FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Euro and the Parthenon

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The atmosphere on the hills of the Acropolis after the Sunday elections has an immemorial flavour, scented with a certain resignation.  Grape vines cascade over the restaurants of Minissikleous street with tempting promise.  The bouzouki players gather with ease and lazy moves to strum a few tunes as the calamari fries and the octopi cook.  Cold white wine in carafes find their way to colorful tables, and silver haired restaurant owners with streaks of mischief gather customers with an almost pimp-like relish.  Stray cats purr and rest in the baking sun and are shooed off in the fear that they might infect the scene.

In the shadow of the sacred rock, where the Goddess Athena was given a sanctuary that would have made delighted any divinity (she did, after all, win that affection over Poseidon), Athenians are indifferent about the political quandary their country finds themselves.  Parties in the relaxed atmosphere of the rocky hill slopes continue to take place with a pleasantness that would resist revolution.

This might be the pleasure before the fall, the ecstasy before the demise – the parties drum into late night Athens with intense conviction; and the cafes remain full near midnight.  Unemployment is stratospherically high amongst the young, but the young are constantly at play.

Doom is elsewhere, and here, the family business is the only thing that matters.  Divorce rates are some of the lowest in Europe; family bonds are firm, though being affected by the economic crisis.  The cushion, however, is a strong one.

From the Acropolis itself, one can glance down to the site which houses the Temple of Olympian Zeus, peeking, as it were, through Hadrian’s Arch.  Had the temple attained the form as envisaged in the 6th century BC, it would have been one of the most astonishing holy sites of antiquity. But, as is the nature of big finance and big projects, in whatever century, that was not to be.  Its ruins were forged, as it were, in real time.  The bill for its construction was never paid, and it was left to the Roman emperor Hadrian to do some rescue work in the 2nd century AD.

Charting a pathway across the Acropolis and the residential site of Plaka, one is struck by both the other worldliness of the Parthenon as it gazes with its Periclean durability, and its astonishing adaptability.  Whatever happens in Brussels, Berlin or Washington, indeed, whatever happens amongst the scrapping politicians in Greece’s parliament, Greece will adapt.  History has given them no choice.

The story of the Parthenon itself might well be an excellent narrative for Greek survival, with or without the euro.  It has survived admiration of Rome, the invasion of the Goths, the crippling efforts of the Crusades and the Ottomans (having served as both a Church and a mosque), a Venetian shell that hit it in 1687 when it was a munitions site, earthquakes, acid rain and, remarkably, the efforts of the British.

Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, remains the most distinguished plunderer of the Acropolis.  Populist Greek politicians will point their tiring fingers in the direction of German banksters who made hay while the financial sun was shining, but Greece’s culture vultures have one clear target in their sights: the Elgin marbles.

Lord Elgin seems to offer a fascinatingly contemporary template for the Greek crisis.  He did, after all, seduce the Ottoman authorities of the period who were only too happy for him to make off with a good percentage of the sculptures of the Parthenon.  Both the Erechtheion and Propylaea were also victims.  The looting was subsequently validated by British parliamentary action in 1816.  State-backed thieving has been a laudable act since Francis Drake’s savaging of the Spaniards, and Lord Elgin was filling rather capacious shoes.

The newly built Acropolis Museum eagerly awaits the return of Elgin’s vandalizing handiwork, a partially empty space that craves to be filled.  In the meantime, the Greek authorities have been happily endeavoring to vandalise the Athenian legacy by undertaking their own restoration projects that had led to the removal of the Temple of Athena Nike.  Culture, it seems, is all too often the pretext for managed destruction and theft.

As the music strumming continues like a faint heartbeat, the sense is that Greece, whose civilizational cradle may have been ransacked, filled and re-plundered at stages of its history, will plod along in the shadow of the grapes.  The soldiers of Syntagma Square will still march with strained ceremonial comedy in pompom shoes.

The euro, if it already has not moved into the stage of inevitable demise and dismantling, is now beyond the Greeks. But every day living, and the Parthenon’s own existence, is not.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently in Athens.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail