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To think that the Elgin Marbles should remain in the British Museum

(57 Posts)
hagiasophia Tue 05-Mar-19 23:43:29

Elgin bought the marbles and had a permit to remove them. Before anyone says well it was the Ottomans who sold them to Elgin, not the Greeks, they were not his to sell; you are incorrect. The Attic peninsula had been under Ottoman rule between 1458-1821(or 1830). That is as long as Scotland has been part of the UK. The idea of Greek people being one was yet to come, and even in antiquity was highly contentious.

The idea of Athens as a symbolic heart of the Greek people is a relatively new idea, considering that in the period of their transportation to Britain, Athens was merely a village or small unimportant town.

Whilst of course, no one would support the removal of part of an ancient monument today, this was not the case in the period.

Some may argue that they ought to be reunited with the rest of the Parthenon frieze, however, this itself is not even atop the Acropolis anymore. It is housed in a museum, just like the Elgin Marbles are.

The wider contemporaneous history of the Parthenon was that of rapid decline. Under the Government of the day, it was being looted for use for building materials. In the 17th century, it had been blown up whilst used as a gunpowder store. So it could be said that Elgin's removal of the sculptures indeed may have saved them from further damage such as acid rains that have effected the remaining stones.

To argue that pieces in museums ought to be sent back to their place of origin is ridiculous. If one piece is sent back that was fairly and legally purchased then everyone will want everything back. Remember; Britain has important pieces of our past in foreign museums too. Whilst returning pieces that were proven to have been stolen such as the painting by Klimt, pieces that were fairly purchased have no grounds to stand on.

BeachtheButler Tue 05-Mar-19 23:56:49

First, I think they should remain in the British Museum. BUT, the point is that Elgin's permit (from the Ottoman Govt.) allowed him to remove items excavated by his people on the Acropolis. Hacking sculptures off of the Parthenon's frieze isn't "excavating" by anyone's definition and the whole issue had to be debated in Parliament before the Museum was allowed to purchase them (Elgin had to sell - he was broke) and Parliament seems to have agreed mainly because it would cot too much to send them back.

pallisers Wed 06-Mar-19 00:01:51

Remember; Britain has important pieces of our past in foreign museums too.

I'd be interested to know which pieces of British past are in foreign museums because they were appropriated in past centuries. What was fair and legal in one time would be regarded as extortion in another. When has Britain been subject to this?

I have no opinion on the elgin marbles btw and think you make some good points.

hagiasophia Wed 06-Mar-19 00:16:18

pallisers, an example of something British in a foreign museum would be English 17th century silverware in Russia.

Absolutely, what is seen as fair and legal in one period cannot be judged using the mores of present. This is equally the same as pretty much any other point of historic view vs present view.

ADHMeeee Wed 06-Mar-19 00:23:18

Without further study of my own and many debates, I don't know which side of the fence I'm on.

But I can't stop thinking about that poem on the Elgin Marbles, when they were first glimpsed here.

You certainly raise many well written, intellectual points, OP.

Tavannach Wed 06-Mar-19 00:25:03

We've had them long enough. We should send them back and keep a replica. We have the technology.

circeplease Wed 06-Mar-19 00:28:54

OP you write very eloquently and I don't dispute a lot of what you say. However. Even if legally sold and purchased, I do think that we in this country need to come to terms with our colonialist past and its history of plunder, and this may involve trying to make amends. While we should not judge Elgin's actions by current standards, surely we should recognise that there may come a time when that isn't a good enough argument to keep them from being reunited with the rest of the frieze, whence they came (or in an appropriate museum in the same country at least).

Readytogogogo Wed 06-Mar-19 00:36:18

Such a colonial point of view. Your comparison with Scotland is completely off - Scotland is part of a union, not under English rule.

As you say, they may have been protected from damage at the time, but that's hardly the case now, so cannot be an argument for keeping them.

What would be so wrong about returning items to their countries of origin? It would be a very positive statement about the relationship we wish to have now with countries that were previously affected by the British (or other) empires.

hagiasophia Wed 06-Mar-19 00:43:42

Readytogo, I'm afraid I don't understand why my comparison with Scotland is off. The Attic peninsula was part of the Ottoman state, and so just as much Ottoman politically, as Scotland is British. I think you are missing my point; Athens at that point was seen as being just as much part of the Ottoman Empire, and therefore under their jurisdiction, as Scotland is part of Britain and so under British control.

What happens when those items then fall into the wrong hands and are destroyed for ever- Palmyra's treasures for a recent example.

You are indeed correct that there may be an improvement in relations if returned. However, is this not virtuous moralising?

Nodnol Wed 06-Mar-19 00:47:29

The Parthenon Sculptures should remain where they are. However, the British government should facilitate the instillation of replicas in the Parthenon museum in Athens. Cambridge has some brilliant replicas, so well done that it can be impossible to tell them from the original. That could be done in this case.

To move them now would result in damage I fear.

hagiasophia Wed 06-Mar-19 00:59:28

Nodnol, having visited the museum in Athens recently, I am 95% certain that they do indeed have perfect replicas of the Elgin Marbles.

EcclesThePeacock Wed 06-Mar-19 01:09:49

* Nodnol, having visited the museum in Athens recently, I am 95% certain that they do indeed have perfect replicas of the Elgin Marbles.*

Really? I was there recently and I thought their replicas looked almost deliberately poor. You don't mean they've got a good set stashed away somewhere do you?confused

MidniteScribbler Wed 06-Mar-19 01:19:22

So we should just gloss over bits of history that don't suit?

I guess the indigenous people of Australia should just get over it as well.

pallisers Wed 06-Mar-19 01:28:32

pallisers, an example of something British in a foreign museum would be English 17th century silverware in Russia.

Presumably wealthy russians bought 17th century silverware and brought it home? Or is there more to this story?

Do you really see that as the equivalent of the elgin marbles?

Tavannach Wed 06-Mar-19 01:32:38

Scotland is part of Britain and so under British control.


hagiasophia Wed 06-Mar-19 01:48:55

Perhaps my point about Scotland could have been put in a better way, remember to read British as English Tavannach!

AliceAforethought Wed 06-Mar-19 01:49:00

Scotland didn’t become part of Britain; Scotland and England were unified. It all happened at once.

hagiasophia Wed 06-Mar-19 01:54:29

Alice, I fear you're neglecting poor old Wales.. Britain is a complicated term, it is both originally geographic and now political.

pallisers Wed 06-Mar-19 02:33:00

There was a conquest of Wales
There was a union with Scotland

There is a lot of history in those statements.

I'm not even British and I know this. Almost funny to think your argument is that the british who understand and appreciate history best should best mind significant artifacts ... when you - a british person making this argument - don't know the history of your own country.

hagiasophia Wed 06-Mar-19 02:42:17

Erm what makes you think I'm British? I am African...

pallisers Wed 06-Mar-19 02:44:44

Well if you start talking about issues that are deeply rooted in British history you might want to have a basic understanding of the history of the nation -whether you are African, British, or anything else.

SeaweedDress Wed 06-Mar-19 06:21:27

You are African, but identify sufficiently as British to say ‘Britain has important pieces of OUR past in foreign collections too’?

SerenaOverjoyed Wed 06-Mar-19 08:27:16

YABVVU, and your comparisons are way off.

Athens was occupied. Although modern Greece as a republic did not exist, Greek people (Hellenes) have existed in the region long before Perikles and the golden age of Athens. The name 'Greece' actually originates from a Roman name for Greece and its people. So yes, it was occupied, and Elgin dealt with the occupying force. Once back in Britain they were tragically scrubbed down with wire wool and bleach to make them fit the British idea of sculpture, removing their colour and much of the fine details.

The Klimt example is way off. Paintings are meant to be privately owned, and they are expected to travel. The Parthenon is a symbol of the golden age of Athens in all it's glory, and this is just what is was intended to be when built. Try if the clockface of Big Ben was in the Louvre.

My real question is, even if we said the marbles were acquired legitimately, why wouldn't we return them now? Greece has promised to fill the Parthenon galleries with rotating treasures, some of which have never left Greece before. The British Museum is already full of treasure from around the world already (with a huge Hellenic collection) with many massively siginificant items sitting in a side room with little fan-fare and zero context. In my view the museum could do well to have more interactive/immersive exibits with less items.

The Arcopolis museum sits next to the Arcopolis, with an area to see the marbles in parallel with the parthenon. Why should we cling onto a dubious 18th century agreement when they are so wanted in their homeland? Why should Londoners have free access to them and Athenians need to get on a plane? The whole thing smacks of an imperialistic assumption that classical culture belongs to the UK.

Dogsandbabies Wed 06-Mar-19 08:42:13

OP, you make some well considered points (some I agree with and others not). However, they are the Parthenon marbles, not the Elgin marbles.

Birdsgottafly Wed 06-Mar-19 08:45:56

"What would be so wrong about returning items to their countries of origin?"

There would be no World museums.

A lot of the items that are around the World, wouldn't exist. They wouldn't have been preserved well and some would have been subject to war.

It's a shame that parts of buildings couldn't have been got out of Iran/Iraq etc. Likewise items from Kosovo.

Items have been lost because of earthquakes, some because of corruption.

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