Rose Macaulay on archaeology in Athens
Dame Rose Macaulay was a British novelist who grew up in Italy and always loved the Mediterranean. She won the James Tait Black Memorial prize for ``The Towers of Trebizond,'' a satiric tale of archaeological wanderers. We excerpt from ``Pleasure of Ruins'' (1953), a personal catalog of favorite ruins, with commentary from archaeologists and historians.Skip to next paragraph
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With the expulsion of the Turks in 1833, the era of the archaeologist in Athens began. Excavations, reconstructions, the clearing away of debris and of medieval accretions, the removal of mosque and minaret from the Parthenon and of the Frankish tower from the Propylaea, the establishment of archaeological schools, the digging up of statues and sculptures, the placing of fallen columns where they did or did not belong, the storing of moveable exhibits in museums, the shoring up of unsteady edifices, the discovery of ancient foundations, the repairing of broken friezes and columns, the speculations of rival professors, the new and the abandoned theories, the disputes, the learned volumes written, the Hellenic cruises, the pilgrimages of scholars and tourists eager to breathe the glorious air of Hellas, have made Athens during the past century the very centre of ruin-pleasure. Some possible pleasures were rejected: a German proposal of 1835 to build on the Acropolis a huge castle surrounding a restored Parthenon was not carried out; nor have the temples been painted to look as they looked in the days of their glory. There are those (such as Mr. Osbert Lancaster) who think that the archaeologists have carried their peculiar pleasures too far, deplore the laying bare of the Agora by the pulling down of the old Turkish quarter which covered it, and admire the sound judgment of the Duke of Wellington, who, on being informed that a Roman pavement (Silchester) had been laid bare on his estate, at once ordered it to be covered up again without delay. It is all a question of point of view. There are antiquarians; there are also romantic wanderers such as Chateaubriand, Byron, Goethe and Lamartine, meditating on past glories and transported by the view of the Aegean from the Acropolis; there are cheerful tourists pocketing mementoes and writing their names on temples and being photographed outside the Parthenon. All these classes of traveller have agreed that ``much greater hardships and perils than it can be the lot of any traveller ... to undergo would be at once recompensed and forgotten in arriving at Athens,'' such is the power of majestic ruins over the astonished mind of man. Excerpted from ``Pleasure of Ruins'' by Rose Macaulay. Copyright 1953 Thames & Hudson Ltd., London. Used by permission of the publisher.
`The loose-leaf library'
``The loose-leaf library'' is a Tuesday feature bringing together writings by authors from all ages. They are printed to fit a small loose-leaf notebook for readers who choose to collect them, perhaps along with selections from other sources. Our thanks to Catherine R. Williams of Levittown, N.Y., for requesting something from Rose Macaulay.