Monday, September 10, 2012

The first few days in Athens

Arrived in Greece on Friday morning after a disappointing flight on Air Canada (what kind of trans-Atlantic flight doesn't have personal entertainment systems these days?), and promptly met another incoming member at baggage claim.  I'm surprised, generally, at how good it feels to be out of Ann Arbor.  After taking the rest of Friday to get unpacked and settled in, I spent the weekend wandering the streets and markets, consumed my first official glasses of frappe, retsina, and Mythos at outdoor cafes, glimpsed the Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hephaistion, Arch of Hadrian, and more, and saw the parade of the evzones guard in front of Parliament, and met more people in the field of Classics than I have in the previous three years combined.

Large parade of guardsmen (with the pompom shoes!) and a military band which we happened to catch on our way to the Acropolis Museum, but only because we got a slow start to the morning and were running half an hour late.

The biggest event, however, was probably our visit to the Acropolis Museum.  I wanted to do something touristy on Sunday to really feel like I was in Athens, and I've wanted to go to the new museum since it opened in 2009.  Having just been to the British Museum in March, where the majority of sculpture from the Parthenon has been since the early 19th century, I was eager to compare the two display types.  (For those unfamiliar with the whole Elgin Marbles controversy... it's a big thing.)  I had heard that the new museum presented a compelling case that the sculptures should be repatriated to Greece, where they could be displayed in sight of the original building.  Being rather of two minds about the ethics on both sides, I was ready to be convinced.
Yet, I found myself... unconvinced, still.  Certainly, in this wonderful new museum with all sorts of marvelous ancient carved stone, the top floor of the building with its white cast impressions of extraordinary sculptural achievement is sadly anticlimactic.  But, I just didn't find the proposed alternative display in Athens to be any better or worse than the way the sculptures are in London.  The Greeks had a chance to really show the argument for context - that the sculpture can only be understood and appreciated in the place it was meant to be, in relation to the building, it had original meaning beyond a work of art, etc - but instead the display is rather similar to the Brits, much more "art historical" (i.e. aesthetic for sake of aesthetics) than "archaeological" (i.e. contextual).
Sculpture from the Parthenon at the new Acropolis Museum in Athens (top, obviously) and the British Museum in London (bottom, somewhat less obviously).

We'll be back to the Acropolis and its museum several more times in the months ahead, and I'm going to continue to evolve in my impressions of the objects and their museum display settings.  But tomorrow, we get to go inside the Hephaistion overlooking the ancient Agora, and that is pretty cool indeed. 


  1. Forget the museums....the Pom-Pom shoes are awesome!

  2. Did you watch the little video they have at the center of the top floor, at the top of the ramp, before going out to walk around the outside? I thought it was pretty disappointing as well, but I'd like to hear your take.

    There's some little gyro stand on Kolonaki which brought tears to my eyes when I ate there. I can't remember the name, but it's near the apartments that they give the people on the agora dig. I'll ask around. You need to have a gyro there for me.