Only 12 hours after arriving in Greece, I found myself hiking up to the Acropolis with the other apprentices. On our way up, we had to pause for a short military procession to pass through. The sweltering heat and steep stairs were undoubtedly worth it once we reached the top; all of Athens stretched out in panoramic views, white and copper-colored buildings in close sight while the mountains towered in the distance. We discussed how the Greeks were interested in the merging of the divine and the human, and the desire that Pericles held to not only create a symbol of power but to explore their relationship to the gods.
In the Parthenon, a gold and ivory sculpture of Athena (made by Pheidias) once towered at 13 meters. Although the sculpture was lost, and the Parthenon undergoing reconstruction when we viewed it, it was not difficult to imagine the grandeur. Even with said construction, the Parthenon was completely awe-inducing; however, one of my favorite parts was a bit further down the mountain–the Theater of Dionysus. Once sitting up to 17,000 people, the theater now has only a fraction of the original seats intact, yet the history it holds is palpable. After first hearing about the theater two years ago as a freshman at NYU, it seemed implausible to me that I could be standing in a place that influenced theatre so heavily.
We also explored the Acropolis Museum where John taught us about Greek contributions to artistic realism and the representation of the human form. We viewed this progression of realism in sculpture and witnessed how the Greeks perfected the “archaic smile” and musculature that is now commonplace in modern sculpture. John pointed out such interesting features in all of the sculptures, such as the evolution of the sculpting of belly buttons, that I would never have noticed before. After the Greeks mastered the human form, many artists advanced further onto the sculpting of clothing, creating folds of fabric out of stone. As someone who is not at all gifted in the visual arts, I found it incredibly impressive.
Although I enjoyed the museum, I was saddened to learn that many Greek artifacts had been stolen and were now in various museums around Europe, including in Great Britain and in France. The British government justified keeping the artifacts by claiming that Athens did not possess a museum fine enough to house the artifacts. Greece has since built the Acropolis Museum (which is gorgeous), but Great Britain still refuses to hand over the stolen artifacts. As a person of Indigenous American descent, the stealing of significant cultural or historical pieces is too familiar to me. I hope the Greeks get their artifacts back soon, but even with some pieces missing, the Acropolis was an unforgettable experience.