Where’s Pericles when you want him?

You see, if you were an ancient Athenian politician and you went bald, things were so much easier. You didn’t have to worry that the electorate would harp on about it, as they do when confronted by a bald Tory leader, no matter how brilliant.

Take the case of Pericles. The Athenian leader was a bit of a slaphead with a dolichocephalic skull; but instead of going around enduring the jeers of the ancient tabloid media, he had a very cool solution. He just wore a hoplite helmet, morning noon and night.

I know this because I have just bought, from the British Museum’s magnificent shop, the last plaster cast of the 2nd-century Roman copy of the 5th-century BC bust of Pericles by Kresilas. It weighs 23.5kg and is totally fab, if you ignore a few blue crayon marks, which enabled me to knock a few quid off. I stood before it in the shop and reflected that I was only three removes away from the position of the sculptor who stood before one of the greatest statesmen who ever lived. Cor! I thought to myself as we bubblewrapped it. Pericles, eh!

And then it occurred to me that I ought to go and look at the sculpture proper, the one that is only two removes away. So I wandered into the Duveen galleries and pondered again the mysteries of the panathenaic frieze. Are the 192 riders symbolic of the 192 survivors of the Battle of Marathon, that archetypical triumph of Western civilisation over barbarism? Just what are those maidens about to do with that towel?

And as I left, my feet aching, my brain glutted, I remembered the object of my mission. Normally he was there on the left as you go in, on a kind of proprietorial plinth. I turned to the attendant. Where was the marble bust of Pericles, son of Xanthippus? I’m sorry, sir, said that kindly man. He’s in room 15 and room 15 is shut.

Shut? I said. That’s right, he said, shut because of staff shortages. In fact, he said, there were more rooms shut these days than there were nine years ago when he joined.

Read the full article as published in the Telegraph