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by Archaeology Newsroom

Clemenceau, Greece and Greek Archaeology

In 1907, initiating a series of lectures organized by the French Union for the Defense of the Rights of Hellenism, its President, Theophile Homolle, a former director of the French School of Athens and a prominent archaeologist, paid tribute to “the ardent philhellene and intellectual” Georges Clemenceau, who, being a premier at the time, was unable to attend to that meeting. This aspect of the personality of one of the most celebrated French politicians remains rather obscure. We know that Clemenceau had a classical education -he was awarded a prize in Greek translation and history, when he was eleven years old!-, he admired ancient Greece and was the author of a Life of Demosthenes, as well as that after the victory of 1918, he became a fervent supporter of the settlement of Greeks in Smyrna, Asia Minor. Our knowledge, however, is limited as regards his participation in the just causes of modern Hellenism, and we ignore in general that he was so passionate with archaeology that he could intervene in the deliberations of experts or could finance the excavations in Boetia, for which he was always well informed, despite of the burden of his state responsibilities. Clemenceau was seized by a true philhellenic patriotism, as his controversial choices and progressive gushes prove. He not only approved of the destruction of the Frankish tower and the Turkish minaret on the Athenian Acropolis, but he could even have eagerly added to these “the ignoble pedestal of Agrippa, a monument of the Roman barbarity”. We must forgive these “mistakes” of his, since, at the same time he personified the just causes for the return of the Parthenon marbles and the restoration of the Acropolis monuments.