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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Greeks earnestly preserving their heritage

"Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it." - Christopher Morley

***

"As soon as [the Parthenon] became a ruin, it lost the protection that its status as working church or mosque had provided; and, like most ruins, it became increasingly ruinous. In effect, for more than 100 years there was an open season on the Parthenon’s fabric and remaining sculpture. Locals found it a convenient supply of building stone, they ground its marble down for lime and they broke whole blocks apart to find the lead clamps within. Visitors from abroad had plenty of horror storics to tell. ‘It is to be regretted that so much admirable sculpture as is still extant about this fabric should be all likely to perish ... from ignorant contempt and brutal violence’, lamented Richard Chandler of Magdalen College Oxford, who visited in the 1770s, courtesy of the Society of Dilettanti. ‘Numerous carved stones have disappeared; and tnan lying in the ruinous heaps, moved our indignation at the barbarism daily exercised in defacing them.’ And, 30 years later, Edward Dodwell had yet more specific charges to level. ‘Large masses of Pentelic marble were broken into smaller pieces for the construction of the miserable cottages of the garrison;’ he wrote, ‘while others, and particularly the bas-reliefs, were burnt into lime; for the Turks are said to have preferred for that purpose a sculptured block to a plain one, though the material was the same. Such is the pleasure with which uncivilised ignorance or frantic superstition, destroyed in a moment the works of years, and the admiration of ages.’

Archaeology suggests that the substance of these allegations is broadly true...

Our own modern image of a clean, sanitised Acropolis, with the Parthenon as its centrepiece, a substantial free standing monument, unencumbered by later structures and fiercely protected from interference, makes Elgin’s actions almost unimaginable. (For how could anyone hut a villain have laid a chisel on such a monument ...?) But it was not ‘our’ Parthenon that was at issue. Elgin’s building was a much more ruined affair: it was colonised by a mosque, encroached by a garrison shanty-town and for more than a century had been despoiled by locals and visitors alike; and it was under the control of a now time-expired Ottoman government whose corruption was mixed with, and no doubt mitigated by, inefficiency The one clear fact about Elgin’s interventions is that he did not ransack an ‘archaeological site’ in any sense that we would recognise. He removed, more systematically — indeed more ruthlessly — than any of his predecessors, surviv ing sculptures of a precious remnant of classical antiquity that was standing (just about) in the middle of a rough-and- ready military base. He would certainly have been able to convince himself that the marbles were safer in his hands."

--- The Parthenon / Mary Beard



Parthenon, second half of 18th century (slightly romanticised)
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