3D printing puts Zeus back on his throne

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The 3D-printed replica of the Statue of Zeus is made of thermoplastic(Credit: Statasys)

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One of the long-lost Seven Wonders of the World has been resurrected by Stratasys Ltd in partnership with the Millennium Gate Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. They have unveiled a "near-exact" 3D-printed scale plastic replica of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia created by the Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based additive manufacturing company to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games.

As history and crossword buffs know, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia was a giant effigy of the Greek god seated on an elaborately carved cedar throne inlaid with ebony, ivory, gold, and precious stones. It was designed and built in 432 BCE under the direction of the sculptor Phidias, the Athenian artist and architect also responsible for the Parthenon.

Needless to say, the modern recreation differs a bit from the original. Instead of plastic, the first one was made of gold and ivory set over a wooden frame and, instead of 6 ft (183 cm), the original was 43 ft (13 m) tall. The original took 12 years to build and was widely regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World – a list that included the Great Pyramid of Giza (which is the only Wonder still to remain relatively intact), the Colossus of Rhodes and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Line drawing of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia(Credit: The Gate Museum)

According to the Roman author, Suetonius, the mad Roman emperor Caligula gave orders for the statue to be dismantled and moved to Rome, but it "suddenly uttered such a peal of laughter that the scaffolding collapsed and the workmen took to their heels." This was regarded as an omen of Caligula's impending assassination in CE 41.

The fate of the Statue of Zeus is still unclear. It was either carried off to Constantinople, where it was destroyed in the great fire of the Palace of Lausus in CE 475, or it burned down in CE 425 when the temple in Olympia caught fire.

The replica was made by Stratasys in cooperation with the 3D Center at Kennesaw State University (KSU) using a Stratasys Fortus 900mc Production 3D Printer, which the company claims is up to 3x faster than traditional 3D processes and provides a smoother and more realistic final product with more detail. The Fortus 900mc uses Fused Deposition Modeling, which involves depositing molten engineering-grade thermoplastics using a CAD guide. The thermoplastic is supposed to be dimensionally stable and durable, and can hold the paint required to give the replica the necessary ivory and gold finish.

As to the accuracy of the replica, the only contemporary descriptions of the Statue of Zeus are brief ones from travelers and crude images on the back of coins, so the designers had to rely on later line drawings, which tend to be a bit fanciful. However, the Gate Museum sees the replica as having more significance than as a museum exhibit. It also provides a ray of hope in a modern age marked by shocking cultural vandalism by the likes of ISIS and the Taliban.

"Throughout history, there are always instances where the most precious works of art get destroyed or broken. In the past, this disappearance meant items were lost forever. That's why we're so heavily invested in the artistic value of 3D printing," says Jeremy Kobus, Director of the Gate Museum. "Committed to working at the intersection of technology and art, we see the tremendous potential of 3D printing for educational applications. Teaming with Stratasys and KSU's 3D Center, our hope is to deliver creations far too few have even tried to attempt."

The replica Statue of Zeus will be the centerpiece of the Gate Museum's "The Games: Ancient Olympia to Atlanta to Rio" exhibit, which opens on August 20.

The video below shows the construction of the Statue of Zeus replica.

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View gallery - 6 images

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