Thursday, April 8, 2010


Latin is set to be returned to the school curriculum following an official review.

By Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor
Last Updated: 9:05AM GMT 27 Dec 2008

Ministers believe it is an "important subject" and may help school pupils to learn modern languages.

Fewer than 15 per cent of state schools teach Latin and the number of qualified teachers is falling.

However, the Department for Education is understood to be considering adding Latin to the new Languages diploma, which will run alongside GCSEs and A-levels from next year. Baroness Morgan, the schools minister, has indicated that the Government wishes to see Latin regain its status as an important language. She said it was "an important subject and valuable for supporting pupils' learning of modern languages". She added that the Language Diploma Development Partnership was "considering the place of Latin".

Well-placed sources said that the language was expected to be reinstated as an official curriculum language next year.

Baroness Morgan made the comments in response to calls from another Labour peer, Lord Faulkner of Worcester who said it helped students to learn other languages. "Each year, 35 new Latin teachers are trained but over 60 are leaving the profession,'' he said. "Isn't it time that Latin was reclassified as an official curriculum language and was given the same encouragement as other languages?" Over the past 20 years, the teaching of Latin has rapidly declined in state schools and classicists have predicted that it could disappear altogether in the next decade.

In 1988, 16,023 students were entered for GCSE, with 53 per cent from state schools. However, since 2000 only about 10,000 pupils annually have entered for GCSE Latin, with only 37 per cent from the state sector. Lady Morgan said that the number of younger children studying Latin had already risen sharply over the past decade following Government investment in computer software and other teaching tools. There are only two teacher-training courses in Latin, at Cambridge University and King's College London. Therefore, the number of Latin teachers is falling rapidly as staff retire.

Bob Lister, a lecturer in classics education at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC: "Unless someone at a senior level comes up with serious ways of supporting Latin I fear that within the next generation it will pretty much disappear."

He added: "We don't want to be seen to be dumbing down the classics but for an average school student who doesn't start to learn Latin until they are 13, GCSE Latin is extremely hard work." Meanwhile, peers have also asked to be given access to Latin lessons in the House of Lords. Baroness O'Cathain, a Conservative peer, asked for Latin courses to be added a list of 10 modern languages on offer to peers.

2009 January 25th: SIR MICK JAGGER AND LATIN

From the Sunday Telegraph, January 25 2009
Richard Eden

Sir Mick was looking around Latymer Upper School recently with Gabriel, his 11-year son by Jerry Hall, when he was shown into a classroom where a Latin lesson was taking place. The singer looked at the words on the board and found to his delight that he could understand them.

"He was thrilled that he could read it all," says my man at the school, at which Gabriel may start in September, subject to passing an exam.

The fees for the west London school, which has been fully co-educational since 2004, are £13,470 a year. Sadly for Sir Mick, who is known to keep a close eye on the purse strings, Gabriel is unlikely to qualify for a means-tested scholarship.

Last year, Mandrake disclosed that Alan Rickman, who played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, was paying for a bursary at his alma mater. The actor followed in the footsteps of Hugh Grant and Mel Smith, his fellow Old Latymerians, who already fund bursaries.


Charlotte Higgins blogs in The Guardian

Paul Cartledge, the first ever professor of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge, aims to promote the public understanding of the Greek world

If Mary Beard is Cambridge University's doyenne of ancient Rome, a vigorous promoter of the understanding of Roman culture and history and a brilliant blogger, Paul Cartledge does a similarly effective job for the Hellenes (bar the blogging). The author of many scholarly and extremely approachable books (I recommend The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others, but there are many more), not to mention an adviser on the swords-and-sandals film 300 , Cartledge has just been made the first AG Leventis professor of Greek culture at Cambridge, and yesterday I popped over to hear his inaugural lecture (to be podcast in due course, and published in old-fashioned print). I nearly fell off my chair when I read the bibliography on the lecture handout – among Eagleton T, Leigh Fermor P, Osborne R and Scruton R, sat proudly Higgins C, although as I suspected I was there to provide at least partial evidence for the perpetrating of various "myths" about ancient Greece which he then took care to take apart.

These myths numbered four.

First, that there was any such thing as "ancient Greece". (I am certainly innocent of peddling this one.) Cartledge has been at the forefront of classicists' growing understanding of the cultural diversity of the poleis (city states) of the ancient Greek world, which numbered over 1000, and were dotted over a wide area from Marseille in the west to modern Turkey in the east. Though united (according to Herodotus), by religion and language, they had different customs, political systems and even calendars – and only a handful of them united against the Persian empire in the 480s BC.

Second, that the Greeks were technologically backward (I also plead innocent, but only because I made no claim either way). They may not, according to Cartledge, have had a word for wheelbarrow - but they certainly invented the amazing Antikythera Mechanism, object of much recent research and excitement from classicists and scientists alike.

Third, that the ancient Greeks resemble their Hollywood impersonators (not guilty, or not entirely - I do point out that the Spartans didn't wear leather knickers like they do in 300). Cartledge was fairly uncompromising on this one. Such movies, he said (despite his own involvement in 300) "can be dangerous as well as enjoyable and provocative. They can pander to or influence cultural attempt or hatred." He thought the Iranians were right to see 300's depiction of the Persians as "an example of cultural denigration".

Fourth (probably a bit guilty), that the Greeks invented democracy in anything like the way that we recognise it now. Radical democracy was government by, for, and crucially of, the people, unlike our modern representative democracies. Ancient Athenians would probably have regarded the British and American political systems as oligarchic.

All good stuff, but my favourite part was when he pointed out that the Greek word "borborygmos" has been excluded from the new Ancient Greek-English Lexicon being prepared in Cambridge. Since none of the assembled classicists at last night's lecture seemed prepared to tell me what this word meant, I had to email Prof Cartledge today, who replied that it refers to an "ominous rumbling in the bowels", a precursor, frankly, to a fart. Which proves, ladies and gentlemen, that you learn something new every day, particularly if you happen to make a visit to Cambridge university.

2009 March 8th: GAIL TRIMBLE

This piece was written before the University Challenge final and the shambolic events that overtook the contest.

The Corpus Christi captain has trounced all opposition on University Challenge almost single-handed. Will she do it again in tomorrow's final?

Jeremy Paxman has gazed at her in rapt admiration, awestruck opponents have repeatedly been beaten to the buzzer, and the student blogosphere has turned her into a controversial cult figure. Tomorrow Gail Trimble, captain of the Corpus Christi College, Oxford, team is set to confirm her status as the greatest University Challenge contestant ever.

If form is any guide, when Corpus Christi take on Manchester University in the final, Trimble, 26, will wipe the floor with them, ruthlessly amassing starters-for-10 and cowing the competition with what one contestant described as a form of "intellectual blitzkrieg".

In the Oxford college's run to the final, Trimble has scored more points than her three team-mates combined. In their semi-final, Corpus Christi defeated St John's College, Cambridge, 260-150. Trimble's personal haul was 185. In the quarter-finals, Trimble racked up a record 15 starters-for-10 as Corpus Christi raced to 350 points. Opponents Exeter University limped to 15 points, the equivalent of one correct starter and bonus. It was the lowest score since 1971 and only five points more than the worst of all time.

When Trimble, a Latin literature student from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, finally got a starter-for-10 wrong, interrupting Paxman and costing her team five points, a TV blogger was shocked into posting the exact time of the incident - 16 minutes eight seconds into the semi-final.

Paxman is often left shaking his head in admiration. "My God! You're laughing because they're so easy," he exclaimed on one occasion during the quarter-final.

The eulogies have come thick and fast. She has been called a "TV quiz phenomenon", "the female Stephen Fry", "a one-woman knowledge factory" and someone who has a "breadth of knowledge that has crushed all opposition like a panzer squadron racing across the countryside". Men have been captivated by "hot lips Trimble" and "tasty Trimble", and she has been described as "a fine young lady, beautiful in a scholarly sort of way".

But not everyone has warmed to the Trimble manner. One irate viewer felt compelled to blog: "Not for some time have I been so angry at a complete stranger as I was with this Trimble character. Each answer was met with a smug grin or a cocky smirk. My normally placid girlfriend ended half-poetically seething: 'Not a friend did she own at school', before physically turning her back on the screen so she didn't have to bear this odious little smug specimen."

Speaking to the Observer yesterday, Trimble said: "I've been aware of the attention and the things that are being said. It makes me realise how people see you as a person and how you come across on TV, as opposed to how you have always imagined yourself to be in real life. I don't know quite how some people can get an impression of who you are having only been on a couple of half-hour TV programmes. I don't feel I would have been treated the same way were I a man. Part of it is also to do with the fact that I am the captain, who is always giving the answers."

She is no stranger to success. Educated at Lady Eleanor Holles in Hampton, Middlesex, Trimble won a place at Oxford in 2000 after achieving 11 GCSEs and four A-levels in Latin, Greek, English Literature and Maths - all at grade A. She won a declamation prize at Oxford for Latin recital in 2001, gives recitals in her lunchtimes at college as a soprano singer, lectures on Ovid, Hellenistic poetry and, a favourite of hers, Catullus 64: Ariadne's Lament (a sophisticated miniature epic of Greco-Roman mythology written for a cultural elite in the first century BC).

Stephen Follows, a former University Challenge winner who sang with Trimble in a choir for several years, said she is certainly one of the best contestants to appear on the show.

He said: "People should be celebrating her achievements, not sniping at her. She is an extremely nice, kind person who would be mortified at the thought that anyone would find her condescending. The faces she was pulling in the Exeter match were very English ones of embarrassment over doing too well, rather than triumphalism. They need to get over their own inverted intellectual snobberies."

The 38th University Challenge final should prove her sternest test to date. Manchester won the competition in 2006 and swept away Lincoln College, Oxford, in this year's semi-final by 345-30. Whatever happens, Trimble has fulfilled a lifelong ambition simply by being on the show.

"I always wanted to be on University Challenge, ever since I began watching it with my family when it returned with Jeremy Paxman in 1994. Corpus Christi have had some very strong teams on in recent years, so I was really looking forward to the opportunity to be on.

"I've had a really good time. It's very competitive and that's what is such fun about it. Everyone at Granada made us feel welcome, as did Jeremy. Winning matches meant we travelled back and we were able to meet Jeremy again, so we hoped he would remember us the more he saw us. He did say he was impressed with my performance."


From The Guardian April 16 09

A mouse called Minimus, who was created to encourage Latin lessons in primary schools, has chalked up 100,000 sales of a textbook describing his adventures on Hadrian's Wall. Pupils on the national Primary Latin Project will celebrate the milestone this week at Vindolanda, the wall fort where Minimus lives in the household of the commander, Flavius, his wife and children and a cat called Vibrissa (Latin for Whiskers). The book's author, Barbara Bell, said she was delighted that so many children had found out that "contrary to popular belief, Latin is an extremely useful subject".

Martin Wainwright

2009 April 30th: THE CLASSICS FOR ALL

From The Guardian, April 30 2009
By Charlotte Higgins

The classics and class have always been ­uncomfortably linked. In this country's education system, knowledge of the classics was traditionally the gatekeeper of privilege. If you acquired the classics (even as a humble stonemason's son, like Thomas Hardy you gained a passport to the establishment. Fail (like Hardy's character Jude) and the corridors of power remained out of reach. And, ­ despite a vigorous history of auto­didacts such as one Alfred Williams – born in 1877, he taught himself Latin and Greek by chalking up irregular verbs in his forge – the gate has remained largely shut to the working classes. It is no ­coincidence that the high-watermarks of the British ­empire and British classical learning were more or less coterminous.

Even the words classics and class derive from the same root, a point made by Professor Edith Hall at the ­Classical Association's conference earlier this month. The Latin classis comes from the verb clamare, to call out. A classis is a group of people "summoned together". It is a word associated with Servius Tullius, one of Rome's early kings, who is said to have conducted the first census. The men in the top six classes were classici. By the second century AD, the term came to be used of the most distinguished authors – the scriptores classici.

However, the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. The impulse in the latter half of the 20th century was, instead of broadening access to the study of ancient languages, to slowly strangle it, at least in state education. The result is that Latin and Greek have become more, rather than less, the preserve of independent and public schools, their inevitable poster boy the Eton-and-Balliol man Boris Johnson. With splendid paradox, the government does not recognise Latin – the progenitor of most modern European tongues – as a language as far as the curriculum is concerned. Just 27 PGCE places are available to would-be Latin teachers each year, and a mere eight places in graduate on-the-job training schemes.

But classics won't be killed off. Like that other classical thing close to my heart – music – its demise has been often predicted. But instead of falling on its sword, like a good Roman Stoic, classics has just kept on going. The huge public appetite for knowledge of the ancient world can be seen in the popularity of Roman Mysteries, Caroline Lawrence's brilliant stories for children, or grown-up history such as Tom Holland's Rubicon and Mary Beard's Pompeii.

As the classics professor Richard Seaford pointed out at the Glasgow conference, in 2009 there are more university departments devoted to the subject, more students, more conferences and more productions of Greek plays in the UK than there were 100 years ago. This is not to mention the web, which has transformed access to ancient texts and academic materials. There is even a Roman villa in Second Life, where Latin is spoken. And there are, believe it or not, teachers who tweet students their Latin tests.

Meanwhile, on the frontline in state education, a fierce guerrilla war is being fought by passionate individuals and organisations. The Iris Project is a charity that offers access to Latin to primary-school children in London and Oxford. The Cambridge School Classics Project has found a myriad ways, from video conferencing to e-learning, to support Latin in secondary schools. The Classics Academy teaches Latin and Greek to state-school students in various (but too few) locations in London, fast-tracking them through GCSE and A-level. Many of these last are funded by their schools as part of the government-sponsored Young, Gifted and Talented programme. Evidence from the ground suggests that there is huge demand for these services.

This month Boris Johnson, in his capacity as mayor of London, hosted a round table to examine the provision of Latin in state schools, and to investigate ways of improving it. Three conclusions leaped out. First, the heroic efforts of individuals and small organisations are largely uncoordinated, with no clear path to guide a student from a primary-school love of Minimus the mouse (the hugely popular textbook for younger learners) to A-level. The availability of their work is patchy and atomised; too few children can access it.

Second, there is no substitute for students having face-to-face contact with brilliant teachers who know their gerund from the gerundive. The quota system does not replace all the teachers who leave the profession or retire – and it must be removed.

Third, a more dynamic relationship must be fostered between independent schools' classics departments and local state schools. The private sector's ­expertise must be better shared.

Let us be clear about this. The problem is not about teaching classics in translation. From 1484, when Aesop's Fables rolled off Caxton's printing press, to 1946, when EV Rieu's translation of The Odyssey was published as the first Penguin Classic (and went on to sell 3m copies) there has been no shortage of access to classical texts in English. Twenty or so years ago, the answer to the problem of classics was to teach it in translation: classical studies. Of course not everyone will want to study Latin or Greek (and, in a country where, shamefully, one in four children reach secondary school unable properly to read or write, clearly there will be more pressing priorities for some schools). But the fact remains that denying students the languages themselves denies them the potential to play the game at the highest level. It is a form of inverted elitism.

The history of the study of classics, and of its intertwining with notions of class, is increasingly a subject of academic interest, with Hall and Mary Beard, a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, undertaking particularly interesting work. Their research, and that of others, will ­untangle some of the myths and prejudices that tag along with Latin and Greek. The value of classics today is incalculable, but it is nothing to do with turning out nice Oxbridge chaps to run the civil service. Classics no longer unlocks a world of privilege, but it does give us the keys to an intellectual playground of breathtaking beauty, wonder, and rigour; it gives us the tools to help us understand who we are. It is wrong that so many schoolchildren are denied that opportunity.

2009 June 24th: THE LOVELY STONES

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Lovely Stones, by Christopher Hitchens

The essay below by Christopher Hitchens on the Parthenon, the new Acropolis Museum and the issue of the return to Greece from Britain of the Parthenon Marbles appears in the July issue of Vanity Fair. Hitchens is a long-time critic of Britain's refusal to repatriate the marbles – Hitchens calls Britain's arguments for keeping them in London 'boring' and 'constipated' – and indeed, he has written a book on the subject, The Elgin Marbles: should they be returned to Greece?

The great classicist A. W. Lawrence (illegitimate younger brother of the even more famously illegitimate T.E. 'of Arabia') once remarked of the Parthenon that it is 'the one building in the world which may be assessed as absolutely right'. I was considering this thought the other day as I stood on top of the temple with Maria Ioannidou, the dedicated director of the Acropolis Restoration Service, and watched the workshop that lay below and around me.

Everywhere there were craftsmen and -women, toiling to get the Parthenon and its sister temples ready for viewing by the public this summer. There was the occasional whine of a drill and groan of a crane, but otherwise this was the quietest construction site I have ever seen – or, rather, heard. Putting the rightest, or most right, building to rights means that the workers must use marble from a quarry in the same mountain as the original one, that they must employ old-fashioned chisels to carve, along with traditional brushes and twigs, and that they must study and replicate the ancient Lego-like marble joints with which the master builders of antiquity made it all fit miraculously together.

Don’t let me blast on too long about how absolutely heart-stopping the brilliance of these people was. But did you know, for example, that the Parthenon forms, if viewed from the sky, a perfect equilateral triangle with the Temple of Aphaea, on the island of Aegina, and the Temple of Poseidon, at Cape Sounion? Did you appreciate that each column of the Parthenon makes a very slight inward incline, so that if projected upward into space they would eventually steeple themselves together at a symmetrical point in the empyrean? The 'rightness' is located somewhere between the beauty of science and the science of beauty.

With me on my tour was Nick Papandreou, son and grandson of prime ministers and younger brother of the Socialist opposition leader, who reminded me that the famously fluted columns are made not of single marble shafts but of individually carved and shaped 'drums', many of them still lying around looking to be re-assembled. On his last visit, he found a graffito on the open face of one such. A certain Xanthias, probably from Thrace, had put his name there, not thinking it would ever be seen again once the next drum was joined on. Then it surfaced after nearly 2,500 years, to be briefly glimpsed (by men and women who still speak and write a version of Xanthias’s tongue) before being lost to view once more, this time for good. On the site, a nod of respect went down the years, from one proud Greek worker to another.

The original construction of the Parthenon involved what I call Periclean Keynesianism: the city needed to recover from a long and ill-fought war against Persia and needed also to give full employment (and a morale boost) to the talents of its citizens. Over tremendous conservative opposition, Pericles in or about the year 450 BC pushed through the Athenian Assembly a sort of stimulus package which proposed a labor-intensive reconstruction of what had been lost or damaged in the Second Persian War. As Plutarch phrases it in his Pericles:

'The house-and-home contingent, no whit less than the sailors and sentinels and soldiers, might have a pretext for getting a beneficial share of the public wealth. The materials to be used were stone, bronze, ivory, gold, ebony and cypress-wood; the arts which should elaborate and work up these materials were those of carpenter, molder, bronze-smith, stone-cutter, dyer, veneerer in gold and ivory, painter, embroiderer, embosser, to say nothing of the forwarders and furnishers of the material It came to pass that for every age almost, and every capacity, the city’s great abundance was distributed and shared by such demands.'

When we think of Athens in the fifth century BC, we think chiefly of the theater of Euripides and Sophocles and of philosophy and politics – specifically democratic politics, of the sort that saw Pericles repeatedly re-elected in spite of complaints that he was overspending. And it’s true that Antigone was first performed as the Parthenon was rising, and Medea not all that long after the temple was finished. From drama to philosophy: Socrates himself was also a stonemason and sculptor, and it seems quite possible that he too took part in raising the edifice. So Greece might have something to teach us about the arts of recovery as well. As the author of The Stones of Athens, R. E. Wycherley, puts it:

'In some sense, the Parthenon must have been the work of a committee It was the work of the whole Athenian people, not merely because hundreds of them had a hand in building it, but because the assembly was ultimately responsible, confirmed appointments, and sanctioned and scrutinized the expenditure of every drachma.'

I have visited many of the other great monuments of antiquity, from Luxor and Karnak and the pyramids to Babylon and Great Zimbabwe, and their magnificence is always compromised by the realization that slaves did the heavy lifting and they were erected to show who was boss. The Parthenon is unique because, though ancient Greece did have slavery to some extent, its masterpiece also represents the willing collective work of free people. And it is open to the light and to the air: 'accessible,' if you like, rather than dominating. So that to its rightness you could tentatively add the concept of 'rights', as Periclean Greeks began dimly to formulate them for the first time.

Not that the beauty and symmetry of the Parthenon have not been abused and perverted and mutilated. Five centuries after the birth of Christianity the Parthenon was closed and desolated. It was then 'converted' into a Christian church, before being transformed a thousand years later into a mosque – complete with minaret at the southwest corner – after the Turkish conquest of the Byzantine Empire. Turkish forces also used it for centuries as a garrison and an arsenal, with the tragic result that in 1687, when Christian Venice attacked the Ottoman Turks, a powder magazine was detonated and huge damage inflicted on the structure. Most horrible of all, perhaps, the Acropolis was made to fly a Nazi flag during the German occupation of Athens. I once had the privilege of shaking the hand of Manolis Glezos, the man who climbed up and tore the swastika down, thus giving the signal for a Greek revolt against Hitler.

The damage done by the ages to the building, and by past empires and occupations, cannot all be put right. But there is one desecration and dilapidation that can at least be partially undone. Early in the 19th century, Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, sent a wrecking crew to the Turkish-occupied territory of Greece, where it sawed off approximately half of the adornment of the Parthenon and carried it away. As with all things Greek, there were three elements to this, the most lavish and beautiful sculptural treasury in human history. Under the direction of the artistic genius Phidias, the temple had two massive pediments decorated with the figures of Pallas Athena, Poseidon, and the gods of the sun and the moon. It then had a series of 92 high-relief panels, or metopes, depicting a succession of mythical and historical battles. The most intricate element was the frieze, carved in bas-relief, which showed the gods, humans, and animals that made up the annual Pan-Athens procession: there were 192 equestrian warriors and auxiliaries featured, which happens to be the exact number of the city’s heroes who fell at the Battle of Marathon. Experts differ on precisely what story is being told here, but the frieze was quite clearly carved as a continuous narrative. Except that half the cast of the tale is still in Bloomsbury, in London, having been sold well below cost by Elgin to the British government in 1816 for $2.2 million in today’s currency to pay off his many debts. (His original scheme had been to use the sculptures to decorate Broomhall, his rain-sodden ancestral home in Scotland, in which case they might never have been seen again).

Ever since Lord Byron wrote his excoriating attacks on Elgin’s colonial looting, first in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) and then in The Curse of Minerva (1815), there has been a bitter argument about the legitimacy of the British Museum’s deal. I’ve written a whole book about this controversy and won’t oppress you with all the details, but would just make this one point. If the Mona Lisa had been sawed in two during the Napoleonic Wars and the separated halves had been acquired by different museums in, say, St. Petersburg and Lisbon, would there not be a general wish to see what they might look like if re-united? If you think my analogy is overdrawn, consider this: the body of the goddess Iris is at present in London, while her head is in Athens. The front part of the torso of Poseidon is in London, and the rear part is in Athens. And so on. This is grotesque.

To that essentially aesthetic objection the British establishment has made three replies. The first is, or was, that return of the marbles might set a 'precedent' that would empty the world’s museum collections. The second is that more people can see the marbles in London. The third is that the Greeks have nowhere to put or display them. The first is easily disposed of: the Greeks don’t want anything else returned to them and indeed hope to have more, rather than less, Greek sculpture displayed in other countries. And there is in existence no court or authority to which appeals on precedent can be made. (Anyway, who exactly would be making such an appeal? The Aztecs? The Babylonians? The Hittites? Greece’s case is a one-off – quite individual and unique). As to the second: Melina Mercouri’s husband, the late movie director and screenwriter Jules Dassin, told a British parliamentary committee in 2000 that by the standard of mass viewership the sculptures should all be removed from Athens and London and exhibited in Beijing. After these frivolous and boring objections have been dealt with, we are left with the third and serious one, which is what has brought me back to Athens. Where should the treasures be safeguarded and shown?

It is unfortunately true that the city allowed itself to become very dirty and polluted in the 20th century, and as a result the remaining sculptures and statues on the Parthenon were nastily eroded by 'acid rain'. And it’s also true that the museum built on the Acropolis in the 19th century, a trifling place of a mere 1,450 square meters, was pathetically unsuited to the task of housing or displaying the work of Phidias. But gradually and now impressively, the Greeks have been living up to their responsibilities. Beginning in 1992, the endangered marbles were removed from the temple, given careful cleaning with ultraviolet and infra-red lasers, and placed in a climate-controlled interior. Alas, they can never all be repositioned on the Parthenon itself, because, though the atmospheric pollution is now better controlled, Lord Elgin’s goons succeeded in smashing many of the entablatures that held the sculptures in place. That leaves us with the next-best thing, which turns out to be rather better than one had hoped.

About a thousand feet southeast of the temple, the astonishing new Acropolis Museum will open on June 20. With 10 times the space of the old repository, it will be able to display all the marvels that go with the temples on top of the hill. Most important, it will be able to show, for the first time in centuries, how the Parthenon sculptures looked to the citizens of old.

Arriving excitedly for my preview of the galleries, I was at once able to see what had taken the Greeks so long. As with everywhere else in Athens, if you turn over a spade or unleash a drill you uncover at least one layer of a previous civilization. (Building a metro for the Olympics in 2004 was a protracted if fascinating nightmare for this very reason). The new museum, built to the design of the French-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, has had to be mounted aboveground on 100 huge reinforced-concrete pillars, which allow you to survey the remnants of villas, drains, bathhouses, and mosaics of the recently unearthed neighborhood below. Much of the ground floor is made of glass so that natural light filters down to these excavations and gives the effect of transparency throughout. But don’t look down for too long. Raise your eyes and you will be given an arresting view of the Parthenon, from a building that has been carefully aligned to share its scale and perspective with the mother ship.

I was impatient to be the first author to see the remounted figures and panels and friezes. Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis, the head of the museum, took me to the top-floor gallery and showed me the concentric arrangement whereby the sculpture of the pediment is nearest the windows, the high-relief metopes are arranged above head height (they are supposed to be seen from below), and finally the frieze is running at eye level along the innermost wall. At any time, you can turn your head to look up and across at the architectural context for which the originals were so passionately carved. At last it will be possible to see the building and its main artifacts in one place and on one day.

The British may continue in their constipated fashion to cling to what they have so crudely amputated, but the other museums and galleries of Europe have seen the artistic point of re-unification and restored to Athens what was looted in the years when Greece was defenseless. Professor Pandermalis proudly showed me an exquisite marble head, of a youth shouldering a tray, that fits beautifully into panel No. 5 of the north frieze. It comes courtesy of the collection of the Vatican. Then there is the sculpted foot of the goddess Artemis, from the frieze that depicts the assembly of Olympian gods, by courtesy of the Salinas Museum, in Palermo. From Heidelberg comes another foot, this time of a young man playing a lyre, and it fits in nicely with the missing part on panel No. 8. Perhaps these acts of cultural generosity, and tributes to artistic wholeness, could 'set a precedent', too?

The Acropolis Museum has hit on the happy idea of exhibiting, for as long as following that precedent is too much to hope for, its own original sculptures with the London-held pieces represented by beautifully copied casts. This has two effects: It allows the visitor to follow the frieze round the four walls of a core 'cella' and see the sculpted tale unfold (there, you suddenly notice, is the 'lowing heifer' from Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn). And it creates a natural thirst to see the actual re-assembly completed. So, far from emptying or weakening a museum, this controversy has instead created another one, which is destined to be among Europe’s finest galleries. And one day, surely, there will be an agreement to do the right thing by the world’s most 'right' structure.