The Acropolis is studded with marble blocks and column drums—a child’s collection of lost teeth scattered over the hilltop. It is an old nightmare: I raise a hand to my lips and find all my teeth cupped in my palm. The Acropolis stands amongst swarms of its own debris: its lost teeth and broken bones. Cats nest in forests of stacked marble rubble and magpies preen where statues once reigned.
Though crawling with visitors, the Acropolis is lonely. All its statues have been kidnapped, hollowing out its holiness. It has been gutted of its gods. Where are the processions and drums, the dancers and priests, the offerings, the awe, the numinous echoes? Where are Athena Promachos, Athena Parthenos, and Athena Nike?
Only the Caryatids remain, staring out from the southern veranda of the Erechtheion, gazing up at the gap-toothed Parthenon. A galaxy of yellow starflowers gleams in the grass at their feet. Are they prisoners, slaves, or survivors, these Caryatids? They bear their burden with a Mona Lisa smile, colder than marble. They look hardly taller than my mother, too small to bear the desecration alone.
The Acropolis’s marble is the color of smuggled ivory, an elephant’s memory, wisdom teeth stained with tea. The blocks of the eastern outlook are scarred with graffiti. I can’t read the names but I doubt Lord Elgin could resist leaving a school boy’s brag carved in the marble. Older graffiti tags the columns of the Propylaea. Like scabs in the marble, the ancient Greek letters remember antique vandalism.
On the slops overlooking the Agora, a black and white cat soaks in the westering sun. Her fur is electric with sunbeams. Later, I find her winding round the olive tree where Athena planted her gift to the city. Something keeps the cat here, high on the hilltop and far from Athens’s souvlaki shops. She senses them still, the lost gods. Toppled from their pedestals, they have retreated into the stones. Olive bough and marble column—these are the sinews and bones of gods too old to die.