The Parthenon Marbles

Figures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, Acropolis Athens. From left to right cat no D Dionysos ,middle E & F Demeter & Persephone, left G Hebe. British Museum London Exhibit

I was recently acquainted with the knowledge that Christopher Hitchens was one of the leading voices in the case of reunifying the Parthenon marbles and as a consequence of which I discovered his book.
Visiting, not long ago, the Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum, I was greatly attracted by the beauty and the elegance of the archaic marble art found at the vicinity of the ancient monument. This attraction led me to pursuing an expansion of my understanding of Phidias’ pedimental sculpture masterpieces, commissioned by the visionary leader Pericles some 2 500 years ago.

The top floor of the Bernard Tschumi designed Acropolis Museum, which is aligned to the Parthenon, is dedicated to the long awaited reunification of the marble figures as most of the relics exhibited are plaster cast replicas of the originals which for the past 200 years are part of an imperialistic trophy exhibition at the British Museum. This, some may say, harsh conclusion I draw from all facts presented by Hitchens in this book which discusses the arguments aroused in Britain about the moral legality of the possession of the sculptures since the return of Thomas Bruce Elgin from Constantinople. The first half of the book is particularly painful – Hitchens reveals in a factual detail the unscrupulous acquisition of the Parthenon marbles by Elgin who, possessed by cupidity, tore off the frieze from the monument and shipped it to Britain. The firman he was issued from the Ottoman authority at the time did not permit him to strip the sculptures and in a later correspondence Elgin himself admits that he had acquired the marbles without authorization. Most heartbreaking is that his intentions for their fate were far from noble, again revealed in another correspondence letter he expresses his desire to use the looted art as a decoration of his house.
Further in the book Hitches presents positions of various British intellectuals of the time expressing their concerns about the hideous act of appropriation of cultural and historical artefacts, especially in times of great vulnerability of the patron state. The author also expresses his strong positions against each of the arguments employed by the British Museum to defend its right of possession of the Parthenon marbles.
Reading Hitchen’s work, one cannot remain impartial to the subject of the Parthenon marbles reunification. The hellenic civilization has been a longtime donor of ideas and artifacts to Western modus operandi. Ideas, being so intangible, travel with the intention to be shared. Artifacts have a meaning only in the context of their original provenance. It is a fair claim to be made in restoring the contextual attributes of the site that had given us the protogenesis of democracy, especially when they have been saved/smuggled out in times of imperial occupation as a spoil for another imperial ambition.

For the sake of humanity and those of us who marvel astonishingly at the works of art should such a unique piece of ancient art remain amputated and torn apart? Others don’t think so. As a friendly act of generosity and solidarity the Vatican has returned the head of a young man from panel No 5 of the Parthenon frieze, the museum at Heildelberg has also returned the foot of a young man playing the lyre on panel No. 8, so has the Salinas museum in Palermo given back the foot of goddess Artemis.
Ancient Greek art is scattered all over the world and the modern Hellenic state has no other claims but to only reunify once again Phidias’ marble assembly, so to revive their brilliance and integrity in their birthplace of Athens where they were conceived, executed and adored. (less)

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“The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen

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I have never felt this way with a book as I did with “The Corrections”!

The claustrophobic genre of family saga is my least favourite, when it comes to book preferences. Additionally, all the characters are so fucked up already that I was instantly repelled by the contagious decadence of their personalities. Last but surely not least, the 600+ pages of this Midwestern family neurosis is suffocating.

Despite all the negativities, “The Corrections” is intelligently crafted novel so if it doesn’t depress the hell out of you, you will keep indulging the misery of the Lamberts as to just further fuel the contempt for them.  Weird, isn’t it?

The rotten relationship in the family starts with the marriage of the parents Alfred and Enid. Him – a stubborn, joyless husband and a hard-working man and her – a love deprived wife and domesticated, yet ambitious, mother of three, dreaming for bourgeois lifestyle.  The children – Gary, Chip and Denise, now all grown-ups, have left the unhappy parental cage for careers in New York and Philly but only to sink deeper in their wretched personal lives.

One last Christmas in the Midwest is the event that will precipitate the catharsis in this despicable family crisis. To get to the point though, the reader is kept in suspense only to endure an enormous portion of the distressing occurrences each character has encountered (Alfred’s turd chase hallucination is a challenge to get through).

The dramatic family dysfunction and rebellion against societal norms is not entirely deemed licentious, as it often happens in great literature, one may grow a little sympathy and hope for some of the characters.  A bizarre redemption is served, especially at the very last sentence of  “The Corrections”.

Submission

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Houellebecq is a true master of refined literature, delicate subjects and penetrating meanings.
Submission is a dystopian novel set in 2022 where the moral and the ideals of academic intellectuals in the Western European society have declined to the level of alienation, indifference and disbelief in idealism. The core of their values has been reduced to pure pragmatism. The lack of faith in concrete or established beliefs and apathy towards on-going political structures creates fertile grounds for religious ideologies to rise to the surface of the political scene. Thus France elects its first muslim president.
Perplexed with this situation and its immediate consequences the protagonist François suddenly wakes up in his misanthropic and meaningless life in search of merits for his own existence. His academic career as a XIX century literature professor and a Huysmans specialist has brought him well deserved success and fame amongst the scholarly circles, however the purpose of his own life has remained uncertain. Perhaps driven by the lack of parental love at earlier age and his failed relationship with his student girlfriend, or just because he is the trademark Houellebecq character with limited social contacts and communication, isolated in his own capsule, François’ only regard is Huysmans’ works and life and their reflections in his own reality.
François’ philosophical journey in understanding the current political adjustments gradually exposes him to a new perspective of sustainable ideology. Supped by the currents in the academic circles he finally submits to the doctrinal conditions imposed by the new president.

Submission is a profound work of discomfort that challenges our modern values of tolerance, acceptance and attachment in a provocative and decadent setting.

‘Zorba The Greek’ by Nikos Kazantzakis

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When I finished the book, I poured myself a glass of Kritiko red wine, baked a handful of chestnuts then remained still and thoughtful at the table. The feeling of separation was tearing my soul. I hardly pulled myself out of the story, I took a deep breath and my fingers started dancing eagerly on the keyboard.

“Zorba The Greek” is one of those novels, where you are present not as a reader but rather as  an interlocutor, a witness, or a contemporary of the events and the people portrayed in it.  Nikos Kazantzakis possesses the craft of enveloping a story around you in a way that feels somehow familiar and ordinary even to a reader who is distant to the culture flowing from the arid hills of the island of Crete. Many, once they have completed the reading, feel the urge to meet Zorba, to have a bite of his witticism, to immerse, for a moment, into the unbridled impulse that fills up his life, to enter the abyss of the Cretan story. Zorba is not just a charismatic and soft-spoken wanderer who roams throughout the pages igniting and burning the established dogmas, he is the meaning of life – the question or the answer of it, the God and the demon, the existence and death. The same philosophical path has grasped Kazantzakis when he first met the real Alexis Zorba and provoked by his ingenuous conception of life the novel was conceived.

“Zorba The Greek” it is not an ethnographic book of the Greeks, nor praise of the Greek ethos, rather it is a manifestation of freedom and contentedness beyond the moral boundaries imposed by the society.

To me, “Zorba The Greek” was just the beginning of what later became to be a great Kazantzakis passion. As an ordinary reader I haven’t been as much devoted to any other author as I am to Kazantzakis. I have read and compared his works in different languages and struggled greatly with the English translation as I find it the least precise and accurate to the original. The good news for the anglophone reader is that as of 2014 there is finally a new translation of “Zorba The Greek” and some other works of Kazantzakis by professor Peter Bien who has devoted a large part of his life to the Greek writer and philosopher. I strongly urge you to look for Mr. Bien’s translations because in Kazantzakis’ prose every single nuance matters.

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