Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Abraham Lincoln and the Temple of Zeus

If someone were to force me to answer the question "who is your favorite president?", I would have to answer Abraham Lincoln. Through his efforts he was able to preserve the union at a time when it was most threatened. He holds the the distinction of being the first republican president.
The Lincoln monument is an awe inspiring site, and it is one of our national treasures. If Lincoln were able to see the monument to him, I think he would......I don't think he would like it very much at all.
Abraham Lincoln was a devout Christian, so why did they design his monument in the Greek Doric temple style? What would Lincoln say about the building which houses his statue having Paganistic overtures? Here is the Lincoln Memorial pictured below.
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Here is a pic of what the Temple of Zeus looked like.
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Ok, so Lincoln's monument looks like the Temple of Zeus. So what?

Let's take a look inside. The massive statue of Lincoln is sitting on a throne, and above his head are the words "In this Temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."
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It is a breathtaking and awe inspiring sight, but there are a couple of things that grabbed my attention. The first line of the Epithet reads "in this temple." Columbia Encyclopedia defines temple as follows.
"Temple, edifice or sometimes merely an enclosed area dedicated to the worship of a deity and the enshrinement of holy objects connected with such worship. The temple has been employed in most of the world's religions. Although remains of Egyptian temples of c.2000 B.C. show well-defined architectural forms, it seems likely that temples were hewed in living rock at a still earlier age: the cave temples of Egypt, India, China, and the Mediterranean basin may be viewed as later developments of such primitive shrines."

Since the monument was designed in the Greek Doric style, let's take a look at what the encyclopedia says about this style.

"The Dorian immigration (before 1000 B.C.) was a prelude to the building of Greek temples, at first made of timber and sun-dried brick. The superb stone and marble buildings on a defined floor plan were achieved in the middle of the 6th cent. B.C., although the most perfect examples, like the Parthenon (5th cent. B.C.), came later. The Greek temple customarily stood in a temenos, or sacred enclosure, along with accessory shrines, colonnades, and buildings housing the temple treasures. It was built not as a place for assembled worship but as the dwelling for the deity, whose colossal sculptured representation was placed in the naos, and illuminated by the daylight entering through the tall entrance portal. In larger temples, to support the roof lintels, two interior rows of columns divided the naos into nave and side aisles."

So this would lead you to believe Lincoln is represented as a deity. This can't be, because even though Lincoln was a great man, he was still just a man. But I wonder if there is something else going on here.
I also noticed that Lincoln is sitting on a throne. U.S. Presidents living or dead are not monarchs, they are elected public servants, so I am perplexed as to why one would be represented as a king. To portray one as a king sitting on his throne goes against the ideas this country was founded on, namely that it is a government by and for the people. Our government was created to serve the people, not the other way around.
The ancient Statue of Zeus is listed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It sat inside the Temple of Zeus, and here is what it may have looked like.
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As you can see, Zeus is also sitting on a throne in his temple, and the belief was that he resided in his temple in some form.

So they just copied the Temple of Zeus to construct the Lincoln Memorial right? Probably so, but it is also possible that the likeness of Lincoln on the throne is also a stand-in for Zeus.

If you want to visit the Lincoln Memorial, I encourage you to do so. It is a magnificent tribute to one of the great figures in American history. But as you look around just remember sometimes things have two meanings.


Geoff Elliott said...

There is no doubt that a Greek temple erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln is a bit puzzling. But to call Lincoln a "devout Christian" is not quite accurate.

Lincoln obviously did reference biblical passasges and to God in his various speeches. It's also true that he was never baptized and never officially joined any church. In fact, he rarely attended church services, even during the Civil War.

Entire books have been written debating whether or not Lincoln was a "Christian" in the truest sense of the word. Most Lincoln scholars (and I) believe that Lincoln believed in a higher power and had personal faith. He just did not feel the need to belong to a church and did not hold much belief in organized religion.

For more information about this subject and everything else related to Lincoln, visit:


Ed said...

Perhaps "devout" was too strong a word. I do believe he was a christian mostly due to this quote credited to him

"I don't like to hear cut-and-dried sermons," Mr. Lincoln told sculptor Henry Volk. "No - when I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees!"

To me, this means he enjoyed animated sermons, sermons where the preacher was moved by the spirit of the lord.