Good evening, everyone.
Sir Ian, thank you so much for your kind words and for your warm welcome,
Dame Mary, dear Anastasios, distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to say a few words here tonight in this magnificent setting.
I never tire of visiting this museum. And I do actually recall that 25 years ago, when I used to live in London, I was literally living across the street from the Science Museum.
And I never tire of visiting not simply because of the respect with which the Science Museum is held globally.
But because the museum and its wonderful collection provides us with what I believe to be an enduring and unparalleled record of scientific, technological, and medical achievement – a record that not only spans millennia but touches every corner of our fragile and ever evolving world.
The exhibition we are here to celebrate this evening – Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom – is no exception. And if you haven’t had a chance to see it yet – after all I haven’t yet declared it officially open- then fear not.
Having had a small preview with some of you a little earlier I can assure you; you will not be disappointed.
Sir Ian, you drew on the words of Archbishop John Potter in your remarks a moment ago.
If I may say so – it was a wise choice.
So, how about I try and match Potter with Aristotle:
«Αρχή της σοφίας είναι η αμφιβολία…. »
Which means simply “Wisdom begins with doubt”.
In the months ahead I hope and trust that visitors to this remarkable exhibition will gain a new appreciation for the science and innovation of our past and learn how wisdom – through doubt and indeed through curiosity and investigation – continues to shape the science and innovation of today.
Indeed, as you will have a chance to see, Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom highlights how modern scientific innovation is helping to reveal more about ancient Greece, more than we even knew before – allowing us in the process to travel back through time to an ancient civilisation where some of the technologies developed in Classical Greece appear much more advanced than we ever previously thought.
Now, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I suspect it may not have escaped your notice that the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union.
Don’t worry, this is not the moment for you to panic and start to think “Oh no where’s he going with this”!
Nor is it the moment for our friends in the press to start scribbling ever more furiously and we end up on tomorrow’s front pages! No.
But it is the moment where I would like to draw your attention – whether inside the EU or outside it – to the remarkable and truly international collaboration that made this exhibition possible.
Not only does it form part of the UK-Greece cultural programme marking this, the bicentenary year of the beginning of Greece’s War of Independence – but it also features the loan of numerous exhibits from across Europe.
We wouldn’t be here tonight celebrating this important exhibition without the generous support and collaboration of not just Greek museums, academics, and philanthropists, but also a host of other European museums across France, Germany, Austria, and the UK, and a number of other generous benefactors. I would like to thank them all personally.
And I also hope that Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom, and its associated events programme, will reinforce for UK audiences the strong and enduring link that exists between the UK and Greece.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with that shared history, and that spirit of co-operation and collaboration in mind, that I have approached discussions this week on the future of what you, in the UK, know as the Elgin Marbles, and what we, in Greece, know as the Parthenon Sculptures.
I believe it is time we took a bold step towards and opened a new dialogue between Athens and London on this topic. After all, the sculptures represent a hugely significant piece of the world’s cultural heritage and are an important symbolic link between modern Greeks and their ancestors.
Most of the Parthenon Sculptures are housed in the modern Acropolis museum in Athens. And as I am sure you are aware, the so-called Elgin part of the collection currently resides in another of your great cultural institutions, the British museum.
Undoubtedly, they are best viewed in situ, and in context. That they are connected visually to the very monument which lends the sculptures their global significance, really matters. Which is why we want to work with the UK government and the British museum on a solution that will allow for the Parthenon Sculptures to be viewed as one, in Athens.
I raised the issue with Prime Minister Johnson today and I very much intend to continue working hard until the Parthenon sculptures have been returned permanently to the Acropolis Museum.
After all, increasingly museums around the world are working to share, return, reunite or loan artifacts on an unprecedented scale.
In the case of this exhibition, rare and remarkable objects have been brought together for the first time to highlight five areas of ancient Greek science: the cosmos, animal worlds, music and mathematics, the human body, and boundless seas. If an exhibition like this proves anything, it is this: that cooperation and collaboration can bring incredible collections together.
My hope is that by pooling and sharing those collections, and by utilising new technology – as you have admirably done – we can begin to widen public access and understanding of the scientific, historical, and cultural treasures we hold so dear.
Only last week, in ancient Olympia, I saw how another unique collaboration, this time between the Greek Ministry of Culture and Microsoft, is harnessing the power of AI and augmented reality technologies. Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds is utilising cutting-edge technology to open up a completely new way of experiencing what our cultural heritage is all about.
This exhibition is doing exactly the same – highlighting innovation in order to deliver a new frontier in the preservation of our ancient heritage.
Let me conclude by offering you this brief thought.
We touched on the importance of the Parthenon Sculptures to the Greek people. But what of the building itself? Would the Athenians of the 5th century BC have been able to stare in awe at the sculptures without the deep scientific knowledge that made the architectural perfection of the Parthenon itself possible? I think not.
Science and Wisdom matter. And everything that we admire in this exhibition confirms what Einstein meant when he said: “In our days, old machines are being reinvented, and ancient experiments are conducted once again.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for listening. Thank you to all the donors, the foundations, who made this incredible exhibition possible. It is my great pleasure to officially declare Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom, open for the public.
Thank you very much.