What are the Elgin Marbles?
Write at least three paragraphs (with 5 to 6 sentences in each paragraph) plus reply to another student’s post for full points. I don’t need you to cite your sources (footnotes or parentheticals), but you should say: “According to National Geographic” or “per an article published in the Burlington Magazine from 1935 written by Lord Elgin,” so I know if you are using outside information.
A collection of stone objects – sculptures, inscriptions and architectural features – acquired by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon in Athens between 1801 and 1805, during his time as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, of which Athens was a part.
What is the Parthenon?
Regarded as one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. Built nearly 2,500 years ago as a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, it was for a thousand years the church of the Virgin Mary of the Athenians, then a mosque, and finally an archaeological ruin. By 1800 only about half of the original sculptural decoration remained.
Did Lord Elgin Steal The Marbles?
Not according to the British Museum, which says he acted with the full knowledge and permission of the Ottoman authorities, removed about half of the remaining sculptures from the fallen ruins and from the building itself.
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Lord Elgin was passionate about ancient Greek art and transported the sculptures back to Britain by sea.
Where are they housed?
The objects were purchased by the British Parliament from Lord Elgin in 1816, following a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry which fully investigated and approved the legality of Lord Elgin’s actions. They were presented by Parliament to the British Museum, where they have remained on display ever since.
Why the controversy?
The sculptures are the subject of one of the longest cultural rows in Europe.
The Greeks have demanded that they be returned to their homeland. Greece maintains they were taken illegally during the country’s Turkish occupation and should be returned for display in Athens. The Greek government has disputed the British Museum Trustees’ legal title to the sculptures. Some suggest that Lord Elgin bribed Turkish officials and effectively stole the marbles.
But the British say that Lord Elgin legally purchased the statues from the Ottoman Empire before Greece won its independence and that it would set a disturbing precedent for major museums if they were returned.
Many British historians consider them relics of an Athenian civilisation rather than the modern Greek state.
When did the argument begin?
The first serious discussion about returning the Elgin Marbles is said to have been initiated in an exchange of correspondence in a newspaper in 1925, with Courtenay Pollock arguing that the time was right to make the gesture towards Greece.
Since then the issue has been raised by the Greek authorities with almost every British ambassador to Athens.
The British Museum says that the Acropolis Museum in Athens allows the remaining Parthenon sculptures to be appreciated against the backdrop of ancient Greek and Athenian history. It says the Parthenon sculptures in London are “an important representation of ancient Athenian civilisation in the context of world history”.
Why the recent publicity?
In October, lawyer Amal Clooney – the wife of actor George Clooney – said Greece had “just cause” for the return of the marbles. Mrs Clooney, who is part of the legal team advising the Greek government on possible action in the international courts to force the return of the marbles, claimed Britain should be embarrassed for retaining them.
However, Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, ruled out a return, arguing that they gave “maximum public benefit” by staying in London.
The row will only escalate with the lending of the river god Ilissos to Russia. Greece will no doubt be furious that the British Museum is prepared to send part of the Parthenon to Russia but not back to the Athens.
What survives of the Parthenon?
Roughly half now survives: 247 feet of the original 524 feet of frieze; 15 of 92 metopes; 17 figures from the pediments, and various other pieces of architecture. It also includes objects from other buildings on the Acropolis: the Erechtheion, the Propylaia, and the Temple of Athena Nike.
Where can the surviving sculptures be seen?
Around 65 per cent of the original sculptures survive and are located in museums across Europe. The Acropolis Museum in Athens and the British Museum in London have about 30 per cent each, while other pieces are held by other major European museums, including the Louvre and the Vatican. The British Museum also has other fragments from the Parthenon acquired from collections that have no connection with Lord Elgin.
Think about these questions:
- Should the Parthenon Marbles (Elgin Marbles) be returned to Greece?
- Is Lord Elgin a hero, or a villain?
- Should Greece (or Britain) have a perfect replica of the missing parts instead?
- Does this mean that all art everywhere should be returned to its place of origin?
WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO:
Write at least three paragraphs (with 5 to 6 sentences in each paragraph) plus reply to another student’s post for full points. I don’t need you to cite your sources (footnotes or parentheticals), but you should say: “According to National Geographic” or “per an article published in the Burlington Magazine from 1935 written by Lord Elgin,” so I know if you are using outside information. DO NOT copy and paste any information into your discussion (because that’s plagiarism), please synthesize information into your own words.
Look at the word document “Parthenon Frieze Discussion” attachment at the bottom of this page and the “Parthenon Battle” National Geographic video in this week’s module about the removal of the marbles from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin. Feel free to watch videos on You Tube or read articles about the subject on your own, then PICK A SIDE to write about. I want your discussion to be very decisive: “Yes, I believe that the Parthenon marbles were stolen off of the Parthenon and that the removal was the equal of looting. They should be returned to Greece.” Alternately: “No, I believe that Lord Elgin is the only reason that the Parthenon marbles exist today, and he should be hailed as a hero and the marbles should remain in England for all time. Greece is a mess, and the British Museum is the logical place to protect world heritage.”
You should certainly argue your case one way or the other. Things to think about: Greece is bankrupt. Do they have the funds to protect such treasures 24 hours a day? Why can’t Greece have a perfect replica of the marbles? Why can’t Britain have a replica and send back the originals? If Greece is bankrupt, would the marbles be safe if they returned? If Greece cares so much about the Parthenon marbles, why did Greece leave the rest of the Parthenon frieze on the monument until the 1990s until it was so damaged by acid rain that it was barely readable? Why does Greece get its antiquities returned? Is Greece offering to return its Egyptian artifacts in their museum collections to Egypt? (Answer: no.) Is this an unfair grab for money and tourism to return to Greece and their newly-built Acropolis museum? Would the return of the marbles set a precedent that allows all countries to ask for their artifacts to be returned? Is that fair to world culture? Should you only ever be able to see artworks in their place of origin? If so, is there really a shared world/human heritage at all?