what scaffolding? on our first full day in athens, we went to the acropolis museum and to the acropolis itself. while my father likes to point out that there are many acropolises in greece (the word comes from the greek akron meaning “summit” and polis meaning “city” and is defined as “a citadel or fortified part of an ancient greek city, typically one built on a hill”), there is probably one picture that jumps to your mind when I say the words the acropolis and there michael is standing within that picture.
after a long climb to the top of the typical hill acropolises are built on, i took many pictures of michael. in each picture, i cropped out a hand or left in a fanny pack all so I could get a more “legitimate” photo of the parthenon. by legitimate, I guess I mean without all of the scaffolding and heavy machinery that is part of the restoration effort and without the many other tourists in the frame.
eventually though, i gave up.
part of the acropolis, in its current incarnation, is the interaction between old and new. the acropolis occupies a liminal space. even without the heavy scaffolding, the work of restoration is still ongoing and visible in the patches of white that hold the ancient marble of the parthenon. this is because the premise for the restoration work being done on the acropolis is anastylosis or as the director of the restoration project describes the work: “we’ve adopted an approach of trying to restore the maximum amount of ancient masonry while applying the minimum amount of new materials.” when new materials are added, they must be made distinguishable from the old material (hence the patches of new white marble within the ancient columns).
i look at these new supports and additions as prosthetics for the parthenon. they exist where it is structurally necessary to keep living history visible for more generations. the word prosthesis comes from the greek “pros” in addition and “tithenai” to place. while the word typically refers to the body (prosthetic arms and legs, prosthetic noses on actors and burn suffers), i consider the parthenon a body of its own: suffering burn wounds in 1687 after an explosion, surviving earthquakes, and wars. the body of the parathenon remains standing, not simply as a testament to ancient history, but as a testament to modern efforts as well. in the contrasting marble, the efforts of ancient grecians are as visible as those of modern archaeologists who labor to keep the body alive (even as the economy forces cuts to their pay).
often, altered bodies in science fiction and movies are portrayed with more than a hint of negativity (think frankenstein’s monster). even googling my disability results in quite a few pictures of scarred limbs in isolation rather than pictures like the one of me on a beech to the right: bare-scarred feet planted in the sand, depicted as part of a living, doing body. but the neat thing about the acropolis and its neighboring acropolis museum is that even when bodies are shown fractured or limbs depicted in isolation, the portrayal feels anything but negative.
when i first entered the top floor of the acropolis museum, where the pieces of the pediments and friezes are held, i was not presented a monstrous sight. instead, it was lit by open windows on every side. i looked at the fragments restored over the last century and saw pieces as small as single elbows displayed atop steel prosthetics and networks of shattered relief panels. the care and concern of the museum technicians was visible in the measured placement of these pieces in relation to one another– i could see the calculations and research that had gone in to each display. the fragments patched back into bodies like pieces of my own bone used in the reconstruction of my ankle.
recently, a friend of mine visiting london park saw a sculpture of the duke of cumberland that was cracking and snapped a picture for me. this deteriorating sculpture wasn’t nearly as old as the acropolis. it wasn’t even one hundred years old. the monument was erected in 2012, made by artist meekyoung shin out of soap that will wash away overtime.
the sculpture has no archaeologists working to show it to future generations. no one is attempting to affix the right prosthetic for its survival and continued display. instead my friend described it as there “to make the viewer think about how things and people degrade over time”–a subject shelley’s ozymandias has reminded poetry students and watchers of breaking bad of for ages:
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.