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SCULPTURES DONATED TO TRENČÍN MUSEUM IN GRATITUDE FOR WORK OF VOJTECH ZAMAROVSKÝ IN CHRONICLING HELLENIC PAST

Greeks reward Slovak historian

HE MAY not know it, but 83-year-old writer Vojtech Zamarovský is a living example of Bob Dylan's determination to "know my song well before I start singing".
The renowned author of 11 books on the history of ancient cultures, Zamarovský, now on crutches, has explored museums, taken part in archaeological digs, and talked to people across the lands which once cradled great civilisations.
His lifelong devotion to Egyptian and Greek mythology, and his natural ability to tell simple and elegant histories, has resulted in his books being translated into 12 languages. His fame has even reached his beloved Greece, where his daughter lives.


GREEK sculpture on display, Zamarovský (inset).
photo: Courtesy of Július Bruna

HE MAY not know it, but 83-year-old writer Vojtech Zamarovský is a living example of Bob Dylan's determination to "know my song well before I start singing".

The renowned author of 11 books on the history of ancient cultures, Zamarovský, now on crutches, has explored museums, taken part in archaeological digs, and talked to people across the lands which once cradled great civilisations.

His lifelong devotion to Egyptian and Greek mythology, and his natural ability to tell simple and elegant histories, has resulted in his books being translated into 12 languages. His fame has even reached his beloved Greece, where his daughter lives.

As a mark of appreciation, the Greek government has now decided to dedicate 10 ancient sculptures to the recently opened Museum of Antiquity in Zamarovský's hometown of Trenčín in western Slovakia.

"It's a very valuable collection, but it's still just a small token of the gratitude of our government for the extensive work of Zamarovský, for what he did for Greeks," said Titos Papadopoulos, president of the Filia Slovak-Hellenic community, who helped to organise the event.

"It's just amazing how he can write about ancient times and make the history understandable to any reader. His work is invaluable."


GIZA pyramid, compared to Trenčín castle (at right).
photo: Courtesy of Július Bruna

A digest of Zamarovský's works can be found in Greek school textbooks.

The donation of the sculptures was made possible by the Club of Friends of Vojtech Zamarovský, based in Trenčín, which originally launched the Museum of Antiquity and dedicated it to the town's most famous native son.

"The idea of presenting the ancient world in this country as well stayed with Zamarovský on his visits to museums across the world, but it never saw daylight. When I told him that we wanted to make it happen, his eyes sparkled because he had given up any hope of seeing it come true," said architect Júlis Bruna, president of the 54-member club which brings together people interested in antiquity.

Opened in summer last year, the museum consists of two rooms in a town-owned building. Its stable exposition includes six of the ten sculptures - which are in fact original copies made at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens - donated by the Greek government (the other four are still sitting at the Greek embassy in Slovakia), a collection of Zamarovský's hand-written versions of his books, and souvenirs from his journeys.

This year, the club plans to enlarge the exposition and start reconstructing a former waterworks under the Trenčín castle into a future Museum of Antiquity.

"Our aim is to pass on the message of the ancient era to the generations of the third millennium, the millennium of multicultural though still united Europe," said Bruna.

As an architect, Bruna has studied apparent links between the architecture of Zamarovský's historically significant hometown and the architecture of the ancient world. After comparing the silhouette and the ground plan of Trenčín castle with that of the highest pyramid at Giza, Bruna says they are almost identical (the height difference is less than four meters). The finding fascinated even Zamarovský himself.

"It gives visitors to our town a unique opportunity to imagine how big the Egyptian pyramid is, and at the same time to admire the building skills of the medieval masters," Zamarovský said.

Zamarovský is fond of saying that the neighborhood he grew up in foreshadowed his later profession. He was born in the oldest part of Trenčín under the castle on Marcus Aurelius Street, named after the Roman emperor whose victory over the Quads in 179 BC was inscribed into the castle rock.

A writer, translator and explorer, Zamarovský's works even sit on the shelves of the Alexandria Library in Egypt, which has been renovated after 2,000 years. He was originally meant to become a chimney-sweep so as to fulfil a family tradition, but instead studied economy and law and got into banking. In 1953 he ditched his job for translating (he speaks five languages including Latin and ancient Greek) and began to write.

In 1960 he debuted with The Seven Wonders of the World, followed by works such as The Secret of the Chetits Empire, The Discovery of Troy and The Gods and Kings of Ancient Egypt. Over two million copies of his works have been sold in the Czech and Slovak Republics, or one copy per seven people.

In 1994, the major of Trenčín made him an honorary town citizen, and in 2001 Slovak President Rudolf Schuster awarded him the Pribina Cross of the 1st Class. He is also the first laureate of the Egon E. Kisch Award, a prize annually given to Czech and Slovak non-fiction writers since 1991.

"Zamarovský is a well of wisdom," said Bruna, who with his colleagues has been walking in the master's footsteps. While shaping the Museum of Antiquity building into its final form, they have renewed the old contacts Zamarovský built up from Babylon to Morocco, by visiting the places he visited and talking to the people he met on his journeys.

"The process can sometimes be more interesting that the result itself," said Bruna.

What: Museum of Antique - stable exposition.
Where: Galéria naivného umenia, Mierové námestie 22, Trenčín.
Open: Tue-Sun 10:00-17:00.
Admission: Sk5-10.
Tel: 032/7442-245.

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