An emblematic and highly symbolic event, dedicated to the ‘The Parthenon’s Expatriate Goddesses’, was organised by the Acropolis Museum and the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation on Tuesday 8 March 2022, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, attended by Her Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic, Ms Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
Under the light of the Acropolis, in the exemplary Parthenon Gallery, with leading British art historian Dr Tom Flynn as keynote speaker, a powerful global message was sent on the urgent need to return the Parthenon Marbles, as well as on the need to return to the Values that this Monument symbolises: Democracy, Equality, and Solidarity.
The event culminated in an excerpt from ‘Fragments of Silence’: lyrical narratives and songs performed by Maria Farantouri, set to music by Lena Platonos.
The President of the Acropolis Museum, Professor Dimitris Pantermalis, welcomed the guests to the event, noting that ‘International Women’s Day’ is intertwined with the Parthenon and the Goddess Athena, whom the Athenians chose to honour with the creation of this monument: “The Athenians did not choose Zeus or Poseidon; instead they chose a female Goddess, the Goddess Athena, to use her and project onto her the characteristics of their own society. The Athenians always wanted to be pioneers in civilisation and civilising, and their Goddess is considered to have civilised wild nature, successfully passing on this message into the social life of people, who had until then lived on a different level. The Athenians considered Athena a Goddess of invention, of providing solutions. Athena was the vessel into which all the great properties of this society were placed, and that is why the Athenians constructed for her the buildings of the Acropolis, and especially the Parthenon.”
Subsequently, the President of the Hellenic Republic, Ms Katerina Sakellaropoulou, commenced her inspired speech, by saying: “Athena, Demeter, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hestia. Iris, Amphitrite, Orithyia, the font of Callirhoe. The Amazons and the Lapithides. The Ergastines and the Kanephoroi. Goddesses, demigoddesses, mortals, in seamless coexistence, they reside on the metopes, pediments, friezes of the masterful monument, carved with rare craftsmanship, model examples of natural beauty, humility, power, or grandeur,” and she continued by sending a powerful message for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, a gesture that she characteristically said would mark the potential to overcome “differences that have persisted for centuries”: “Today, with war so near us, threatening life and destroying the peaceful work of people, today, when a new generation of people are starting off on a path as refugees, we look upon the masterpieces of ancient Greek civilisation with even more emotion and respect for the values they convey. And if we seek the return of our lost sculptures to the land in which they were created, it is because such a gesture would bear great symbolism: the reunification of an amputated monument of world cultural heritage does not merely signify the redress of an historic injustice; it also signifies the potential to overcome, on a global level, differences that have persisted for centuries.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was represented at the event by Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Ms Maria Syrengela, who stressed, in her address: “Looking towards the future, we are working to offer women and girls the position they are entitled to and deserve. So, in speaking today regarding the position women are entitled to and deserve, I believe that all the people here today would agree that it is our duty to fight for the ‘right’, if you will, of the Gods of the Parthenon. So that Demeter, Persephone, Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena, as well as the other sculptures, can take a step closer to home, Greece. Let us give voice to these Goddesses who have a name and an identity, who have a history, a memory, and a homeland. And I will close by saying this: The struggle for women’s rights is hard, but it is not impossible, and above all else, it is not negotiable.”
A powerful message on the empowerment of the role of women was sent by the First Lady of Cyprus, Mrs Andri Anastasiades: “This is not a day for complacency. It is a day to remember our obligation for a more just and equitable society towards all women, without exception: working women, mothers, single parents, immigrants, asylum seekers, women living in poverty, conditions of abuse, deprivation, and violation of their rights.
It is a day dedicated to women who excel, women who innovate, and even more so to women who struggle unseen, with no means and facing great obstacles, to survive, and who are examples and a source of inspiration for us all.
It is our obligation to provide women with hope for a better tomorrow, and this can only be achieved through the provision of truly equal opportunities of access to all sectors of life, without exception: education, work, health, justice, power.”
An address was sent in writing by the Minister of Culture and Sports, Mrs Lina Mendoni: “Violence and the imposition of power continues to this day to govern the relationships between races, peoples, and cultures. The ‘lost goddesses of the Parthenon’, two centuries after they were violently taken, are still far from their home, as the historical and cultural wound that marked their fate remains open. At the same time, through our television screens we bear witness to women leaving their homeland once more, a violent displacement of mothers and children, due to the barbarity of a new war that is taking place in Europe.
At this critical moment, a moment at which many of the political, social, and cultural achievements that we considered a given are once again disputed and under threat, firm and uncompromising dedication to the principles of Democracy and Humanitarianism, as well as to the fundamental cultural values and constants, is necessary, as they are the links that connect us and constitute our common identity. So that all wounds may quickly be healed and all women, goddesses and mortals, return, at last, to their homes.”
UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mrs Marianna V. Vardinoyannis spoke of a thread of history that connects the fates of women over the centuries, once again making special mention of the women being so harshly tested by armed conflict and violent uprooting from their homelands: “This year’s International Women’s Day finds the planet faced with a violent conflict, and we are all watching the dramatic moments of the innocent victims of a war with untold sorrow and deep pain. Among those victims, thousands of women. Mothers, daughters, wives, mourning the loss of their loved ones taken away from them by war. They have been uprooted in the search for safety far from violence and destruction, seeking their return home and to their own beloved homeland. Tonight’s event is dedicated to the ‘The Parthenon’s Expatriate Goddesses’. Women created through the embraceof Attica’s land, created as though from a divine hand. When you look upon them, you can almost hear them breathing. Goddesses and deities, heroes and mortals, all symbols of women’s central role in human societies over the centuries. Held captive in the four walls of a Museum, thousands of kilometres from their homeland, they are patiently waiting for the day when they will look upon Greek light once more. I feel that the thread that uninterruptedly connects history and the fate of people over the centuries, today connects every woman struggling, anywhere on the Earth, to create a better, more just, more peaceful, and more democratic world for her children, for the generations to come.”
The Director General of the Acropolis Museum, Professor Nikolaos Stambolidis, spoke of the expression of the central presence of Women through ancient Greek civilization: “Nature is a Woman. She may have gifted men with muscular strength, but she gave women resilience. And something more: She trusted them to bear new life within them. In a civilization such as that of ancient Greece, it was natural for the balance between the two sexes to find its expression throughout the masterful sculpted decoration of the Parthenon, the World Heritage monument and symbol. Ancient goddesses, female entities with a name and an identity, shaped in imagination, faith, and the beliefs of a people that personifies everything centred around humanity, carved from marble, by hands that melded spirit with matter, Athena, Demeter, Iris, Artemis, Aphrodite, Dione, Hestia, violently removed, amputated, faces that are not comfortable anywhere except under the sun of Attica, far from their birthplace, waiting, longing for their homeland, the expatriates… Marble women, goddesses and mortals, who were respected by the ravages of time, but which war and violence amputated, dragging them off as prisoners, spoils, to foreign lands. Over the centuries, many women have been driven far from their homelands, forced by need, danger, political and social or religious persecution. Some, ‘phantoms and fabrics, luxury and lips, buried and the curtains of pain spread wide open to reveal’, as the poet says, moved forward, leaving their scent on history.”
These addresses were followed by the Keynote Speech titled ‘The Parthenon’s Expatriate Goddesses’, by Art Historian and co-founder of Flynn & Giovani Art Provenance Research, Dr Tom Flynn, who stressed that there could be no moment more opportune for the return of the Parthenon Marbles by the British Museum to the Acropolis Museum: “The frieze is one of the most ancient and most binding narrative works in the history of art, a history that echoes in Athens and among its citizens. It is one thing to remove half the history from the building itself, and it is something different to completely remove it from its initial meaning and its original context. That is why the concept of reunification at this particular moment is relevant.
We are currently bearing witness to a connection in history. A moment of potentially deep-rooted and ongoing division in Europe. Countries from all over the world and from the entire political spectrum have united to stand against a dangerous expression of fascism and a deadly threat to democracy. What is unfolding in Ukraine is, to borrow a phrase from Thomas Paine, ‘the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies’.
By now you may have perhaps guessed how I will be concluding this short speech. The need for unity among the nations is currently more urgent than at any moment since the Second World War. Unity can be expressed as it was recently, through diplomacy and vocal opposition to agents of oppression and division. After the invasion of Ukraine, unity was also expressed in the cultural sector, where international organisations, whose activities usually bring people together, chose to almost unanimously exclude Russia from major events. But now that we have this beautiful Museum with the specially designed Parthenon Gallery, there is surely no time more suitable to return the pieces from London to Athens. What a deeply symbolic gesture it would be to unify a group of artefacts that were until now a source of conflict and division. Would such a gesture not echo around the world?”
PRESENTATION OF ‘FRAGMENTS OF SILENCE’
The event closed with the incredible performance by Maria Farantouri, who entranced the audience with her voice, performing ‘Fragments of Silence’, which was presented for the first time.
It consists of lyrical narrations and songs based on works – unknown until now – by women poets of the ancient world, translated into modern Greek by Thanos Tsaknakis. Lena Platonos composed the music, Maria Farantouri performed, and actress Maria Skoula was the narrator.
The premier of ‘Fragments of Silence’ in its complete form will take place on 13 July 2022 in Elefsina, produced by ELEUSIS 2023 European Capital of Culture, under the artistic direction of Michail Marmarinos.
The event was moderated by actress Katerina Didaskalou.