“In her elegant meditation on beauty and ruin, on the tangled tale of the loss and retrieval of classical artifacts of the West, Patricia Vigderman has fashioned a passionate travelogue that holds in balance long history and our present political moment. Her pilgrimage is a welcome inquiry into cultural ownership and imperial presumption, enlivened with vivid personal responses to art and landscape, searching considerations of celebrated earlier fellow travelers (Goethe, Henry James, Virginia Woolf) as well as lesser known figures—historians, photographers, and contemporary archeologists and curators. She brings them all vividly into her exploration of our relation to a shared, often contentious past. Her eye is by turns acute and tender, always keen. One of those rare books that takes a single subject and refracts it into a world.”—Patricia Hampl
“In these richly informed and intensely personal meditations on art and history, Patricia Vigderman traces the life of our classical heritage through the centuries and shows its continuing vitality and significance in the present. Written with equal sensitivity to political debates and aesthetic beauty, The Real Life of the Parthenon deepens our understanding of how the imagination shapes and transforms the past—and how the deep past informs and shapes the imagination of the present.” —Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation and Time: Big Ideas, Small Books
Vigderman’s own journey began at the Parthenon, but curiosity edged her further onto the sea between antiquity and the present. She set out to seek the broken temples and amphorae, the mysterious smiles of archaic sculpture, and the finely hammered gold of a funeral wreath among the jumbled streets of modern Athens, the fertile fields of Sicily, the mozzarella buffalo of Paestum. Guided along the way toward the enduring landscapes and fractured history by archeologists, classicists, historians, and artists—and by the desire they inspire—she was caught by ongoing, contemporary local life among the ruins. Gathering present meaning and resonance for the once and future remains of vanished glory, The Real Life of the Parthenon illuminates an important but shadowy element of our common cultural life: the living dynamic between loss and delight.
Patricia Vigderman is Assistant Professor of English at Kenyon College. She is the author of Possibility: Essays Against Despair and The Memory Palace of Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Introduction Sailing, Though Still All These Ages
Chapter 1 Partners with the Past
Chapter 2 Beauty, Bliss, and Lies
Chapter 3 Conversations After Empire
Chapter 4 A Patina of Electricity
Chapter 5 The Traveler’s Dilemma
Chapter 6 To Persephone’s Island
Chapter 7 Out of the Shadows
Chapter 8 Art, Archeology, and Restoration at Pompeii
Chapter 9 Attuning One’s Life to Theirs
Chapter 10 The Past Is Always Elsewhere