How important the goddess Nike was in classical antiquity and Nike's influence
on our culture
today - is the story of the adaption and survival of a unique and powerful archetype. Historically,
the temple dedicated to Nike is situated upon the right bastion of the Propylaea. Visitors to the
Acropolis in Athens walk up the central staircase with the little temple on their right.
Proportionally, the little building was more heavily adorned than any Ionic temple in the history of Greek architecture,
Peter Schultz description and historical commentary is discussed in the section on the Athena NIke Temple (menu above).
Above: Viewed from the Hephaistion: Athena Nike temple on the Acropolis. © photography: John Goodinson.
Nike in the western world and Victorian culture
The goddess Nike is found in every country in the world. In churches, Cathedrals, war memorials, symbols of peace,
graveyards and cemeteries. As honorific statues to mark great achievement in the field of sport and the arts.
She often appears by herself, and frequently those using her image do not have the faintest clue who she is - or of her
classical pedigree from Greek antiquity. Take a walk around any Christian burial ground, cemetery or crematorium and
you will find hundreds of winged angels looking over, perhaps protecting, the dead.
These statues are not put up as the Goddess they probably represent though. Generally they are thought of as nameless
angels, sometimes as a representation of the Virgin Mary, but they all come from Nike.
On the battlefield Nike flew to individual victors, giving succour to power them on. Of all the Gods and Goddesses of the
ancient times Nike is still one of the most used in our society (see left). Victoria, great queen of Britain, is named after
none other than Nike.
It is understood that the Ark of the Covenant, that held the tablets received by Moses from the God of the Jews, was
decorated with carvings of winged angels.
The 'mascot' of the Rolls Royce car had wings; she was beautiful and lithe and she was based on Nike. One of the
most successful sports apparel manufacturers in the world adopted Nike; they have her name and use her shamelessly
to promote their goods. Make no mistake – Nike would love this affirmation of her status as the Goddess of winners,
the association with contests and sport is absolutely part of what she was about.
Another huge movement adopted Nike, maybe unknowingly, but nevertheless the consequences of this adoption are huge.
Christian iconography has used the sculptural form of Nike to represent angels in virtually every sect and path it has taken.
The influence of the Christian faith on Italian renaissance art is indisputable and European sculptors have borrowed the
image of Nike from the 14th century onwards.
So how does a powerful religion square the use of pagan symbols to represent Christian concepts? Of course social
and political manoeuvrings and manipulations come into play, controlling a mass of people and ensuring that they
adhere to the rules devised to keep power where it is already lodged would necessitate a certain amount
of rewriting history.
Nike is the result, or so legend and ancient lore has it, of a union between the great giant Pallas and the infernal
River Styx. Perhaps it is the notion of water flowing that opened the eyes of Greek sculptors when they were
creating her images.
Above: Nike at St Pauls Cathedral London with the heros of the Napoleonic wars.
Nike’s affect on Greek sculpture was phenomenal. For the first time representation of a Goddess dealt in
detail on the body beneath the robes. Called the wet style, this fluid movement is sensual and erotic without
being gross or inappropriately sexual.
Today Nike is omnipresent; she is in literature, on greetings cards, in the stained glass windows of churches.
She is used as company logos, found in paintings and posters - from South America to Africa, Europe to Asia,
wherever you stop and look Nike will be found at all levels of society.
We can say perhaps just a little tongue in cheek, that Nike the goddess gave succour to competitors, libations
to victors and was probably the first erotic pin up girl in western civilization.