Tag Archives: Parthenon

George Clooney is in Bed With Me

The Parthenon in Athens, Greece
The Parthenon in Athens, Greece
George Clooney
George Clooney from Wikipedia, Photographer: Nicolas Genin from Paris, France

George Clooney agrees that Britain should do the right thing and return the statues stolen by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon in Athens. Clooney, joined by Matt Damon and Bill Murray made this statement to the London Paper The Guardian while promoting his film The Monument Men, which is about rescuing art and artifacts.

And now the British Museum is sticking a thumb in the eye of the Greeks with a brand new exhibit on the human body in Greek Art–featuring guess what? The Parthenon statues of course.  Why? Because, as this article in the Guardian points out, the Greek artifacts are a real money maker for the British Museum.  Attendance was up last year by 20%, and the Parthenon art has been one of the major draws for years, even supporting its own audio tour and gift shop. The Guardian, in an article about the new Greek sculpture show said,

…director Neil MacGregor said the exhibition, planned for next spring, would include “key loans”, he refused to say whether the museum will be seeking any of the sculptures from the Parthenon temple thatGreece still holds or any other loans from Greece.

Fat chance!

Ever since I visited the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, I have felt strongly that Great Britain should do the right thing and give back the statues from the Parthenon.

I’ve written frequently about my strong feelings about this looted art, and am so glad to have George Clooney in bed with me…oh, wait a minute….that’s not quite the right phrase, is it?


Parthenon sculpture
Freize from Parthenon in British Museum

Here are the articles at A Traveler’s Library, starting with the very first book I reviewed at A Traveler’s Library.

Loot, a review of a book about collecting antiquities of other countries.

The new Acropolis Museum in Athens, and quotes from an article by Christopher Hitchens.

Lord Byron speaks about the theft from the Acropolis.

A video about the New Acropolis Museum in this post about Greek Week at A Traveler’s Library.

You can get an idea of the strongly felt feelings on the issue from the comments on YouTube about this video (48 minutes). If the whole thing is too long for you, don’t miss actor Steven Fry, starting at just after 12 minutes in.

Traveler Lord Byron Speaks Out about Parthenon Marbles

The Parthenon in Athens, Greece
The Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Destination: Greece

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

Canto XI

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)

Canto XII

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.

Canto XIII

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.

Canto XV

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!

Greek Mythology: Good Reads for Greek Travelers

Destination: Athens, Greece

Book: Mythology by Edith Hamilton

[Note: Unfortunately, the situation has not changed in the ten years since I wrote this article, despite the fact that the Greeks have proven that even through a financial crisis they were able to care for their own ancient artifacts at the beautiful modern museum. ]

All this week we are celebrating the opening of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens next Saturday. The heat is on Britain to return the Parthenon marbles so obviously missing in the new museums’ displays.

It helps, when you travel to Greece, to make the acquaintance of gods and goddesses and their cavorting ways if you hope to understand the classical Greek statuary that adorns the Parthenon (or did adorn it before time and thievery took its toll). A little catechism in the religion of the classical age helps. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, can help.


The basics–Athena was designated the protector of the city named after her, and the Parthenon housed a gigantic statue of Athena, which has long since disappeared.  If you want to get an idea of what that statue was like, travel to  Nashville Tennessee, where they built an exact full-sized replica of the Parthenon for a World’s Fair in 1897.  The building itself is so accurate that the restorers of Athen’s Parthenon flew over to Nashville to check out measurements.

Since Athena’s statue had disappeared so long ago from her Greek temple, the sculptor in Tennessee used written accounts, which might have been a tad bit exaggerated.  Scholar’s have established that the classical Greek statues, far from being the pristine white we are used to, were painted in bright colors and adorned with metal and jewels.  I’m having a hard time coming to terms with that picture, and my impression of Nashville’s Athena, was that she resembled the girl in Walmart with too much make up and gaudy clothes.athenagilded

You can’t help being impressed with the effort, though. Acres of gold leaf substitute for the alleged solid gold in the original.

The Parthenon Frieze

At any rate, every year in classical Athens, as the Great Panathenaea procession wound through Athens and up to the Acropolis where a troupe of virgins clothed the statue in hand-woven robes.  That procession was immortalized on friezes around the temple that were made in the workshop of the superstar sculptor of the day, Pheidias.

The frieze, installed around the inner temple, very high up, could not be seen by ordinary mortals.  Today, a portion of what is left after a few earthquakes and the explosion of gunpowder when the Ottoman Turks were using the temple as an armory, resides in Athens (40%), the British Museum (40%) and scattered around the world (20%).

Phidias’ genius exhibits itself in the rhythmic arrangement of lifelike figures and particularly in finding ways to fit the picture into the sloping ends of the pediment. This becomes very clear with the close up view that is rendered if you are a tourist in Athens at the New Acropolis Museum.

The Mythology

You may not immediately recognize the gods and heroes represented, but if you have done your reading, you will at least be able to nod sagely when a guide points out who is whom.  Edith Hamilton wrote the best guidebook to mythology in 1940. You can find it in newer editions, but you will be hard put to find a better, more readable guide. Hamilton’s book illustrates that the ancient Greeks knew how to tell a darned good story.

If you want something simpler and quicker, do not hesitate to visit the children’s book section in your library or book store. Kid’s books can be great guides for complex subjects like mythology.

Sign a petition to join my favorite cause,  asking the British Museum to return the marbles missing from the New Acropolis Museum. You can search on line and read more about the conflict and the petition at the Elginism site.