Sunday 23 February 2020

Plea to Priti Patel to Deport the Parthenon Sculptures

Deport these Unskilled Ancient Athenians Immediately!
It’s rumoured that what are wrongly known as the Elgin Marbles may feature in EU/UK post-Brexit trade deals. More to the point, Priti Patel’s new immigration bill would disqualify almost all the Greeks portrayed on the temples of the Athenian Acropolis from working in Britain.

Patel: Can't Define "Unskilled" 
Given the new determination to deport even long-term resident foreigners from Our Glorious Isles, every Athenian, hero, and divinity may soon find themselves sent packing on dawn flights from Heathrow detention centres.

The professions portrayed on the Parthenon are these: warrior (with a specialism in combat with centaurs), cavalry officer, groom, chariot-driver, cow-herd, porter (mostly female: carrying incense burners, jugs, clothes), priest, being divine, hair-dresser (Iris), bride (Hera), metalworker (Hephaestus), metereologist/cosmic supremo (Zeus).

Walnut Carrying Not A Skill
According to the official Shortage Occupation List, only Hephaestus and Zeus might squeeze in as a Mechanical Engineer (code 2122) or High Integrity Pipe Welder (5215) and Hydrogeologist (2113) respectively.  The poor lonely Caryatid from the Erechtheion, who is carrying a basket of walnuts on her head, would not get a look in.

Nat Haynes reads amongst Pheidias' sculptures
But if we apply some other criteria implicit in the Points-Based eligibility system, even Zeus and Hephaestus would be deported. Although they may have experience of their jobs ‘at appropriate skill level’ (20 points) and certainly have the equivalent of a ‘PhD in subject relevant to the job’ (10 points), they do not speak English, which is mandatory. English was not invented until 1500 years after the Acropolis buildings were completed.

Classical Athens has dominated my week.* Yesterday I was involved in an astonishing feminist rendition of all the women’s voices in my friend Natalie Haynes’ novel A Thousand Ships across three galleries at the British Museum, two of the directors being former PhD students of mine, Magdalena Zira and Helen Eastman.

With Lucy Bilson and Kitty Cooke. Photo by Sarah Poynder
In an unconnected event, just two minutes after the applause died down in the packed Parthenon Gallery, I pointed out that the exquisite sculptures should, in my view, as a member of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, be reunited in Athens with the rest of the Gesamtkunstwerk that is the Parthenon. I was aided by  Marlen Taffarello Godwin from the Committee and two wonderful UCL classics undergraduates, Lucy Bilson and Kitty Cooke.

Calliope: Not Applying to Work in UK
My own role in A Thousand Ships had been Calliope, Muse of Epic, and it occurs to me that she, however, just might be eligible to work in Britain. She certainly has more than a PhD-equivalent in Ancient Greek Literature, having authored much of it herself by inspiring mortal bards. And she clearly speaks English beautifully, having inspired Nat’s eloquent novel.

Duveen Roof Disgrace
But Calliope told me yesterday that she would never consider leaving her gorgeous homeland for the dingy Duveen gallery with its leaking roof. And once Britons have Done the Right Thing, as cogently argued by my fellow KCL Professor and BCRPM member John Tasioulas in the Telegraph this week, and returned the sculptures like the international grown-ups we want to be seen as, she won’t even be missing her abducted compatriots any more.

On Friday I helped my esteemed Exeter colleague Neville Morley by appearing on a panel after a dramatic experiment with the Athenians’ dialogue with the Melians, as reported by Thucydides. The show brought to stage life in the Diorama Theatre an event just 15 years after the completion of the Parthenon.

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