The West frieze depicts the preparation for the Panathenaic procession of the horsemen in the Kerameikos. Blocks with quiet scenes are interposed with those bearing scenes of action. The clothing of the horsemen is greatly varied, interpreted by some scholars as representative of the 10 or 4 tribes of Attica. Weapons and the horses’ bridle attachments were applied in bronze.
The block is in the British Museum. It is, in fact, the end or narrow side of block n ΧLVII of the north side. A marshal is depicted standing frontally, his head turned toward the right (proper left). His weight is on his right leg, his left is free. Except for the upper right side, his body is concealed in his himation. His left arm is bent, his hand resting on his hip, and in his raised right hand he held a staff, once shown in paint. The sculptor of this block appears not to be one of those who carved the other sculptured surfaces of the west frieze, so notable for their skillful workmanship. It must have been hastily carved some time later, when they were preparing the blocks of the north frieze.
The block was removed by Elgin and is today in the British Museum. The theme represented is that of two young horsemen galloping their horses, one behind the other, toward the left. The second horse overlaps the first only slightly. The first rider at the left is the only nude horseman and he has long hair that blows out behind him with the speed of the horse. Fastened at his neck with a brooch is his chlamys, which blows out behind him in a beautiful sequence of folds. With his right hand he holds the reins and he turns back so that his body is almost frontal and his head turned even more toward the figure behind him. His left arm is raised in a gesture not entirely clear, perhaps to adjust the stephane on his head, perhaps to give a signal to the next horseman. The youth on block N XLVII makes a similar gesture. The second horseman wears a modelled cuirass over a short chiton, just as do the figures onblock IV and block X, and he is shod in boots.
The scene is reminiscent of a corresponding one on block XII with the horse in the middle and three figures placed around it, so as to interrupt the forward movement of the procession. A horse, facing left, stands quietly between his rider and the servant who stands facing left, nude and with his legs crossed. He is discussing something with the bearded overseer who stands beside the horse, on his invisible proper right side. The overseer is depicted frontally with head turned back to the right. His right arm is stretched out to the left and he too is either grasping the bridle as does the rider with his left hand or else he is giving a command. He wears a himation which is wrapped around the lower part of his body and left forearm.
The rider is depicted frontally, his weight leg the left, his right leg free, and he wears a chlamys and petasos which hang behind him. His head is turned toward the left in a direction opposite to that of his raised arms with which he is either trying to place a band on his horse’s head or to arrange the horse’s bridle. His pose is like that of the figures of block V, block XII and block XVI. H. von Heintze connects the scene with the «passing muster» (dokimasia) , the testing of both horse and rider’s capability. The rendering of the musculature of the bodies of the figures is a marvel; so too that of the proud horse, whose hind legs bespeak a certain nervousness.
The second horseman resembles the rider on block VI except that he is clad differently, in short chiton. He is one of the few horsemen with both legs depicted (see rider on block XI), one on the visible, one on the invisible side of the horse’s belly. Ahead of him is another young horseman, nude with chlamys, in frontal stance, his head turned back to the right (proper left), his right leg carrying his weight, his left leg free to the side. He stands beside his horse, holding in his right hand the reins and in his left a strigil which was applied in metal.
In an effort to break the monotony of lines of galloping horses, this block virtually repeats the theme of block XV. Thus a chlamys-clad youth, turned to face the on-coming procession, stoops to fasten the sandal on his left foot, which he rests on a large stone. The only real difference is that this figure wears a helmet. Behind him to the left, his horse in a gallop, is a horseman wearing a cuirass (thorax) tied with thongs through loops attached to lion- shaped fasteners on the the epaulet and chest. He too wears a helmet which, in addition to the central crest will have had a plume attached at the side, as is evidenced by an attachment hole.
Two horsemen mounted, their horses side by side with the left-hand rider’s horse on a lower relief-level and slightly ahead, half concealed by the figure to the right. Over the short chiton worn by each, the first rider wears a chlamys, the second is wrapped in an animal skin that billows out behind him. They have the same restrained stance and they look in the same direction, toward the goal. Striking is the difference in the horses’ manes with irregular tufts on the left-hand horse and a well-combed mane on the horse to the right.
This block is of rare artistry for its daring, unique and unified, closed composition. Depicted is a cavalry commander (hipparchos) trying to control his runaway horse. He has placed his foot firmly against a rock. On his head he wears a fox-skin cap and he is clad in exomis with full over-fold, His chlamys blows out behind him in the force of action. His face, lost at some undetermined time, is preserved in a cast. His expression is particularly determined and he has a short beard. The block differs from the others in its inventive composition, the especially realistic rendering of the anatomy of the horse with veins dilated, and the richly billowing folds of the wind-blown chlamys, all bespeaking the skillful hand of a creative master. Thus many scholars have attributed this piece to Pheidias himself. Those who see mythological representations in the frieze identify this figure as the mythical hero or king, Theseus, who introduced the «synoecism» of the scattered demes of Attica and established the Panathenaic festival. Others identify the bearded figure and the bearded horseman on block IV, who is of the same age and similarly clad, as the two cavalry commanders. Still others identify as Thracian allies the two above figures and figure on block X, because of their Thracian garb. It is worth noting that both blocks VIII and IX were situated above the middle intercolumniation of the west end with the join between them precisely in the middle of the west frieze.
Two horsemen are depicted in a variation of the scene on the neighboring block to the right, with the left hand horse pacing and the horse to the right trotting easily. The riders wear short chiton and chlamys. The second rider, capped with a petasos, bends his head, inspecting the reins which he holds in close.
Two horsemen ride horses at full gallop, one next to the other with the second one slightly behind and partly concealing the horse of the first one. The right hand horse in particular is literally flying, with all four hooves in the air. His rider, with short chiton and chlamys floating out behind him, boots and fox-skin cap, holds tight the reins with his left hand, and with his right he pats the horse’s head in a gesture of approval and encouragement. The first horseman, more restrained, holds the reins in both hands, bending his splendid head with curly hair. He is clad in short chiton and anatomical thorax, that is, a cuirass that shows the anatomical divisions of the upper part of the body.
Depicted on this block and on each of the next two, IX & X, are a pair of young horsemen riding their steeds at a gallop. While the theme of the three blocks is the same, the difference in movement of the horses, the poses of the riders and the variety of their garments are of special interest. On this block, the second horseman has short curly hair and wears a short chiton. He bends his head concentrating on his hands with which he reins in tightly his prancing horse. Next to him, slightly to the left, the horse of the first rider is partly hidden by the previous horse. The face of the horseman is unfortunately not preserved. He wears a chlamys, boots and Attic helmet with a crest that flows out behind. He rides his horse with body more erect than the others. He is one of the few horsemen whose other leg is shown in low relief hanging down behind the invisible side of the horse. The manes of the horses likewise are each different.
This is a composition of matchless artistry, comprising three human figures and a single horse. In the middle of the block, beside the horse with full and wavy mane, bending its head down between its forelegs to scratch its muzzle, stands a young man in almost frontal pose. His weight is on the right leg, with his left free to the side in relaxed stance. He wears a short chiton with overfold double belted and chlamys which hangs down his back and is wrapped around his left forearm. His right arm is raised as if he were giving an order of some sort. In his left he holds a rod (riding-crop), the applied ends of which will have been fastened in the holes in his forearm and thigh. The figure has been interpreted by various scholars as a marshal, a herald, or as Hermes and considered to be the archetypal depiction of the god. To the right stands a little servant carrying his master’s himation over his left shoulder and holding an object of some sort, perhaps a strigil, in his right hand. At the left, another youth, with beautifully sculptured anatomy, wearing a chlamys, is represented frontally, his weight on the left leg and the right leg free to the side. He bends his head slightly to his left, examining an object (perhaps a strigil) that he holds with his right hand outstretched above his left.
A horse, evidently that of the horseman on block XIV, begins to rear slightly toward the left. Next to him stands another horseman, clad in chlamys and with a petasos hanging at his back. He holds the reins firmly at the animal’s muzzle in an effort to restrain his horse, who appears to have finally submitted.
Two horsemen, standing on low rocks, try to restrain a horse that has evidently bolted and turned around against the course of the procession. Despite the many breaks and damage, the rendering of tension is clearly extraordinary, with the chiasmos of movement and suspense between the bodies of the horsemen and the horse itself rearing on its hind legs. Blocks XIV and XV are precisely above the last intercolumniation of the opisthonaos, where the viewer sees together scenes of quiet and of action.
A youth clad in chlamys, bends to tie the sandal on his left foot, resting it on a large stone. Behind him on a second level two horses stand quietly, one behind the other facing left. At the left end of the block a horseman is trying to pass a bridle over the first horse’s head. The entire representation bespeaks a gifted artist who has managed to portray with simplicity, yet liveliness, an everyday scene of preparation.
A nude youth is shown standing frontally, in a relaxed pose, slightly turning. His weight is on his left leg, his right free and to the side. He appears to be using his right hand to throw on his chlamys, which hangs over his left shoulder and outstretched arm in rich vertical folds falling to a wavy border. The pose of the figure resembles that of the corner figures on other sides of the frieze, the figure on block s XLVII, the figure on block e I, the figure on block n I and the figure on block w I. In antithesis to the figure at the left end of the west frieze, the quality of workmanship and the artistry of this figure bear witness to a sculptor of outstanding talent among the creators of the west frieze.