What are Triglyphs and Metopes? - Definitions

Triglyphs and Metopes

triglyphs and metopes on a Sicilian temple
Greek temple at Agrigento, Sicily

Most Greek temples have a pattern under the pediment known as triglyphs and metopes. The triglyphs alternate with the metopes across the front of the temple. Triglyphs (TRY-gliffs) have three parts, and then in between the triglyphs are the metopes (MET-oh-peas).

sicilian temple metopes
Perseus killing Medusa (in the middle)

Why have triglyphs and metopes at all? They started as a natural part of wooden temples, back in the Dark Ages when people in Greece were building temples out of logs. The triglyphs were the ends of the wooden beams of the roof, and the metopes were the spaces between the beams. When architects began building stone temples, they wanted them to look familiar, so they kept the pattern, even though it had nothing to do with the structure anymore.

Sometimes (as on the temple from Agrigento) the metopes are plain. On other temples, like the one here (also from Sicily), the metopes carry carved mythological scenes. The center metope here shows Perseus killing Medusa.

Parthenon metope
Metope from the Parthenon

On the Parthenon, the carved metopes represent a battle between the Lapiths and the centaurs. The Parthenon's all about the battle between civilization and barbarism, order and chaos, and here the Lapiths (because they're men) represent order and the centaurs (because they're not men) represent chaos. On some of the metopes the Lapiths are winning, and on others the centaurs are winning.

Another metope from the Parthenon

To people in ancient Greece, architecture was an important part of order. Rhythm and mathematics were part of that order, and so they were important parts of civilization. People thought of temples as a kind of visual metaphor for music. In this metaphor, triglyphs and metopes provide a rhythm that steadies the melody of the pediment carvings.

Triglyphs and metopes were common on Doric temples, but on Ionic temples the old metopes were usually replaced with a continuous frieze. The Parthenon is unusual in having both metopes and a frieze.

Learn by doing: Choose a Greek myth to illustrate in metopes with triglyphs between them
More about the Doric order

Bibliography and further reading about Greek architecture:

Ancient Greek Architects at Work, by J. J. Coulton (1982). An interesting look at how Greek architects worked.

Greek Architecture, by A. W. Lawrence, R. A. Tomlinson (5th edition 1996). Might be a bit out of date.

Doric Architecture
Ionic Architecture
Corinthian Architecture
Quatr.us home



Who runs Quatr.us?

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

More about Professor Carr's work on the Portland State University website

Help support Quatr.us!

Quatr.us is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

Today's special find from Amazon:

This is a great kit: mold your own human skeleton, put it together, attach the magnets and stick it to your fridge! Learn what's inside your body.

The Story of Quatr.us:

Quatr.us began in 1995 as a student project funded by Portland State University. For the last fifteen years, Quatr.us (formerly "History for Kids") has been entirely independent of the University, using ads to keep the service free.

Quatr.us now has about 3000 articles, all researched and written inhouse by university professors; we try to add a new article every day. About 30,000 people a day visit Quatr.us (that's about a million people a month!), from every country in the world. Our many awards include the Encyclopedia Britannica's Best of Web 2009.

Science Topics and Donations Biology Physics Weather Geology Mathematics Chemistry Astronomy Donations

Keep in touch with Quatr.us!

Send us an email now and we'll add you to our mailing list - new ideas and projects, announcements of new archaeological and scientific discoveries, seasonal offers and project ideas, and special gifts.

Sign up for Quatr.us' email newsletter

October's history and science ideas for you to take home:

Thanks for visiting Quatr.us! Check out today's Quatr.us current events post