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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 1.djvu/496

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THE CURSE OF MINERVA.

of his satire—the exposure and denunciation of Lord Elgin—had been accomplished by the scathing stanzas (canto ii. 10-15), with their accompanying note, in Childe Harold. "Disown" it as he might, his words were past recall, and both indictments stand in his name.

Byron was prejudiced against Elgin before he started on his tour. He had, perhaps, glanced at the splendid folio, Specimens of Ancient Sculpture, which was issued by the Dilettanti Society in 1809. Payne Knight wrote the preface, in which he maintains that the friezes and metopes of the Parthenon were not the actual work of Phidias, "but ... architectural studies ... probably by workmen scarcely ranked among artists." So judged the leader of the cognoscenti, and, in accordance with his views, Elgin and Aberdeen are held up to ridicule in English Bards (second edition, October, 1809, l. 1007, and note) as credulous and extravagant collectors of "maimed antiques." It was, however, not till the first visit to Athens (December, 1809—March, 1810), when he saw with his own eyes the "ravages of barbarous and antiquarian despoilers" (Lord Broughton's Travels in Albania, 1858, i. 259), that contempt gave way to indignation, and his wrath found vent in the pages of Childe Harold.

Byron cared as little for ancient buildings as he did for the authorities, or for patriotic enterprise, but he was stirred to the quick by the marks of fresh and, as he was led to believe, wanton injury to "Athena's poor remains." The southern side of the half-wrecked Parthenon had been deprived of its remaining metopes, which had suffered far less from the weather than the other sides which are still in the building; all that remained of the frieze had been stripped from the three sides of the cella, and the eastern pediment had been despoiled of its diminished and mutilated, but still splendid, group of figures; and, though five or six years had gone by, the blank spaces between the triglyphs must have revealed their recent exposure to the light, and the shattered edges of the cornice, which here and there had been raised and demolished to permit the dislodgment of the metopes, must have caught the eye as they sparkled in the sun. Nor had the removal and