Avery M. Johnston, C’22
Once, in a University of Pennsylvania class on the history of Ancient Greece, my professor said something to this effect: “We are the Greeks” . This assertion was based upon the many vestiges of Ancient Greece that America—and more broadly, the West—both benefit and suffer from. Western scholasticism and intellectual history, democracy and imperialist tendencies, and perhaps even the fixation on history’s “great men” have all arguably derived from our Greek predecessors. At least, this is how many past and present scholars, statesmen, and citizens have conceived of our relationship to the Greeks of antiquity . For instance, John Adams explicitly refers to the “ancient republics”  in A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America to support his argument for American democracy, and others, like Alexander Hamilton, used classical pseudonyms in writing . Modern politicians, including President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, still reference America’s connection to ancient Greece. In a 2021 speech for Greek Independence Day, Biden claimed that “What really binds [America and Greece] together are [shared] values,”  and Trump, in his own Independence Day speech, said, “All around us here in the United States we see the profound influence of Greek culture, art, and philosophy” . Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, tended to qualify his positive view of the classical world with his belief that the American experiment was an experiment of the future, not one of the classical past; he did not want to over-fixate on historical philosophies .
One could argue that the connection to the Greeks has thus been overemphasized, but the fact that past and present Americans have fixated on this era and its milieu so intently indicates something very important about the American conceptualization of the ideal nation and the quest for a mythic national history. People of other eras have fixated on the classical era as well. For example, during the European Middle Ages, classical authors such as Ovid were extremely popular with the well-educated . Clerks and poets often moralized classical literature, seeing them as a path to virtue and beauty; “Medieval commentators often read Ovid as an ‘ethical pedagogue’” . Their love and interpretation of these texts signified a truth about their own moral and interpretive inclinations, just as America’s perpetual allusion to the Greeks signified their own principles.
Conceptually, one could therefore suggest that many or some of the American ideas about life and government have come from the Greeks, but has this intellectual inheritance—and the social infatuation with the idealized Ancient Greece—manifested temporally at all? How has it become embodied particularly in Philadelphia, the city in which the Declaration of Independence was signed? I posit that the variety of classically inspired public art in Philadelphia is one very salient manifestation of our nation and our city’s preoccupation with the Ancient Greeks.
Intentional memorialization, and the time period in which it was undertaken, presages how a people think about their history and the meaning of their locale. It indicates what they consider to be worthy to openly celebrate and publicly claim as their own. In this historical analysis, I will therefore focus particularly on the intentional commemoration of the mythic and factual history of Ancient Greece through statuary (public art) in our city. This is opposed to an inquiry into the abundance of Greek Revival architecture which further memorializes the era, or the various unintentional monuments to the Greeks, such as the very name of the city . Thus, the following survey will briefly explore the specific background of each of the classically inspired monuments in Philadelphia—all of which were erected between 1884 and 1977, with a bulge in production in the mid-1880s to late 1890s. I will also provide a short overview of the relevant historical context of the time in which they came to be.
Of course, the aforementioned bulge in production was not just happenstance. There were multiple historical and cultural factors that converged to result in the production of so many pieces of art. Between 1860 and 1930, the city not only gained hundreds of thousands of people, but also more buildings in Center City and a raised standard of living . On top of such growth, there was a manufacturing boom, particularly in the areas of “textiles and garments” and “metalworking and heavy machinery” . At first, these industries were “widely dispersed throughout the city,” but businesses began to combine and drift towards similar companies in the last two decades of the 19th century, forming distinct class and industry-based segments of Philadelphia . Other factors pointed to the presumed success of the city—such as City Hall becoming the tallest building in the world in 1894—and it seemed that the city was on the path to codification as one of the great industrial cities (though Philly was purportedly “the worst-governed city in the United States,” and working and living conditions were certainly unideal ).
The city flowered culturally as well: professional baseball, singing societies, bicycling clubs and other recreational groups, the Free Library, and the Philadelphia Orchestra were all created between the 1880s and 1900 . Public parks became a priority: after the expansion of Fairmount Park in the 1860s, the Fairmount Park Commission was founded in 1888 . This relative industrial and cultural development likely contributed to the revived interest in the Greek world. Industrialists and normal citizens alike seemed to have an interest in the flourishing and success of their society. Association with the Ancient Greek world, which many people, as established above, idealized for its similarities to America, was perhaps the perfect outlet for Philadelphians to express a hope for their city to prosper.
Five works were erected after this period of the 1860s–1930. One was put up in 1932, one presented in 1938, and the latter three were put up between 1950 and 1980. The piece put on display in 1932 was not commissioned specifically for the city of Philadelphia, unlike the other statues, but was taken in and displayed by the city because nowhere else would display her. The 1938 piece was donated to Penn in memory of the donor’s husband. I therefore divide the Philadelphia classical statuary corpus into three eras: 1880–1930, 1950–1980, and the intermediary period. This period includes the two 1930s works and which I touch on the least, as the states are not as public and were erected for reasons different from the others. The 1950–1980 period follows the Great Depression, which deeply affected the city, and the second World War, to which the city contributed a great deal and which led to urban renewal and the end of the Depression .
In the 1950s, the so-called “Philadelphia Renaissance” began . The city invested in Center City, and made efforts to attract more tourists and remade the historical Society Hill (which then appealed to wealthier Philadelphians) . This was followed by a deindustrialization and suburbanization period in which the standards of living increased for some, while others left the city completely, and still others suffered discrimination from the banks. Meanwhile, the average household income fell to almost 30 percentage points below the regional average, and unemployment skyrocketed . This era in Philadelphia history is similar in many ways to the one discussed above. Both witnessed great changes to the city’s way of functioning and its economy (in the former, the city industrialized, and in the latter, it deindustrialized). In both cases, too, the city experienced a bettered standard of living and various positive physical changes. In the former, an increase in parks and buildings, and in the latter, a renewing of a historical section of the city.
Despite the many positive developments during these periods, the average person also struggled greatly in both eras. In the earlier era, many workers could not access the parks, and on top of that suffered from poor pay and working conditions, and in the later era, an estimated hundreds of thousands of people were displaced for the sake of urban renewal, and many were thrown into poverty.
In creating classically inspired public art, the people of Philadelphia during these two pivotal eras could have been yearning for a kind of “golden age” of the past, or hoping that the technological and cultural developments they were witnessing would amount to the growth of their city in virtue. Maybe the new classical monuments inspired hope within them or distracted them from the difficulty of their everyday life; or maybe they demonstrated a disconnect between what the wealthy elites imagined the worker to believe about their city and what the workers and poorer citizens actually thought.
Note that in Washington DC, our current capital, the classically inspired statuary seems to be more spread out over time, but generally later. For example, in DC, the Court of Neptune Fountain was put up in 1898 (and Neptune is technically the Roman name for Poseidon), but the sculpture of Solon (Ancient Greek involved with the practice of Law) on the East Pediment of the Supreme Court was not completed until 1934 . The Discus Thrower, modeled after a classical statue, was erected in 1956 , and “Eros, Inside Eros,” depicting the Greek god of love, was erected in 1986 . There are a multitude of classically inspired statues intended to monumentalize a particular contemporary person, but these I do not include. In Boston, on the other hand, there seems to be barely any classically inspired monuments . The proliferation of classical statuary in Philadelphia, then, really does appear to be unique.
In total, there are ten classically inspired statues in the city of Philadelphia thus far: four of them are on display in or near Fairmount Park, three in or near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one in Rittenhouse Square, one near Franklin Square, and one on Penn’s campus.
Fairmount Park statuary
There was a classically inspired statue commissioned for Fairmount Park as early as 1829. It is quite small, and after a replica was made of the deteriorating original, Mercury now sits atop a pavilion in the park . Mercury, however, is the Roman name for the Greek god Hermes, so I have chosen to not include this work in my analysis. I have also excluded statues which could have been classically inspired in style but do not make any explicit reference to Ancient Greece, as these works are not intentional monuments to that world .
The first piece of public art inspired by the Greek world, rather than the Roman world) in Philadelphia, the Orestes and Pylades Fountain was erected in 1884, though several others were subsequently cast and put up in the following year . The piece is by Carl Johann Steinhauser, and it depicts the great friends Orestes and Pylades sitting beneath a bust of the goddess Diana. According to the Association for Public Art, the man who sold a cast of the work to the Fairmount Park Art Association was probably in possession of said cast due to his devotion to the sculptor, his friend and teacher . The Association for that reason suggests that the sculpture represents friendship, such as the one between the two depicted men; it was placed in Philadelphia as a result of the historical friendship between Steinhauser and the seller. The Association further suggests that “The fountain is a characteristic example of the German fondness for placing monuments in public places to serve as daily reminders of virtues and ideals” . This could perhaps indicate that, similar to the Middle Ages as well as to the time of the founding of our country, the Greeks were moralized in the late 1800s . They may have represented the ideal way of life to Philadelphians at the time.
There seems to be support for this idea. Fairmount Park, the location of this public work of art, was officially dedicated in 1855, after the 1854 Consolidation Act, which “directed the development of public parks” . Public parks are places of peace and recreation—though the land that was designated as Fairmount Park had already long been used as a space of recreation—within a bustling city. Citizens could visit to reflect, discuss, and enjoy their surroundings, and this statue, along with the others eventually added to the park grounds, could have inspired purportedly virtuous thought among visitors.
Following the establishment of this first statue, there appears to have been a relative boom in the production and erection of metaphorical classical statuary in Philadelphia: at least three pieces of classically inspired sculptures were added to the city’s growing collection of public art within the decade. This number includes “Silenus and the Infant Bacchus,” “The Wrestlers,” and “Pegasus,” all of which were likewise either immediately or eventually placed in or near Fairmount Park,  further supporting the idea that classical statues were intended to be deeply considered (as one can only do during recreation).
The Silenus statue was originally sculpted by Praxiteles, an ancient Greek himself . Silenus is an apt choice to be placed in a park due to his associations with the natural world, though Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, seems a strange choice for a society that at the time presented itself as Christian. Really, any Greek god seems a strange choice upon first consideration. One must realize, however, that the Greek gods were likely not themselves the true “end” of the monumentalization. Rather, the morality and way of life they represent was. Other such sculptures include The Wrestlers, which is another cast of an original Greek piece, and Pegasus, a title which includes two statues of the Pegasus alongside two women signifying differing forms of poetry . The figures, once again, are metaphorical. This work was placed in front of Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall, looking stoically toward all those who approach the building—guarding it, in a way.
A few decades later, in 1916, Duck Girl was installed in Cloverly Park (though it is now shown in Rittenhouse Square) . A classically attired woman holds a duck close to her thigh. The meaning of this statue is unclear, and there does not seem to be much historical indication of its original meaning, apart from the fact that the Greek heroine Penelope’s name could mean “duck” . In the Homeric oeuvre, Penelope is the chaste, loyal wife of Odysseus. This could suggest that the Philadelphian statue intended to highlight these virtues.
After Duck Girl, the famous Diana statue was brought to Philadelphia and began display in 1932 (though she was originally created in 1892 for Madison Square Garden in New York) . She now resides at the top of the central staircase in the Art Museum, the focal point when one enters the Museum, which looks a bit like an Ancient Greek temple. The Association for Public Art quotes Philadelphia mayor James Tate in regard to Diana: “When no one wanted this poor little orphan, Philadelphia took her in, gave her a palatial home and created a beautiful image for her with a world-wide reputation” . This quote personifies the statue, and also demonstrates the public affection for the Ancient Greek mythic world at the time.
A few years later, a small classical statue was placed on Penn’s campus. Outside of the ground floor of the Van Pelt Library, in the Reading Garden, there is a statue of Pan, the Greek god of the natural world or the wild (i.e. similar to Silenus, mentioned above) . The placement of this statue is interesting: why is it outside of the library, a place of learning and erudition? While it could have been placed there simply because it was where the donor thought looked the best, the placement could also highlight the sentiment that the West’s intellectual heritage originates in the Greek world.
Brief Greek statuary revival
In 1953, a sculpture titled Prometheus Strangling the Vulture was cast . Like Diana, it is associated with the Philadelphia Art Museum. Prometheus, in Greek myth, is eternally punished by a vulture pecking at his entrails for giving fire to humans, but Prometheus in the statue has overcome his attacker. While the Greek gods were certainly depicted as disapproving of Prometheus’ actions, his choice benefited humans in the mythic world. Accordingly, the Association of Public Art claims that “the sculpture is directly symbolic, expressing the ongoing struggle between good and evil, humanity and intolerance” . The sculpture was actually first made for the 1937 World Fair in Paris as an “allegory of resistance against fascism in Europe” as Prometheus wears a “Phrygian cap, the symbol of democracy” . Once again, we see a piece of temporal and classical public art monumentalizing an abstract concept.
The sculpture differs from those made before it in its style, small size (except for Penn’s Pan statue, which is also small), and artist Jacques Lipchitz, who was a Lithuanian immigrant and a Cubist. Cubism was an experimental art movement which combined multiple perspectives of an object or person in order to provide the viewer with more context . The Prometheus sculpture does seem to be informed by cubism, with what appears to be more than two arms. Prometheus is bronze like all of its forebears apart from Diana, however. It is of note that this sculpture, which is a part of a movement to display a variety of perspectives, provides a new take on the Prometheus story, and also marks the movement of classical statuary into more abstract and avant-garde territory.
Fascinatingly, all but one classical monument—which I will touch upon next—is in the “traditional” form of person(s) raised above the observer, cast in a heroic or contemplative position. Beverly Pepper’s Phaedrus breaks from this mold. Despite this, there appears to be only a brief mention of the dedication of the statue in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which calls it “the city’s latest adornment” . Her work is abstract, and the connection to the Ancient Greek world is not immediately clear apart from the work’s name. The titular Phaedrus was both a historical person and a character in one of Plato’s dialogues. This dialogue presents the “charioteer” metaphor, which describes the soul as a thing which must be guided upward into goodness and truth like a chariot, as there are two opposing horses pulling it: one wise, and one base . Pepper’s work could connote this symbolism, especially as its top corner seems to reach into the sky, just touching it above the trees. The very last classically inspired monument established in Philadelphia, one directly after Phaedrus, is titled The Charioteer of Delphi . This piece was cast in 1977, the same year Phaedrus was installed. Both of these statues signify the charioteer metaphor indirectly or directly. It is fitting that the final two classically inspired statues in Philly (as of yet) imply the upward movement of the soul, as this notion both sums up the philosophical thrust of the Philadelphian classical statuary as a whole and marks the end of an era of intentional classical monumentalization.
Why so many classical monuments in Philadelphia?
Practically, the materials and ease of casting metal statues proliferated during the industrialization period, so the classical statuary could have simply increased proportional to other sorts of monumentalization at the time as it became easier to monumentalize things. One could also argue, however, that the popularity of classically inspired monumentalism gestures toward our tendency to idealize the past, especially in periods of great change, growth, and complexity, and particularly with regard to Ancient Greece, which certainly has a complicated history as well.
This notion is supported by the fact that all but one (i.e. Phaedrus) of the monuments highlight mythical figures rather than historical, and all of them arguably commemorate abstract ideals for Philadelphia and its people in a time of technological advancement and public turmoil. The city seems to have been casting about for something to romanticize, or to look back upon as its foundation during such monumental social change. A mythic history and heritage for the United States—of which Philadelphia is an integral founding city—could have provided the necessary grounding for an unstabilized society. In other words, Philadelphians wanted to be the Greeks, or at least their intellectual and moral descendants. The question of whether all Philadelphians—or if not all, which ones?—felt (and feel) this connection to Ancient Greece is important to consider, however. To some, the striving for a higher ideal must have felt ironic in the face of the very real immediate problems they faced with each new day and the poor governing they endured, and this is certainly a well-founded frustration. Such an attitude towards classically inspired monuments, or even all public art in the midst of pressing, maybe life-or-death, problems, would be well-founded even today. Despite this, I believe that public art broadly can still hold a vital purpose in the civic square. Public art can still thrive, spark meaningful conversation and change, and make the city more beautiful, though the city may struggle with many problems. It would be nihilistic to assert that public art cannot exist until a city is problem-less, because public art can contribute to solving a city’s problems.
Specifically, classical statuary speaks to Philadelphia’s need to strive toward higher ideals, such as goodness, truth, and erudition on the individual, communal, and governmental levels. They can also give Philadelphians the space to consider the complicated history of Ancient Greece (which included imperialism and slavery in addition to democracy and beautiful art) and contemplate how this history re-reflects upon America and Philadelphia today. How can the city both emulate and learn from Ancient Greece? Whether we like it or not, this society is a very vivid part of the country’s mythic and democratic foundation, and Philadelphians—citizens of this historical, free, diverse city—can learn to appreciate their city’s physical memorialization of the Greeks in the form of statuary in order to consider the good, the beautiful, the bad, and the ugly of what this association means today.
 Jeremy McInerney, Fall 2020, University of Pennsylvania.
 See: A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021) and Edward J. Power, A Legacy of Learning: A History of Western Education (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), and many others for further reflections on this topic.
 John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (Boston and London: Edmund Freeman, 1788), 77.
 Peter Onuf and Nicholas P. Cole, Thomas Jefferson, the Classical World, and Early America(Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2011), 1.
 President Joseph “President Biden’s Message for the 2021 Greek Independence Day,” USEmbassy Athens YouTube, March 22, 2018, https://youtu.be/7nKxElWsCQg.
 President Donald Trump. “President Trump Full Speech on Greek Independence Day 2018 at the White House,” GreekReporter YouTube, March 22, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlYb3VPHdG
 Onuf and Cole, Thomas Jefferson, the Classical World, and Early America,
 For a discussion of this, see Taylor, Henry Osborn, The Classical Heritage of the Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1901) among much other related scholarship.
 Fyler, John M., “The Medieval Ovid”, in A Companion to Ovid, ed. Peter E. Knox (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2009), 415.
 The significance of Philadelphia’s name is explored further in Roger D. Simon, Philadelphia: A Brief History (Philadelphia: Temple University Press with the Pennsylvania Historical Association, 2017).
 Simon, Philadelphia, 47.
 Simon, 49.
 Simon, 52.
 Simon, 67.
 Simon, 68–70.
 Simon, 56.
 Simon, 74, 80.
 Simon, 82.
 Simon, 84, 86–87.
 Simon, 91, 93.
 Dan Leininger, “Hermon MacNeil’s Supreme Court Sculptures: Moses Revisited,” Hermon A. MacNeil: American Sculptor (1866–1947), Virtual Gallery and Museum, January 13, https://hermonatkinsmacneil.com/2012/01/13/hermon-macneils-supreme-court-sculptures-moses- revisited/#:~:text=MacNeil’s%20sculptures%20of%20Moses%2C%20Confucius,1932%20and%20completed% 20in%201934.
 “Discus Thrower (‘Discobolus’): Virginia Ave @ 21st St, NW,” Memorials in Washington DC, National Capital Planning Commission, accessed December 15, 2021, https://www.ncpc.gov/memorials/detail/19/.
 “Eros, Inside Eros (1986)” Artsy.net, Artsy, accessed December 15, 2021, https://www.artsy.net/artwork/arman-eros-inside-eros.
 “Monument Study Set Search Interface,” National Monument Audit, Monument Lab, accessed December 15, 2021, https://monumentlab.github.io/national-monument- audit/app/map.html?q=&facets=object_groups~Monument is_duplicate~0¢erLatLon=38.5767%2C- 1736&startZoom=4.
 Leonard Punt, “Replicas of William Rush Originals Return to Fairmount Water Works,” Hidden City, February 14, 2018, https://hiddencityphila.org/2018/02/replicas-of-william-rush-originals-return-to-fairmount- water-works/.
 Such as the statue “The Lion Fighter” by Albert Wolff at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway: “The Lion Fighter (1858, cast 1892),” Association for Public Art, accessed December 15, 2021, https://www.associationforpublicart.org/artwork/the-lion-fighter/.
 “Orestes and Pylades Fountain,” Association for Public Art, accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.associationforpublicart.org/artwork/orestes-pylades-fountain/.
 “Orestes and Pylades Fountain,” Association for Public Art.
 “Orestes and Pylades Fountain,” Association for Public Art, my emphasis.
 i.e. The Founding Fathers, as aforementioned, drew much of their democratic inspiration from Ancient Greek models of government; again, see Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty and John Adams’ Defense.
 Milroy, “Fairmount Park,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, 2016.
 “Silenus and the Infant Bacchus,” Association for Public Art, accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.associationforpublicart.org/artwork/silenus-and-the-infant-bacchus/; “The Wrestlers,” Association for Public Art, accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.associationforpublicart.org/artwork/the-wrestlers/; “Pegasus,” Association for Public Art, accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.associationforpublicart.org/artwork/pegasus/.
 “Silenus,” Association for Public Art.
 “Pegasus,” Association for Public Art.
 “Duck Girl,” Association for Public Art, accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.associationforpublicart.org/artwork/duck-girl/.
 Levaniouk, Olga. “Penelope and the Penelops,” Eve of the Festival: Making Myth in Odyssey 19. Hellenic Studies Series 46 (Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies), 2011, http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn- 3:hul.ebook:CHS_Levaniouk.Eve_of_the_Festival.2011.
 “Gilding Diana,” philamuseum.org, Philadelphia Museum of Art, accessed December 15, 2021, https://www.philamuseum.org/conservation/21.html.
 “Diana,” Association for Public Art. Accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.associationforpublicart.org/artwork/diana/.
 “Pan with Sundial,” Art at Penn, accessed October 21, 2021, https://pennds.org/arth503640/items/show/22.
 “Prometheus Strangling the Vulture,” Association for Public Art, accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.associationforpublicart.org/artwork/prometheus-strangling-the-vulture/.
 “Prometheus Strangling the Vulture,” Association for Public
 “Prometheus Strangling the Vulture,” philamuseum.org, Philadelphia Museum of Art, accessed December 15, 2021, https://www.philamuseum.org/collection/object/54047.
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Adams, John. A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. Boston and London: Edmund Freeman, 1788.
Biden, Joseph. “President Biden’s Message for the 2021 Greek Independence Day.” USEmbassy Athens YouTube, March 22, 2018, https://youtu.be/7nKxElWsCQg.
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“Discus Thrower (‘Discobolus’): Virginia Ave @ 21st St, NW.” Memorials in Washington DC. National Capital Planning Commission. Accessed December 15, 2021, https://www.ncpc.gov/memorials/detail/19/.
“Duck Girl.” Association for Public Art. Accessed 21 October 2021. https://www.associationforpublicart.org/artwork/duck-girl/.
“Eros, Inside Eros (1986)” Artsy. Accessed 15 December 2021, https://www.artsy.net/artwork/arman-eros-inside-eros.
Fyler, John M. “The Medieval Ovid” A Companion to Ovid, ed. Peter E. Knox. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2009.
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