Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome – The Ruined Parthenon

Over the ramparts of the Acropolis you see no more of the mountains or the distant Aegean islands; you are on the summit, alone with the Parthenon. You need no pointing finger; your eye turns instinctively to where it stands. Over heaps of ruin, over a plain buried under huge fragments of hewn and sculptured marble — a wilderness of mutilated art — it rises between you and the sky, which forms its only background. Broken down to the earth in the middle, like a ship which has struck and parted, with the roof, cornices, and friezes mostly gone, and not a column unmutilated, and yet with the tawny gold of two thousand years staining its once spotless marble, you doubt for a moment whether the melancholy of its ruin or the perfect and majestic loveliness which shines through that ruin is more powerful.

I did not stop to solve this doubt. Once having looked upon the Parthenon, it was impossible to look elsewhere, and I drew nearer and nearer, finding a narrow lane through the chaos of fragments piled almost as high as my head, until I stood below the western front. I looked up at the Doric shafts, colossal, as befitted the shrine of a goddess, yet tender and graceful as flower stems, upholding with-out effort the massive entablature and the shattered pediment, and I was seized with an overpowering mixture of the loftiest admiration and of the most unmitigated grief and indignation.

We ascended the steps to the floor of the temple, walked over its barren pavement, past the spot where stood the statue of ivory and gold, to the center, and sat down in the marble chairs of the ancient priests, to contemplate the wreck in silence. Oh, unutterable sorrow !— for all the ages to come can never restore the glory which has here been destroyed. In the perfect symmetry of those wondrous columns was solved the enigma of that harmony which is the very being of God and the operation of his laws. These blocks of sunny marble were piled upon each other to the chorus of the same song which the seasons sing in their ordered round and the planets in their balanced orbits.

After a while my friend desperately said, ” I would destroy all the later architecture of Europe, except the Duomo at Milan, to restore this.” So, almost, would I. For this is the true temple of Divinity. Its perfect beauty is the expression of love and joy, such as never yet dwelt in the groined arches of Gothic aisles or the painted domes of Roman worship. God has no better temple on earth than the Parthenon.

Abridged from “Travels in Greece”

Doric (dor’ik) shaft : a type of pillar distinguished for simplicity and strength. — entablature : the layers of horizontal work between the tops of the columns and the eaves. — statue of ivory and gold : a statue of Athena, made by Phidias (fid’i as), the great Greek sculptor, and placed in the Parthenon: — Duomo (dwo’mo) at Milan (mil’an): the cathedral at Milan, Italy, by some considered to be the finest cathedral in Europe.—grained arch : a curve made by two intersecting arches. — Gothic aisles : aisles overspanned by the high and sharply pointed arches common to many Christian churches.