Friday, May 15, 2015

Dutifully padding about the temples of Persepolis

     2 March 1935

     Dear Dr Herzfeld

         Since both the Governor
     of Fars and Dr Mostafavi have
     stated categorically that you
     have no right to prevent my
     photographing the portions of
     arches and columns which have
     always been above ground, the
     only means of stopping my pho-
     tographing them are either

       (1) to show me the wording
     of your concession proving
     that you have the right, or
       (2) force.

     Please choose your means.

     There are still some things to
     be said about Persepolis.

     Only the stone has survived, but
     for a few of Alexander's ashes
     which they dig up now and then.
     And stone worked with such opu-
     lence and precision has great
     splendour, whatever one may think
     of the forms employed on it. This
     is increased by the contrast be-
     tween the stones used, the hard
     opaque grey and the more lucent
     white. Isolated ornaments have al-
     so been discovered in a jet-black
     marble without vein or blemish.

     Is that all?

     Patience! In the old days you ar-
     rived by horse. You rode up the
     steps on to the platform. You made
     a camp there, while the columns
     and winged beasts kept their sol-
     itude beneath the stars, and not
     a sound or movement disturbed the
     empty moonlit plain. You thought
     of Darius and Xerxes and Alexander.
     You were alone with the ancient
     world. You saw Asia as the Greeks
     saw it, and you felt their magic
     breath stretching out toward China
     itself. Such emotions left no room
     for the aesthetic question, or for
     any question.


     Today you step out of a motor, 
     while a couple of lorries thun-
     der by in a cloud of dust. You
     find the approaches defended by
     walls. You enter by leave of a
     porter, and are greeted, on 
     reaching the platform, by a light
     railway, a neo-German hostel, and
     a code of academic malice control-
     led from Chicago. These useful ad-
     ditions clarify the intelligence.
     You may persuade yourself, in spite
     of them, into a mood of romance. 
     But the mood they invite is that
     of a critic at an exhibition. This
     is the penalty of greater knowledge.
     It isn't my fault. No one would have
     been more pleased than I to leave
     the brain idle in a dream of history
     and landscape and light and wind and
     other impalpable accidents. But if
     circumstances insist on showing me
     more than I want to see, it is no
     good telling lies about it.

Robert Byron
The Road to Oxiana
Oxford University Press

No comments:

Post a Comment