In Athens, Nick is visiting the ruins of the Acropolis for the very first time. Well, not really, for there exists a dog toothed photograph of him being held in his mother’s lap, she perched precariously upon a reclining column in front of the Parthenon. His miniscule right foot is dangling so that the heel touches the fluted marble. Nick has taken his mother’s word that it is in fact he in the photograph; the picture has been retouched by a hand so expert in symbolism that his image has been stripped of all distinction until it generically represents the approximation of an infant. But he remembers the cool of the marble on the heel of his foot, though he could not have been more than two years of age at the time – a last foothold upon his motherland before the voyage to Australia.

Nick is accompanied by his teenaged son Harrison. Harrison’s head is shaved except for a long top-knot and his blonde features and dark complexion make him a confluence of Mongol and Viking. He displays little interest in Nick’s grand homecoming upon this rock. In order to render the occasion solemn and spiritual, Nick has purchased the services of an expert guide – the archaeologist Mr Petros Malavanis, whose green eyes peer at them behind thick round glasses, as if in astonishment that thee exist kinfolk so estranged, so far across the seas willing to seek meaning in the stones that litter the rock. He twists the sparse amount of graying foliage that still adorns his scalp as he speaks.

Mr Malavanis begins with the premise that nothing is coincidental in this world. Destiny is all and the Greeks were destined for greatness. He offers mathematical proof by way of the fact that measured at the base of the stylobate, the dimensions of the base of the Parthenon are 69.5 metres by 30.0 metres. He adds that the cella was 29.8 metres long by 19.2 metres wide, with internal colonnades in two tiers.

“Shit Dad, do I have to listen to this? I could look it up in Wikipedia instead of getting roasted by the sun,” Harrison complains, digitally manipulating the screen of his telephone. Nick doesn’t answer. He can relate to stylobates. His father was one. His mother brought him up also, to be, as she said, the “stylobate of your own house.” Everything rests upon a stylobate. Even ruins and the ruins of ruins.

Mr Malavanis is not perturbed by Harrison’s exclamation either. He continues his exposition unabated, for he is one of those few custodians of history that genuinely wish to impart upon their field of expertise, value for money, for their patrons. Thus Nick learns that on the exterior, the Doric columns measure 1.9 metres in diameter and are 10.4 metres high. He is told also that the Parthenon had 46 outer pillars and 23 inner pillars in total.

Nick is a builder by trade and will not accept anyone’s measurements without first checking them with his laser spirit level and tape measure. His father on the other hand, could measure a length just by looking at it so Nick is willing for the sake of argument, to concede that Mr Malavanis’ specifications are correct. Mr Malavanis is now postulating that celestial beings created the universe according to a geometric plan which is why the Parthenon is so perfect. He reveals that Plutarch held that Plato said that God geometrizes continually.” Nick can read a plan better than most, but he cannot conceive of a need for Sacred Geometry.

Nick looks at his son, playing Clash of Clans on his telephone. Mr Malavanis, oblivious, proceeds to divulge that the structural beam on top of the columns is in golden ration proportion height of the columns. Each of the gridlines is in golden ratio proportion to the one below it so that the third golden ratio grid line from the bottom to the top at the base of the support beam represents a length that is pi cubed, .0236, from the top of the beam to the base of the column.

All this has to be taken at face value, for it would be hard for Nick to assert otherwise. He is too timid to ask whether the gridlines Mr Malavanis is referring to are those denoted by the scaffolding covering the face of the building, for they are the only lines that he can see. But it makes sense. The ancient Greeks were an ingenious people, far above us in intelligence. There is no way we could ever hope to understand their deeds or motives. And the apotheosis of their genius is this remarkable edifice, the image of which Nick has gazed upon every day of his life, in the form of a blue ceramic dish first hanging in his parent’s living room and now in his garage, decorated in low relief, depicting a foustanella-clad evzone blowing his trumpet at the Parthenon, as if rallying its’ still intact columns for an assault upon the present.

With his words, Mr Malavanis evokes an image of the great gold and ivory statue of Athena, sculpted by the genius Pheidias. In Greek, it forms one word, chryselephantine, as if gold and ivory, well not really ivory, but rather, a substance pertaining to and deriving from an elephant, merge together to from one substance, commingled, perfect marble and perfect ivory, without confusion, mutation or separation. Nick is unable to see the statue; Mr Malavanis cannot tell him with absolute certainty whether it was positioned outside, or within the temple. Although Nick suspects that the main purpose of the statue, if it really existed, was the same as the first house with the six bedrooms and five bathrooms he lived in before his divorce – to shock and awe, Mr Malavanis is not able to advise him with certainty, what is was for.

Groups of corpulent bespectacled tourists, bulging in shorts and florid yoga pants circle the building devoutly. From the length of the shorts of their menfolk and their ramrod straight bearing, imbued with the kind of optimism that derives only from the possession of capital, as well as their pronunciation of the ultimate o in their Greek names as oh, this Spirohs, Nick knows them to be American-Greeks. One holds up his arms to the Sun and intones some sort of hymn to Apollo. There is a darkness on the side of the temple now, and its columns cast a sinister shadow that remind Nick of a cage, or worse still, a jail. Save for the temple itself, and the hymn chanter, it is empty.

“We aren’t quite sure what the sculptures in the Parthenon frieze actually signify,” Mr Malavanis continues. “Generally, it is believed that they depict an idealized version of the Panathenaic procession from the Diplylos Gate in the Kerameikos to the Acropolis, to honour the goddess Athena with a new peplon.” Nick is looking at Harrison, who is standing at the Propylaea, watching tired and hot tourists march labouriously up the twisting path, bearing drink bottles like votive torches. He is conversing nonchalantly with a nubile South American girl, both of them feigning disinterest while sizing up each other’s potential.

Like Nick, most of the frieze sculptures have been removed from the Parthenon. He remembers seeing them in the British Museum while on a trip to England with a party of well to do friends. Nick recalls his friends exclaim in ecstasy when confronted by the teeming mass of marble in the room, whereupon, they all simultaneously shed a tear. He sat and observed them impassively. The only time he was ever moved to tears was when he chanced upon a private garden on the Isle of Capri, separated, delineated, grid-like and traversable with wooden planks, just like that in his parents backyard in Fawkner. He was not sure what these statues meant.

“Other archaeologists theorise that the frieze is based upon Greek mythology,” Mr Malavanis, resumes. “They say that these scenes depict the founding myth of Athens, the sacrifice of Pandora, youngest daughter of Erechtheus to Athena. This was a sacrifice Athena demanded in order to save the city from Eumolpus, king of Eleusis, who was poised to attack the city. But in actual fact, we don’t really know what it means.”

Nick follows the American tourists with his glance. They are exhausted now and hanker after the creature comforts of the Athens Hilton, having abandoned their search for meaning among the metopes. It makes perfect sense to Nick why his ancestors of old would depict imaginary battles in their buildings. The interplay of interpretation, the multiplicity of allegorical readings, all these things serve to justify, obscure and coerce people to acts of violence that would otherwise be too nauseating to contemplate. Nick muses that he would be unsurprised if it was discovered that the metopes were installed weathered and chipped from the outset, in order to obfuscate the curves of meaning. Conversely, they are also atropopaic, intended to turn away harm of evil. After all they were not Christian and the evil eye had not been invented yet. “She was a good woman, Soula,” Nick laments. “She did not deserve what I did to her. I am a dog.”

In Nick’s mind, Soula, his first wife, assumes the form of a Caryatid, the one that in the architecture of the Acropolis in his mind, is missing from the Parthenon and Nick is disconcerted to learn that his consciousness has conflated the Parthenon with the Erectheion, when he circumambulates the Parthenon and realizes that the Caryatids are not there. They should be. The Erectheion is such an ungainly building.

In response to his question as to who put the Caryatids there and why, Mr Malavanis hastens to reply: “Some say the Erechtheion was built in honour of the legendary hero Ericthonius. Others maintain that it was built in honour of Erectheus, the king of Athens who is mentioned in the Iliad.” Nick muses about the relationship between the Iliad and a restaurant by that name back home which has been open for thirty years and yet never has any customers. “As for the Caryatid porch, some people claim it was built to conceal the giant fifteen foot beam needed to support the southeast corner over the Kekropion, but in terms of the Caryatids themselves, we don’t really know what they mean.”

“There are caves under the Acropolis, dark places where the ancients revered their gods,” Malavanis tries in vain to maintain Nick’s evidently fading interest by introducing a spooky timbre to his voice. “Why would they need caves to worship their gods when they spent the entire contents of the Delian League’s treasury on temple bling?” Harrison asks smugly, for once, engaged. For Nick, the answer is self-evident. The Acropolis is just like his parent’s home in Fawkner, with the good toilet and kitchen for guests and the outhouse and garage kitchen for daily use. “Certain mysteries were performed in these caves,” Mr Malavanis whispers reverently, “But we aren’t quite sure what they mean.”

As the sun dips lower over the hazy city, casting the marbles in ochre, Nick looks for the overturned column upon which he rested before leaving the land of his birthplace, ostensibly forever. It is not there. But for the photograph he has in his hand and his memory, he would be convinced that it never existed.

“Was there a column lying on its side just about here?” Nick points with his foot. What did life, death, the thread of succession, the delineation of shape mean to a stone? The continuous passage of rocks from outcrop to temple, to church, to watchtower, to mosque, to ammunition store, to fetish object of civilization? Which of them morphed into icons, which came together to form a mihrab, which of the metopes relocated themselves into the wall of the Acropolis to buttress a tottering fortification from attack? Which of them pressed themselves against the heel of a two year old boy in valediction? Nick instinctively knows the need to adore objects, to imbue them with significance and gift them a tongue, to move from one phoneme to another and create words, to recite their names and carve them into a litany of contradictory analogies, as points of colour upon a broader pietra dura. To articulate place, to draw meaning from place, to be stone in place – that desire is irrepressible.

Nick can no longer see Harrison, but he is thinking of the bluestone wall he helped his father to construct in the early eighties on a searing hot summer’s day, with bluestones purloined from the lane-ways of inner-suburban Melbourne, when the answer comes.

“A column lying on its side, here? Possibly, but I don’t understand what you mean?”