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Ownership battles over the marbles removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin have been rumbling into invective, pleading, and counterclaims for two centuries. The emotional temperature around them is high, and steering across the vast past to safe anchor in a brilliant heritage is tricky. The stories around antiquities become distorted by the pull of ownership, and it is these stories that urge Patricia Vigderman into her own exploration of their inspiring legacy in her compelling extended essay, The Real Life of the Parthenon.
Vigderman’s own journey began at the Parthenon, but curiosity edged her further onto the sea between antiquity and the present. She set out to seek the broken temples and amphorae, the mysterious smiles of archaic sculpture, and the finely hammered gold of a funeral wreath among the jumbled streets of modern Athens, the fertile fields of Sicily, the mozzarella buffalo of Paestum. Guided along the way toward the enduring landscapes and fractured history by archeologists, classicists, historians, and artists—and by the desire they inspire—she was caught by ongoing, contemporary local life among the ruins. Gathering present meaning and resonance for the once and future remains of vanished glory, The Real Life of the Parthenon illuminates an important but shadowy element of our common cultural life: the living dynamic between loss and delight.