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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail