Mary Irvine: Revived Controversy
“They were taken illegally, they were stolen.”
“No, they weren’t, he had permission.”
‘They’ are the Parthenon Marbles, usually referred to as the Elgin marbles – slabs taken from the frieze of the Parthenon in Greece. ‘He’ is Lord Elgin, British Ambassador in Athens (1799 – 1803)’ The ‘illegal/legal’ removal debate of the marbles, together with other artefacts including one of the Caryatids, has reigned for a very long time. Melina Mercouri’s – then Minister of Culture – very impassioned, very Greek, plea in 1984 for their return cannot be forgotten. It was not successful.
The ‘illegal’ camp’s claim rests on the fact that Greece was, at the time of their removal, (1803) was ruled by the Ottoman Empire and therefore the permission was ‘monkey’, i.e. not true/valid. The ‘legal’ camp point out that the Ottoman Empire had been the government in place since 1460. Therefore their permission was legal.
What is known is that:
a) the artefacts were shipped openly
b) the original document giving permission no longer exists
c) the personal cost to Elgin of removal was £70,000 and resulted in the perfect preservation of the Marbles.
During a visit to the Acropolis in the 1950s there were obvious signs of damage, by misuse of the site and by weathering, especially by acid rain. The Elgin artefacts, sold to the British Museum in 1816, were still in pristine condition, apart from the Caryatid which enthusiastic cleaning had damaged. It is now restored.
Subsequent visits enabled one to follow the painstaking restoration of the whole Acropolis site. The crowning glory was the building of the new Acropolis Museum, completed in 2008, where the Parthenon Frieze is housed in a carefully temperature controlled gallery of its own. It can be viewed easily as it is at eye level. What one finds saddening are the many ‘gaps’ filled with plaster casts which carry small plaques stating that the originals are in the British Museum. People who were against the return of the Marbles until they could be guaranteed a place of safety now believe they should be re-united with the rest of the ‘family’. Many have signed a petition for the marbles to be returned to Greece
Now the controversy appears to have been raised again. And what is responsible? BREXIT! In an apparently leaked document it is alleged that there is a clause that a free trade deal with the EU is dependent on the Parthenon marbles being returned to Greece and that several countries were ready to support this. The alleged clause in question is said to be ‘… return unlawfully removed objects to their countries of origin’, interpreted by some as an oblique reference to the Elgin marbles.
The marbles should be returned but not under circumstances, which if true amount to blackmail.
This section: Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene
Filed under: Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene
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