Athens’ National Archaeological Museum is considered to be one of the greatest museums in the world. It’s right up there with the Louvre and the British Museum and the Met. It’s good to know that I’ve ticked another one of these off the list. What sets this one apart from the herd (no that word doesn’t quite fit. What’s the best collective noun for museums?) is the sheer size, depth and quality of its collection of Ancient Greek Antiquities.
Before I had even set foot off the aeroplane, before I had even began the trip to the airport, before I had even considered my museum itinerary in any great detail I knew I wanted to come to the National Archaeological Museum. I knew exactly what I wanted to see; the golden mask. You know the one. Some call it the Mask of Agamemnon but that name is a hangover from when there was very little separating archaeology from showmanship.
But could I find the mask?
Of course I couldn’t! Not at first anyway. But that’s fine, it gave me a quest – the quest to find the golden mask of Agamemnon!
So, around and around the museum I went. Along the way, I found treasures that were just as exciting as the mask, if not as shiny. I’m not sure where to begin. Maybe I’ll start with this chap. His identity is a bit vague – he’s either Zeus or Poseidon, poised to throw a thunderbolt or a trident respectively.
It’s usually referred to as the Artemision Bronze, or the God from the Sea. That latter title might suggest that he’s an aquatic deity, but no. He was found in the sea just off the Cape Artemision. Some experts have looked at this bronze, compared it to other ancient depictions of the gods and declared that it’s Zeus, as his fishy brother held his weapon differently.
Another Ancient treasure on display in the National Museum of Archaeology is the Antikytheria Mechanism. An ancient analogue computer, this piece of machinery shows just how advanced the ancient civilisation was.
It’s astonishing, it really is. It was found in a shipwreck in 1901, and experts have estimated that it goes as far back as 205 BC. Furthermore, comparable technology only really began to surface in the fourteenth century. What could have happened that would have paused progress for what, 1600 years?!
This is a statue of a dying gaul. Although most of his face is missing, has been hacked away and lost to the ages, it is still so full of emotion and pathos. The way his body is beginning to slump suggests defeat. What is left of his arms is open to interpretation. They could show defiance, with that raised arm ready to give one final blow or he could be cowering under a lost shield, waiting for a swift end.
Displayed in the open, you get a chance to admire the stature from all angles. Not only does this give us an excellent #MuseumBum, but the level of detail and craftsmanship tell us that this is how the sculptor wanted the statue to be seen, from all angles.
Lastly, we come to the golden mask, the thing I had been searching for throughout my trip to the National Archaeological Museum. Hidden away in a room labelled Prehistory on the map, and behind a doorway that I swear was closed when I arrived, there was the mask. Glowing in the case under lighting designed to show it off to its best advantage. The face is serene, it accepts its fate. I suppose when it was still adorning the body it was found on, it would resemble a deep, untroubled sleep. The metal is foil thin in places, giving it a sense of fragility.
And that is where I’m going to leave this adventure, and leave Agamemnon sleeping in peace.