The Minoan civilization greatly influenced Greek civilization and it is in Greece during the first millennium that the two fundamental values and pillars of modern European societies appeared.
The first is the centrality of man in history. In fact, in the Greek world, man appears freed and able to assume his own destiny, a concept so revolutionary that will be taken up in the eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment.
The second great invention of Greek civilization is, of course, democracy: the people take over the reins of power and govern the state.
Have these values remain on an ideal plane or are they still actually practiced in Europe and, in particular, Greece?
The centrality of man and democracy are timeless values. Even if Greece today knows of the difficulties related to the tragic economic situation, these are expressed in a democratic context. So much so that Greeks went to the polls and now a government of the left rules over the country.
How do you judge the international outcry over the recent excavation of the mound of Amphipolis, which was fabled to contain the remains of Alexander the Great? Does Greece really need a striking discovery to return to being considered the cradle of Western civilization?
Currently, every country is searching for a way to give others the impression of belonging to a long history and tradition. In this sense, the discovery of the tomb of Amphipolis gave birth to an understandable wave of national pride for the Greek people.
But this story also betrays the aspiration of a country in crisis, that it does not always manage to find new hope. We should also acknowledge that the hypothesis – scientifically inadmissible – that the great Macedonian leader is buried at Amphipolis was emphasized by certain newspapers. Greece, after all, has used this discovery to insist that they were glorious pages of its past.
On the Acropolis of Athens there is significant restoration underway. Will the Parthenon, once the job is complete, be an “enhanced” ruined or a reliable reconstruction dictated by ambition – and nostalgic illusion – returning to primitive forms of classical architecture?
The Parthenon is a remarkable monument, a symbol not only of Greece but the whole of Western civilization because the temple, built by the Athenians after the victory over the Persians in 480 BC, expresses the momentum of a liberated city. When they opened the Acropolis monuments, Pericles, the first man in history who dared to turn to the future, spoke these words: “May you tell us, future centuries, we have built the most beautiful and happy city.”
His intention was to convey the dream of beauty and freedom that the Greeks tried to capture in architecture, art and literature. Taking care of the Parthenon, after the terrible injuries suffered over the millennia, means above all to perpetuate this message and not just to approach the purity of the classical world.
The biggest wound inflicted on the Parthenon is the “rape” of the sculptures that decorated – with a strong symbolic position – the Pediment and Metopes of the temple, at the hands of the Earl of Elgin. Since the independence of Greece from the Ottoman Empire, there has been intense controversy over the return of the marbles on display at the British Museum since 1816. What is your position on this?
Elgin, in removing the sculptures from the temple, has massacred it. His act, arbitrary and destructive, is a deep insult to Western civilization. If Britain would restore the Parthenon marbles to the country that gave birth to Phidias, it would be given significant credit in history.
But what if, with the possible return of the so-called “Elgin marbles”, other countries were to reclaim works acquired by major European museums as a result of war or looting? This question was answered in 1982 by Melina Mercouri, the Greek Minister of Culture during the fall of the colonial dictatorship, during a UNESCO meeting held in Mexico City. This was not to call into question looting or plunder as a result of history, but to return to his unit the most representative monument of Western civilization.
I, who have dug under Greece and conducted research for four decades, have a dream.
I hope that one day the stars of the Athens firmament can see the marbles of Phidias return to the Acropolis, in the magnificent museum built to accommodate them.
The debt of history would be paid off a little, and a universal symbol would be returned to the home that gave it to the world.