If you find something like this in your neighbor’s garage, call the FBI and then Antiques Roadshow. The order is important here.
Episode 67: In which a Syrian mosaic ends up in a Californian garage, and the goddesses blame Zeus for American antiquities laws.
[SETTING: Breakfast in the Palace of the Gods]
ZEUS, KING OF GODS AND PERPETUAL HORN-DOG: (entering) What the…I mean, good morning, Ladies. I’m so glad you accepted my invitation.
HERA, GODDESS OF CHILDBIRTH AND ZEUS’ SISTER-WIFE-QUEEN (you read that right): You didn’t call this meeting. I did.
ZEUS: (slumping into chair) Oh thank Olympus. I thought I drunk-scheduled a meeting last night. That would have been the lamest inebriated act ever.
HERA: Yes, Olympus forbid you accidentally take a leadership position for once. Aren’t you curious why I invited Demeter, Athena, and Thetis here?
DEMETER, GODDESS OF AGRICULTURE: You didn’t invite me. I live here. I was here when you got here this morning.
ATHENA: I also live here, but I did come because you said we would be discussing illegally excavated antiquities, one of my passions. Also your invitation promised muffins.
THETIS, SEA-NYMPH AND RELUCTANT MOTHER OF ACHILLES: I’m not here because of an invitation. I don’t take orders from Hera. I just came to make sure you Olympians don’t do something stupid.
HERA: Right. I’m calling to order the second meeting of the Mt. Olympus Syrian Mosaic Interest Group.
ZEUS: The what of the whatnow?
HERA: Don’t you remember? You brought all of us together a few months back to discuss the discovery of a stunning mortal mosaic in Syria. Remember, it showed the death of Thetis’ son, Achilles? Now there’s been another Syrian mosaic in the mortal news, and I thought, well, if my dear husband is sooooooo interested, we should have another meeting.
ZEUS: Oh, that’s sweet, Honey, but I’ve got a busy…
HERA: Anyway, according to this scroll, a man in a place called California has been convicted in an American court for illegally importing a Late Antique mosaic from Syria. Apparently the authorities found it in his garage.
DEMETER: That makes sense. It’s illegal to import antiquities from one country into another under the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Athena was going on about it the other day.
ATHENA: Oh no, he wasn’t prosecuted under the UNESCO treaty. A treaty doesn’t have any legal force unless a sovereign state implements their own supporting laws. He was prosecuted for falsifying customs documents. He claimed the mosaic was $600 worth of ceramic tiles from Turkey. By the way, what is it with mortals falsely claiming stolen antiquities are tiles?
HERA: I have no idea. It was a terrible lie in this case, since the mosaic weighed 2000 pounds and is 15 by 8 feet, which is a lot of tiles for only $600. Plus, they hid the mosaic behind a bunch of vases, so their own lie isn’t even consistent.
ZEUS: Wait a second, Athena. Does that mean that if he had declared that it was an ancient mosaic, and had given the correct estimated value, which was…
ZEUS…he could have just imported the mosaic, no problem?
ATHENA: It depends. USA antiquity prosecutions are super complex and inconsistent, since there is no overarching domestic antiquities law. Instead the authorities operate under a series of temporary Memoranda of Understanding with individual countries, which only provide vague directions. So any actual prosecutions usually fall under the scope of some other law that isn’t specific to antiquities. This guy could have been importing $450,000 worth of Indiana Jones DVDs and it would have played out the same way.
ZEUS: Wow. That seems like a pretty arbitrary, poorly designed system of justice.
DEMETER: Yeah, if only there was a god in charge of things like that…
THETIS: I’m bored here. The only reason I was involved with the last mosaic was it was about my son. Is this mosaic about the Trojan War, too?
HERA: (gleefully) Actually, the topic of the mosaic is also Zeus’ miscarriage of justice. It shows Prometheus chained to a rock, where Zeus punished him for trying to keep the human race alive. But Hercules, Zeus’ own son, is about to rescue Prometheus, thus undermining his own father’s authority. I love it. Let’s discuss.
ZEUS: Wait, is that the real reason that you called this meeting? So that you could mock me?
HERA: Of course not. I called it to delay you from rendezvousing with whatever sidepiece you’ve got scheduled for today. It was just a bonus that in the process I got to humiliate you in front of the sister-consort who defied you, the crush who manipulated you, and the daughter who apparently took all of your wisdom with her when she popped out of your head.
ZEUS: The sister-consort who defied me, do you mean yourself or Demeter?
HERA: You realize that question also makes you look ridiculous. And I meant both.
Share on Twitter, or Instagram, or really wherever you want.
To explore how the Ancient Greek god of justice wasn’t very good at enforcing justice (and how that’s super weird), enroll in CLAS-C 205 Classical Mythology, coming up Fall 2023, and earn GEC credits while you’re at it! Or to learn more about how stopping the sale of illegally excavated artifacts is really, really, really complicated, look for CLAS-A 301 Classical Archaeology, coming up in Fall 2024. While you’re waiting, make sure to check back for more Olympian breakfast discussions of mortals and mosaics. Can’t get enough of Ancient Greece and Rome? Earn a Classics Minor in just 15 credits!