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Author Topic: THE SCOTTISH CURSE - BYRON'S ANGER  (Read 468 times)
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« on: June 21, 2009, 06:42:36 pm »

                                         The Scottish Curse - Byron's Anger

The Parthenon Marbles story is one linked to three Scotsmen - Elgin, Byron and Neil Macgregor, the director of the British Museum.

When Lord Elgin, a Scotsman, was looting the Parthenon sculptures, another Scotsman, Lord Byron was staying at a hostel just below the Parthenon and was horrified when Elgin invited him to see what he was doing to the Parthenon. Byron wrote two angry poems denouncing the sacrilegious mutilation and theft of the ancient Greek masterpieces that adorned the Parthenon. Childe Harolde was the most famous of these poems, while extracts of another one "The Curse of Minerva", a difficult poem, are published below.

Byron did not want the poem published in his lifetime and as a result few know the work.

In the poem Byron speaks to Pallas Athena, the Ancient Greek goddess to whom the Parthenon temple was dedicated. Byron is damning in his description of the Scotsman Elgin and describes how Goddess Athena casts a curse on the Scots, a race the poem alludes to as coming from a barren land where no seed grows and no intellect flourishes - a race which did not respect what even the Goths and Turks had not dared to violate. Byron speaks with scorn of his fellow Scotsmen and makes a point of distinguishing them from the English. In defense of his countrymen Byron tells the vengeful Goddess Pallas Athena, whose temple the Parthenon has been desecrated, that there may be a handful of Scots who are decent men of letters and whose positive acts may save the honour of a damned race. Strong words indeed for his fellow countrymen but words from the heart, words of outrage at the barbaric behaviour of Elgin.

(Glasgow-raised Neil Macgregor,
Director of the British Museum, smiling)

Today another Scot comes into the story - Neil Macgregor, director of the British Museum. A man whose disrespectful behaviour towards the representatives of the Greek people, their culture ministers, and his ill-advised posting of a notice in the British Museum saying that visitors now have the opportunity to see the sculptures at "eye level" (!) and not "high on a building" (!) do not make him a welcome candidate to attend the new Acropolis Museum opening on June 20th 2009.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2009, 06:49:17 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2009, 06:44:26 pm »


(Looted and mutilated Parthenon masterpiece.
Present Location - The British Museum)

Mr Macgregor's qualifications as a custodian of the Parthenon Marbles are worth noting. He has no early connection with Greece since he grew up in a predominantly industrial Glasgow (in an upper income bracket area) at a time when Glasgow  was trying to escape its past as a drab cultural and architectural wasteland, a grey city almost all owned by the Orwellian-like Corporation of Glasgow, a city with a history of  vast tenement estates like Barlinnie and the Gorbals with its infamous Hutchie E blocks, a city struggling to emerge from the social influence of Gorbals culture, fist fights, booze-ups, seven o'clock pub closings, walk up flats with coal cupboards, a city where the most important cultural/social event had been the quasi-religious Rangers-Celtic footbal meeting, a city where one had feared to walk at night in fear of drunken cosh- and bicycle chain-carrying youths, a city whose only international claim to fame  for many years was the exhibit of one (1) painting by Salvador Dali (for this work of art at least there is credible evidence that it was legally purchased), and for entertainment there were espressos and hot dogs at the Stakis coffee houses, dancing on Saturday evenings at the Pally, and for some better healed Glaswegians in the Sixties acceptable nosh at the Malmaison restaurant (the sole French eatery then in the vast city) located in the aptly named Central Hotel. 

Can Neil Macgregor ever feel for the Greek marbles what the natives of Athens who see the splendour of the Parthenon and its exquisitely sculpted form each time they lift up their eyes? Can Mr Macgregor really be expected to know what the looted Marbles mean to those from whose city his fellow countryman Elgin removed a sizable part of Europe's most important monument?
Interestingly Mr Macgregor is described as Saint Neil (!) owing to his religious convictions. He also has legal training which brings his refusal to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece comes into direct conflict with basic legal principles. It is a fact that the Parthenon Marbles were stolen, in other words they were removed without the consent of the owners who are of course the Greeks. Let us look at this from a legal standpoint -

1) God's law - The Commandement - THOU SHALT NOT STEAL

2) British and Greek law - To take for oneself the possessions of a third party, without their consent, is defined as "theft" and is a crime punishable by law

3) To receive and hold items which you know are stolen is receiving of stolen property, a crime punishable by law

4) To remove, sell, purchase or hold for oneself items which are the defining symbols of a nations
culture, history and identity is a crime so abominable that it needs neither God nor Man to define it. It is the ultimate act of cultural barbarity and it is this of which Elgin and the British Museum stand accused of until today.
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« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2009, 06:45:54 pm »

                                          T H E   C U R S E   O F   M I N E R VA*

by George Gordon,
Lord Byron

(composed: 17 March 1811, Athens)

  Slow sinks, more lovely ere his race be run,
  Along Morea’s hills the setting sun;
     Not, as in northern climes, obscurely bright,
     But one unclouded blaze of living light;
  O’er the hush’d deep the yellow beam he throws,
  Gilds the green wave that trembles as it glows;
     On old Aegina’s rock and Hydra’s isle
     The god of gladness shed his parting smile’
  O’er his own regions lingering loves to shine,
  Though there his altars are no more divine.
     Descending fast, the mountain-shadows kiss
     Thy glorious gulf, unconquer’d Salamis!
  Their azure arches through the long expanse
  More deeply purpled, meet his mellowing glance,
     And tenderest tints, along their summits driven,
     Mark his gay course, and own the hues of heaven;
  Till darkly shaded from the land and deep,
  Behind his Delphian rock he sinks to sleep.

  On such an eve his palest beam he cast
  When, Athens! here thy wisest look’d his last,
     How watch’d thy better sons his farewell ray,
     That closed their murder’d sage’s latest day!
  Not yet—not yet—Sol pauses on the hill.
  The precious hour of parting lingers still;
     But sad his light to agonising eyes,
     And dark the mountain’s once delightful dyes;
  Gloom o’er the lovely land he seem’d to pour,
  The land where Phoebus never frown’d before;
     But ere he sunk below Citheron’s head,
     The cup of woe was quaff’d—the spirit fled;
  The soul of him that scorn’d to fear or fly,
  Who lived and died as none can live or die.
     But, lo! from high Hymettus to the plain
     The queen of night asserts her silent reign;
  No murky vapour, herald of the storm,
  Hides her fair face, or girds her glowing form,
     With cornice glimmering as the moonbeams play,
     There the white column greets her grateful ray,
  And bright around, with quivering beams beset,
  her emblem sparkles o’er the minaret:
     The groves of olive scatter’d dark and wide,
     Where meek Cephisus sheds his scanty tide,
  the cypress saddening by the sacred mosque,
  The gleaming turret of the gay kiosk,
     And sad and sombre ’mid the holy calm,
     Near Theseus’ fane, yon solitary palm;
  All, tinged with varied hues, arrest the eye;
  and dull were his that pass’d them heedless by.

  Again the Aegean, heard no more afar,
  Lulls his chafed breast from elemental war;
     Again his waves in milder tints unfold
     Their long expanse of sapphire and of gold,
  Mix’d with the shades of many a distant isle
  That frown, where gentler oceans deigns to smile.

  As thus, within the walls of Pallas’ fane,
  I mark’d the beauties of the land and main,
     Alone, and friendless, on the magic shore,
     Whose arts revive, whose arms avenge no more; **
  Oft as the matchless dome I turn’d to scan,
  Sacred to gods, but not secure from man,
     The past return’d, the present seem’d to cease,
     And Glory knew no clime beyond her Greece!

  Hours roll’d along, and Dian’s orb on high
  Had gain’d the centre of her softest sky;
     And yet unwearied still my footsteps trod
     O’er the vain shrine of many a vanish’d god:
  But chiefly, Pallas! thine, when Hecate’s glare,
  Check’d by thy columns, fell more sadly fair
     O’er the chill marble, where the starling tread
     Thrills the lone heart like echoes from the dead.
  Long had I mused, and treasured every trace
  The wreck of Greece recorded of her race,
     When, lo! A giant form before me strode,
     And Pallas hailed me in her own abode!

  Yes, ’twas Minerva’s self; but ah! how changed,
  Since o’er the Darman field in arms she ranged!
     Not such as erst, by her divine command,
     Her form appeared from Phidias’ plastic hand:
  Gone were the terrors of her awful brow,
  Her idle aegis bore no Gorgon now;
     Her helm was dinted, and the broken lance
     Seem’d weak and shaftless e’en to mortal glance;
  The olive branch, which still she deign’d to clasp,
  Shrunk from her touch, and wither’d in her grasp;
     And, ah! though still the brightest of the sky,
     Celestial tears bedimm’d her large blue eye:
  Round the rent casque her owlet circled slow,
  And mourn’d his mistress with a shriek of woe!

  “Mortal!”—’twas thus she spake—“that blush of shame
  Proclaims thee Briton, once a noble name;
     First of the mighty, foremost of the free,
     Now honour’d less by all, and least by me;
  Chief of thy foes shall Pallas still be found.
  Seek’st thou the cause of loathing?—look around.
     Lo! here, despite of war and wasting fire,
     I saw successive tyrannies expire.
  ’Scaped from the ravage of the Turk and Goth,
  Thy country sends a spoiler worse than both.
     Survey this vacant, violated fane;
     Recount the relics torn that yet remain:
  These Cecrops placed, this Pericles adorn’d,
  That Adrian rear’d when drooping Science mourn’d.
     What more I owe let gratitude attest—
     Know, Alaric and Elgin did the rest.
  That all may learn from whence the plunderer came,
  The insulted wall sustains his hated name:

  For Elgin’s fame thus grateful Pallas pleads,
  Below, his name—above, behold his deeds!
     Be ever hailed with equal honour here
     The Gothic monarch and the Pictish peer:
  arms gave the first his right, the last had none,
  But basely stole what less barbarians won.
     So when the lion quits his fell repast,
     Next prowls the wolf, the filthy jackal last;
  Flesh, limbs, and blood the former make their own,
  The last poor brute securely gnaws the bone.
     Yet still the gods are just, and crimes are cross’d:
     See here what Elgin won, and what he lost!
  Another name with his pollutes my shrine:
  Behold where Dian’s beams disdain to shine!
     Some retribution still might Pallas claim,
     When Venus half avenged Minerva’s shame.”

  She ceased awhile, and thus I dared reply,
  To soothe the vengeance kindling in her eye:
     “Daughter of Jove! in Britain’s injured name,
     A true-born Briton may the deed disclaim.
  Frown not on England; England owns him not:
  Athena, no! thy plunderer was a Scot.
     Ask’st thou the difference? From fair Phyles’ towers
     Survey Bśotia;—Caledonia’s ours.
  And well I know within that bastard land
  Hath Wisdom’s goddess never held command;
     A barren soil, where Nature’s germs, confined
     To stern sterility, can stint the mind;
  Whose thistle well betrays the niggard earth,
  Emblem of all to whom the land gives birth;
     Each genial influence nurtured to resist;
     A land of meanness, sophistry, and mist.
  Each breeze from foggy mount and marshy plain
  Dilutes with drivel every drizzly brain,
     Till, burst at length, each wat’ry head o’er-flows,
     Foul as their soil, and frigid as their snows.
  Then thousand schemes of petulance and pride
  Despatch her scheming children far and wide:
     Some east, some west, some everywhere but north,
     In quest of lawless gain, they issue forth.
  And thus—accursed be the day and year!
     Yet Caledonia claims some native worth,
     As dull Bśotia gave a Pindar birth;
  So may her few, the letter’d and the brave,
  Bound to no clime, and victors of the grave,
     Shake off the sordid dust of such a land,
     And shine like children of a happier strand;
  As once, of yore, in some obnoxious place,
  Ten names (if found) had saved a wretched race.”

  “Mortal!” the blue-eyed maid resumed, “once more
  Bear back my mandate to thy native shore.
     Though fallen, alas! this vengeance yet is mine,
     to turn my counsels far from lands like thine.
  Hear then in silence Pallas’ stern behest;
  Hear and believe, for time will tell the rest.

  “First on the head of him who did this deed
  My curse shall light,—on him and all his seed:
     Without one spark of intellectual fire,
     Be all the sons as senseless as the sire:
  If one with wit the parent brood disgrace,
  Believe him bastard of a brighter race;
     Still with his hireling artists let him prate,
     and Folly’s praise repay for Wisdom’s hate;
  Long of their patron’s gusto let them tell,
  Whose noblest, native gusto is—to sell;
     To sell and make—may shame record the day!—
     The state receiver of his pilfer’d prey.
  Meantime, the flattering, feeble dotard, West,
  Europe’s worst dauber, and poor Britain’s best,
     With palsied hand shall turn each model o’er
     And own himself an infant of fourscore.
  Be all the bruisers cull’d from all St. Giles’,
  That art and nature may compare their styles;
     While brawny brutes in stupid wonder stare,
     And marvel at his lordship’s stone shop there.
  Round the throng’d gate shall sauntering coxcombs creep,
  To lounge and lucubrate, to prate and peep;
     While many a languid maid, with longing sigh,
     On giant statues casts the curious eye;
  The room with transient glance appears to skim
  Yet marks the mighty back and length of limb;
     Mourns o’er the difference of now and then;
     Exclaims ’These Greeks indeed were proper men!’
  Draws slight comparisons of these with those,
  And envies Laďs all her Attic beaux.
     When shall a modern maid have swains like these!
     Alas! Sir Harry is no Hercules!
  And last of all, amidst the gaping crew,
  Some calm spectator, as he takes his view,
     In silent indignation mix’d with grief,
     Admires the plunder, but abhors the thief.
  Oh, loath’d in life, nor pardon’d in the dust,
  May hate pursue his sacrilegious lust!
     Link’d with the fool that fired the Ephesian dome,
     Shall vengeance follow far beyond the tomb,
  And Eratostratus and Elgin shine
  In many a branding page and burning line;
     Alike reserved for aye to stand accursed,
     Perchance the second blacker than the first.

  “So let him stand, through, ages yet unborn,
  Fix’d statue on the pedestal of Scorn’
     Though not for him alone revenge shall wait,
     But fits thy country for her coming fate:
  Hers were the deeds that taught her lawless son
  To do what oft Britannia’s self had done.
     Look to the Baltic—blazing from afar,
     Your old ally yet mourns perfidious war.
  Not to such deed did Pallas lend her aid,
  Or break the compact which herself had made;
     Far from such councils, from the faithless field
     She fled—but left behind her Gorgon shield;
  A fatal gift that turn’d your friends to stone,
  And left lost Albion hated and alone.

  “Look to the East, where Ganges’ swarthy race
  Shall shake your tyrant empire to its base;
     Lo! There Rebellion rears her ghastly head
     And glares the Nemesis of native dead;
  Till Indus rolls a deep purpureal flood
  And claims his long arrear of northern blood.
     So may ye perish! Pallas, when she gave
     Your free-born rights, forbade ye to enslave.

  “Look on your Spain!—she clasps the hand she hates,
  But boldly clasps, and thrusts you from her gates.
     But Lusitania, kind and dear ally,
     Can spare a few to fight, and sometimes fly,
  Oh glorious field! by Famine fiercely won,
  The Gaul retires for once, and all is done!
     But when did Pallas teach, that one retreat
     Retrieved three long olympiads of defeat?

  “Look last at home—ye love not to look there;
  On the grim smile of comfortless despair:
     Your city saddens: loud though Revel howls,
     Here Famine faints, and yonder Rapine prowls.
  See all alike of more or less bereft;
  No misers tremble when there’s nothing left.
     ‘Blest paper credit;’ who shall dare to sing?
     It clogs like lead Corruption’s weary wing.
  Yet Pallas pluck’d each premier by the ear,
  Who gods and men alike disdain’d to hear;
     But one, repentant o’er a bankrupt state,
     On Pallas calls,—but calls, alas! Too late:
  Then raves for...; to that Mentor bends,
  Though he and Pallas never yet were friends.
     Him senates hear, whom never yet they heard,
     Contemptuous once, and now no less absurd.
  So, once of yore, each reasonable frog
  Swore faith and fealty to his sovereign ‘log.’
     Thus hailed your rulers their patrician clod,
     As Egypt chose an onion for a god.

  “Now fare ye well! enjoy your little hour;
  Go, grasp the shadow of your vanish’d power;
     Gloss o’er the failure of each fondest scheme;
     Your strength a name, your bloated wealth a cream.
  Gone is that gold, the marvel of mankind,
  And pirates barter all that’s left behind.
     No more the hirelings, purchased near and far,
     Crowd to the ranks of mercenary war.
  The idle merchant on the useless quay
  Droops o’er the bales no bark may bear away;
     Or back returning, sees rejected stores
     Rot piecemeal on his own encumber’d shores:
  The starved mechanic breaks his rusting loom,
  And desperate mans him ’gainst the coming doom.
     Then in the senate of your sinking state
     Show me the man whose counsels may have weight.
  Vain is each voice where tones could once command;
  E’en factions cease to charm a factious land:
     Yet jarring sects convulse a sister isle,
     And light with maddening hands the mutual pile.

  “’Tis done, ’tis past, since Pallas warns in vain;
  The Furies seize her abdicated reign:
     Wide o’er the ream they wave their kindling brands,
     And wring her vitals with their fiery hands.
  But one convulsive struggle still remains,
  And Gaul shall weep ere Albion wear her chains.
     The banner’d pomp of war, the glittering files,
     O’er whose gay trappings stern Bellona smiles;
  The brazen trump, the spirit-stirring drum,
  That bid the foe defiance ere they come;
     The hero bounding at his country’s call,
     The glorious death that consecrates his fall,
  Swell the young heart with visionary charms,
  And bid it antedate the joys of arms.
     But know, a lesson you may yet be taught,
     With death alone are laurels cheaply bought:
  Not in the conflict Havoc seeks delight,
  His day of mercy is the day of fight.
     But when the field is fought, the battle won,
     Though drench’d with gore, his woes are but begun:
  His deeper deeds as yet ye know by name;
  The slaughter’d peasant and the ravish’d dame,
     The rifled mansion and the foe-reap’d field,
     Ill suit with souls at home, untaught to yield.
  Say with what eye along the distant down
  Would flying burghers mark the blazing town?
     How view the column of ascending flames
     Shake his red shadow o’er the startled Thames?
  Nay, frown not, Albion! for the torch was thine
  That lit such pyres from Tagus to the Rhine:
     Now should they burst on thy devoted coast,
     Go, ask they bosom who deserves them most.
  The law of heaven and earth is life for life,
  And she who raised, in vain regrets, the strife.”

* (Poem was a Satire about the "Elgin Marbles," the
antiquities taken from the Acropolis in Athens
and shipped to England during that time.
Although Byron never intended to publish this poem,
a copy was stolen from him and printed without his approval)

** (line amended from original:  Whose arts and arms but live in poets’ lore;
as Byron requested the following year, although it was not done.)
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