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Lord Elgin wrote: “The slightest object from the Acropolis is a jewel”.On September 1802 Elgin overloaded his undermanned ship with his spoils in the harbour of Piraeus and while he was homeward bound, the goddess retribution for evil deeds of the ancient Greek mythology, Nemesis, intervened and took revenge by punishing the modern robber. It took the skilled divers from Rhodes and Κalymnos two years to recover what could be recovered from the wreck…
Elgin’s Scottishness is therefore stressed, but Byron, being conscious of his own Scottish origin from his mother, of course he did not want to be included in his own condemnation.
He invented a solution: Just as Beotia had an exception and produced the great poet Pindar, so there was some hope for a few Scotsmen, “the letter’d and the brave”, provided they were prepared to do away with the mist and the fog of their native land.
It is estimated that Elgin shipped to England at least 253 pieces of marbles, vases and coins at two different times.
Of the catastrophe caused on the Acropolis we get a glimpse from an account written by the Italian architect Lusieri, who was employed by Elgin.
After the poets reply, which was an apology in itself, Minerva bids him to carry her curse home to his native shore. Elgin’s deed is so terrible that it is not enough that he alone should be punished. The wars which she declared on various nations will soon destroy her.
The pronouncement of Minerva’s curse is severe: Lord Elgin, like Eratostratus, who set fire to the temple of Diana at Ephesus, will be forever hated. In the Baltic and the Peninsula she would be defeated.“I was obliged,” writes Lusieri to Elgin, “to be a little barbarous”.According to an eyewitness, “the fine masses of pentelican marble came clattering down, scattering the white masses with from his mouth and dropped a tear crying: «That is enough!After the battle of the Nile, England came into great favour with Turkey.Lord Elgin asked the Sultan’s permission to ship to England any piece of statue from the occupied territory of Greece.» Lord Elgin’s passion to obtain more and more marbles was not satisfied.A Doric capital was taken from the Propylaea and another from the Parthenon.He remained under a humiliating restraint until the peace of 1814!When Byron came to Greece, one afternoon, he went as a pilgrim to visit the Acropolis of Athens but was shocked at the plight of the Parthenon, the temple of goddess of wisdom Minerva.Such was Byron’s indignation that he composed his most severe satire attacking Elgin’s odious crime, “The Curse of Minerva”. But before that, Byron gives a description of that beautiful experience he had had watching the sunset from the Acropolis: 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 hushed 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 sheds 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, unconquered Salamis!