The unparalleled beauty of Ancient Greek culture is shortly to be unveiled in Melbourne with the exhibition Open Horizons: Ancient Greek Journeys and Connections at the Melbourne Museum, featuring rare archaeological treasures from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
The opening of the exhibition of some 44 emblematic works of art and sculpture will be in the presence of the Hellenic Minister of Culture, Dr Lina Mendoni, who has been a stalwart of Greek cultural administrations for over two decades.
Dr Mendoni regards herself as an “άνθρωπος του καθήκοντος”, a person driven by a sense of duty, ethos and conviction.
Lina Mendoni was born in Athens and graduated in classical philology, history and archaeology before attaining her Doctorate from the prestigious University of Athens. In 1999 she crossed the threshold of the Ministry of Culture and in 2000 was appointed Secretary-General by the then Culture Minister, Elizavet Papazoi.
She continued to serve in that role through successive PASOK and New Demokratia administrations and only left the position with the election of the Tsipras SYRIZA government in 2015. Thereafter, Dr Mendoni became Principal Researcher with the prestigious National Hellenic Research Foundation in Athens.
With the election of the Mitsotakis government in 2019, Dr Mendoni was appointed Culture Minister and for many this was seen as an inspired choice.
The Ministry of Culture has occupied a pivotal place in the Greek cultural and archaeological landscape ever since its creation with the formidable Melina Mercouri as its first minister who famously declared that the Parthenon Sculptures belong to Greece.
Successive Culture Ministers have dutifully supported the return of the sculptures but Dr Mendoni, together with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has elevated the international campaign to a new level.
On 10 January 2022 at the formal ceremony held at the Acropolis Museum in Athens to unveil a fragment of the Parthenon frieze returned from the Antonino Salinas Regional Archeological Museum in Sicily, Dr Mendoni delivered a passionate address about the significance of the reunification of the Palermo piece in the peerless collection of the Acropolis Museum.
Dr Mendoni pointed out that the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier first visited Athens in 1911 and marvelled at the elegant forms of the Classical Periclean monuments on the Athenian Acropolis which represented the “pure creation of the mind”. For Le Corbusier, the Parthenon was a conception in a state of supreme grace, reflecting a profound harmony of form and light, that gave birth to Greek classical culture and the Athenian Republic.
According to Dr Mendoni, it is a self-evident truth that Plato's dialogues, Aristotelian logic, mathematical science, Pericles' political thought, together with all the later values of humanism and, ultimately, of the Western world find their artistic expression in the Parthenon. And humanity is entitled to see the Parthenon Sculptures - which constitute a unique composition and masterpiece of art from the greatest monument to European culture - in its entirety, reunited at the Acropolis Museum, and no longer cruelly divided between Athens and London.
Dr Mendoni also reminded the audience that the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures is not only supported by world public opinion. The gaping and mutilated monument itself demands the return of its architectural sculptural members, in order to regain its unified and indivisible physical, aesthetic and conceptual entity.
Subsequently, Greece has arranged for a reciprocal loan of a rare statue of Athena in the Palermo museum in an example of enlightened museum co-operation. At the unveiling of that sculpture in Sicily, the Greek Culture Minister declared that the return and reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens is a moral obligation for all of Europe in the context of protecting its common cultural heritage. And she forcefully responded to the well-worn British argument that the so-called Elgin Marbles were legally acquired:
"Greece does not recognise any right of ownership, possession and exploitation of these. On the contrary, it is constitutionally obliged and morally justified in demanding and striving for their final, permanent and irrevocable return by any legal and available means, in order to restore justice and the moral order and chiefly to restore the integrity of the monument.”
Dr Mendoni has maintained this position as far back as June 2000 when, as the newly-appointed Secretary-General of the Culture Ministry and accompanying the then Greek Foreign Minister, George Papandreou, she addressed the British House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiring into Illicit Cultural Property. Dr Mendoni made some prescient comments about the new museum which at that stage was still on the drawing board, noting that it would be a “unique privilege” to construct the new Acropolis Museum on the site in Makriyianni, at the foot of the Acropolis, in order to enable visitors to walk in the same landscape as classical times.
Just a few days ago Dr Mendoni was in Crete to take part in the official opening of the newly-constructed and state-of-the-art Archaeological Museum of Chania. She and her Ministry are also presently committed to extensive plans for the re-development and renaissance of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens amongst many other projects on the cultural horizon.
Dr Lina Mendoni’s visit to Australia and the large Greek diaspora in Sydney and Melbourne is most welcome and will only serve to strengthen the enduring cultural ties between Greece and Australia.
George Vardas is Co-Vice Chair, Australian Parthenon Committee and
Co-Founder, The Acropolis Research Group