Read: Childe Harold, Canto II, XI-XIII and XV By Lord Byron
I want to close this series on Greece with part of a poem by the biggest Grecophile of all, George Gordon, Lord Byron, who left England to travel widely. His poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage starts with a preface that quotes Fougeret de Monbron, “The universe is a sort of book, whose first page one has read when one has seen only one’s own country.”
Byron lived for a time in Greece and help them in their war of Independence against the Ottoman Turks. You will find a Lord Byron Hotel in the Plaka below the Parthenon, on a street that he probably traveled. You will find roads and tavernas and everything you can imagine named for Lord Byron in Greece. The Greeks remember their heroes.
The British Museum supporters are horrified at the thought that people will see the return of the Parthenon marbles as some kind of acknowledgement that they are a national symbol. That is why they pound away on their point that they are now exhibited in a museum that shows bits and pieces of many civilizations so that people can understand the whole. The Greek argument hinges on showing the carvings in situ–or as close to situ as possible, since modern air pollution makes exposure in the air impractical. These two antithetical points of view go beyond politics.
The awesome new museum in Athens, with its skewed top floor paralleling the Parthenon and its glass walls that allow people to look at the marbles and the original site all at once, make a moving argument for return that has nothing to do with nationalism.
Childe Harold by Byron
But who, of all the plunders of yon fane
On high, where Pallas linger’d, loth to flee
The latest relic of her ancient reign;
The last, the worst, dull spoiler, who was he?
Blush, Caledonia! such thy son could be!
England! I joy no child he was of thine:
Thy free-born men should spare what once was free;
Yet they could violate each saddening shrine,
And bear these altars o’er the long-reluctant brine. (Poem continues on next page)
But most the modern Pict’s ignoble boast,
To rive what Goth, and Turk, and Time hath spared:
Cold as the crags upon his native coast,
His mind as barren and his heart as hard,
Is he whose head conceived, whose hand prepared,
Aught to displace Athena’s poor remains:
Her sons too weak the sacred shrine to guard,
Yet felt some portion of their mother’s pains,
And never knew, till then, the weight of Despot’s chains.
What! shall it e’er be said by British tongue,
Albion was happy in Athena’s tears?
Though in thy name the slaves her bosom wrung,
Tell not the deed to blushing Europe’s ears;
The ocean queen, the free Britannia, bears
The last poor plunder from a bleeding land:
Yes, she, whose gen’rous aid her name endears,
Tore down those remnants with a harpy’s hand,
Which envious Eld forbore, and tyrants left to stand.
Cold is the heart, fair Greece, that looks on thee,
Nor feels as lovers o’er the dust they loved;
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behov’d
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatch’d thy shrinking Gods to northern climes abhorr’d!