By PAT HARTMAN
Christopher Hitchens is a Vanity Fair contributing editor and this month in its pages, he turns the bright beams of a sharp intellect upon a brand-new museum. In Athens, Greece, there is a hill called the Acropolis, and on that hill resides a temple called the Parthenon, which is pretty much in ruins. You knew that. But – and it’s Hitchens asking this question, so pay attention –
Did you appreciate that each column of the Parthenon makes a very slight inward incline, so that if projected upward into space they would eventually steeple themselves together at a symmetrical point in the empyrean?
In his article “The Lovely Stones,” Hitchens explains how the Parthenon was originally built as a civic stimulus package, possibly with the hands-on help of Socrates himself. He traces the Parthenon’s history as a criminally abused piece of architecture, and explains why, philosophically, its conception was unlike that of any other great building, and why the new museum was, in its conception, unlike any other modern museum.
You’ve heard of the so-called Elgin Marbles. Tons of sculptured stone, more than half of the Parthenon’s original decoration, were stripped from the temple around 1800 by Lord Elgin, and removed to England. And if you thought anybody was going to just let that slide, forget it. Greece wants its national treasures back. The famous poet and juvenile delinquent Lord Byron is involved in this story, as a bitter foe of Lord Elgin. He would have loved Hitchens, who deals summarily with all “frivolous and boring objections” the British Museum puts in the way of returning the art.
The new Acropolis Museum, which incorporates nearly 13,000 square feet of glass panels, was designed by Bernard Tschumi. It is an exercise in positive thinking: copies of the missing works are on exhibit as placeholders, until such time as the originals are restored to Greece. As a public shaming tactic, this just might work.
For more on the archaeological dig that preceded the museum’s construction, we consulted The Wall Street Journal for the article “A New Way to See Ancient Athens” by Christine Pirovolakis. She quotes the head of the excavation team who says, “Almost all of the ancient homes that we found in this area contained specially designed rooms where lectures or symposiums took place.” Dig it (little archaeological joke, there) — it was what the upscale ancient Greek family had for a media room!
And what is Kevin Dolgin’s take on the Acropolis? We thought you’d never ask, but you must be 18 or older to view the answer:
Once in Athens, you shouldn’t go to the Acropolis right away. You should make your way towards it, engage in some historical foreplay before the main event.
One of our favorite pieces in Dolgin’s The Third Tower Up From the Road is “Zvouros, the Clawed Guardian of the Acropolis,” and we’ll give you a hint: Zvouros is a cat.