Jet-lag still seeks to overwhelm me. To wrap me in its tight embrace and bring me down to the ground in complete and total exhaustion. I am up, I am walking. I know I must make my way through the rest of this day, to push my body further along, in order to acclimate myself to London time. This city stops for no one, nor shall Kronos stop himself for me.
I spent much of my time three years ago in the British Museum, finding its bustling halls of history a peaceful, safe haven. There were always things to see, even if I had already seen them. Even now, its magnetic pull draws me up towards its imposing facade, inside the tall, metal gates, and up its concrete stairs. The glass doors and a bag-check are all that stand between myself and some of the past’s treasures.
There is one place I must go, one place that calls to me in a siren song of whispers past: the Ancient Greece exhibits. Statues to Aphrodite and Dionysos, of Naiads and Nereids. Their marble forms frozen perfectly in time, watch me as I pass, as I linger. They call to like: blood to blood, as if they sense that I am of the lineage of Hellas. And though it is but 1/4 of my bloodline, it is one to which I most often feel closest: that part of me that beats the drums of Lakedaimon and the Peloponnesos.
The Elgin Marbles are where I feel it strongest — that intense, pull of the past. That white hall, where sit treasures steeped in the blood of Greeks. Birthed to be the cause of conflict between Sparta and Athens: paid for by Sparta, those funds misused by Athens, later stolen by England. My feelings roil like a tempest on the Aegean, swirling dangerously so that I feel the lump in my throat. When I look at the treasures of my own people, sitting her cold and far away from home, something pierces to my soul.
And I am there, the Mediterranean sun upon my skin, sweat trickling down to sting my eyes with the salt. War has come to Athens, the cries of the starving a drowning cacophony in my ears. I stand on the bow of the warship, this great navy of Lakedaimonians, their own war chants shattering across the Athenian harbour. There is nothing but salt: sweat, tears, blood, and the sea.
But there, high, high up on the point of the mighty Acropolis, I see it, the thing that gleams like a spark in the night. Where men and gods converse in open halls of white marble…marble bought with Spartan gold. And look what good that gold has done them now: where is their mighty armada? Where is their fleet to oppress us further?
Where is the glory of Athens now?
The cries vanish, blown away on the breath of the wind and the song is different. It echoes through my core, strumming at my being. This is a song I know intimately, the song of grief — deep, national grief. This is the grief of an entire nation, the kind of grief that leaves nothing to imagination. And yet this grief is not mine, it is not ours — not yet. Kronos, that god of time shows me and I see the Acropolis fall, its treasures plundered, dismantled. I see them sitting, cold and alone in a foreign land of no sun, no salt and no sea. The light of the gods drains from within their marble house and it all goes dark.
And suddenly I see we are running out of time, rising and falling like the winter wheat. And I do not know what it is we must do to survive, do not know how to stop the spinning threads of the Moirai. I lift my eyes to the sky, to the arc of lightning that blazes from suddenly-appeared dark clouds to strike at the crown of the Parthenon.
I do wonder if the Ancient Greeks ever knew they were running out of time — every day coming closer to just running out of time. Whether it was Alexander or Rome or
the Turks or whomever came next. Their time was over, and they crippled themselves with the Peloponnesian War, proving once again that this was not a unified country of Greece, but a land teeming with Greeks: their city-states were countries in and of themselves.
United they stood, divided they fell.
When I look at this marble, I see the clean white awash with blood, swimming in the sacrifice of so many Greeks of the past. This is the lump that rises in my throat, the tightening in my chest. This is why I am drawn to these treasures of my past, like moth to flame. I stand, I stare, I drink it in. I cannot touch, though I wish I could. Just have one moment to physically touch this part of my history, to make complete the connection that echoes maddeningly in my ears, louder and louder every second that I stand and stare…
I arrest my gaze, feel torn away like a bandage too soon and too fast from a still-bleeding wound. Oh yes, it is steeped in the blood of Greeks. And do not doubt that the Greeks still see that blood on the marble, blinking at how rapidly the world turns. At how quickly we all just run out of time.