When Demetrius the Poliorcetes (Besieger of Cities), the famous son of king Antigonos, liberator of Athens, set up his sleeping quarters on the Parthenon, as far as I know there were no complaints from the authorities. Even when he started accepting visits from Lamia, the famous “cultured”, rather mature but terribly attractive and experienced concubine, the city authorities did not characterize his act as scandalous or disrespectful to the goddess Athena or her temple on the Sacred Rock.
On the contrary, they paid tributes to him, and even to Lamia as the goddess Aphrodite. I do not know whether there were any reactions from the free citizens, from the “spiritual rulers” of the time, or from the politicians of the law-abiding, democratic state. It seems that nobody dared come in conflict with the powerful ruler.
To this day, not a single provocative, disrespectful or scandalous action to match Demetrius’ and Lamia’s has occurred on the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis, except the vandalism, explosions and violent thefts of sculptures by “antiquity-loving” Europeans with invalid firmans. The unique ancient-style photographs taken in 1928 by Sougioutzoglou, the famous Nelly’s, featuring naked or semi-naked dancers Mona Paeva and Nikolska among the ruins of the Parthenon and the Erechtheion did indeed scandalize the conservative and prudish Athenian public of the Inter-War years, but only because of its female nudes rather than the improper use of the great monuments of the Acropolis as an architectural backdrop.
Besides, according to Nelly’s, she had received permission from Alexandros Philadelfeas. Regardless of any reactions, Nelly’s finally became the official photographer of the Greek state, the naked lithe dancers (captured among the sturdy Doric columns of the Parthenon or in front of the upright Caryatids) became posters for the Greek Tourism pavilion in Paris in 1936, while the “promotion of the country abroad as a destination was unprecedented”.
I believe the photo shoot of eight models in silk gowns in front of the Erechtheion and the Parthenon in 1951 for Dior functioned much in the same way. Despite reactions regarding what was seen as the commercial use of the monuments by the fashion house, there were numerous benefits for the country. The same can be said in terms of benefits about the recent photo shoot featuring the same number of models captured by talented photographers in front of the same monuments, for Dior once again.
As far as the photo shoot of famous singer Jennifer Lopez in front of the Parthenon in 2008 is concerned, I believe with permission from the appropriate minister, I cannot really understand the criticism that was expressed at the time. I believe every visitor to the Acropolis, whether famous or not, has the right to have their photo taken in front of monuments.
The role of classical antiquity in shaping the Greek nation and creating the new Greek state after the 1821 Revolution to this day has undoubtedly been very important. At the same time, classical antiquity has also created strong “sanctified” monumental landscapes such as the Acropolis, which justifiably demand respect and a certain sensitivity about how to take advantage of them, and how to justify contributing to the country’s benefit – without obsessiveness, antiquity-loving outbursts and unfruitful conflicts.
Petros Themelis is Professor Emeritus of Classical Archaeology, director of the reconstruction of Ancient Messene.