obama’s female supporters one of whom said today that his visit to a women’s luncheon today “was like the clouds parted and the sun was shining in.â€ Â
Perhaps tonight, this woman will join her fellow delegates in presenting a robe to the man she so adores. Â For by allowing such a backdrop for his speech, Obama opened himself up (yet again) for ridicule both because of his own audacity and because he has styled himself a new type of politician.
Yet, with the airs he has put on, this new type of politician comes across not as a man who identifies with the people who elect him, but with the Olympians who deign appear to mortal men only during certain rituals or at times of their own choosing.
This whole spectacle may well transform this event from showcasing the platform of a political party and presenting the nominee while articulating his campaign theme into a just celebration of the nominee himself. Â Shall we call it the Pan-Obamania?
I wonder what kind of robe his followers will be presenting their icon tonight.
*Jennifer Neils, “Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance: Â The Iconography of Procession,” Worshipping Athena: Â Panathenaia & Parthenon.