Saturday, December 10, 2022

There's Hope For Greeks Who Lost Their Marbles

Partheon looking down on new museum home awaiting its marbles



The longer I live the more I realize political absolutes are anything but. For example:


Who could conceive of a former President of the United States advocating for the suspension/termination of the Constitution so that he could regain power? Yet it happened.


Who could conceive of Members of the British Royal Family airing the Family’s most intimate dirty linen in public. Yet it’s (sort of) happening (on Netflix).


Who could conceive of the British Museum voluntarily returning the Parthenon Marbles (aka Elgin Marbles) to Greece? Yet it might just happen.


The Greek media is abuzz with a story reported in Greece’s Ta Nea newspaper of more than a year of secret talks between Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and British Museum Chairman George Osborne [former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer], to accomplish just that.


Chairman Osborne and Prime Minister Mitsotakis

For perspective on the deep meaning this potentially historic development holds for every Greek, I’ve slightly tinkered with the following background reporting set forth in Euronews.


The marbles are remnants of a 160-metre-long (520-foot) frieze that ran around the outer walls of the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis, dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom.


Photo Graham Barclay/BWP Media

The Parthenon was built between 447-432 B.C. and is considered the crowning work of classical architecture. The frieze depicted a procession in honor of Athena. Some small bits of it - and other Parthenon sculptures - are in other European museums.


Much was lost in a 17th-century bombardment, and about half the remaining works were removed in the early 19th century by a British diplomat, Lord Elgin. They ended up in the British Museum and have been a centrepiece of the Museum’s collection since 1816.


Lord Elgin

Although British authorities have rebuffed efforts to return the sculptures to Greece since at least 1941, there has been a change of tone recently as museums around the world seek to address concerns about the way ancient artefacts were acquired during periods of imperial domination and colonial expansion.


Successive Greek governments have argued that Elgin illegally sawed off the sculptures, exceeding the terms of a questionable permit granted by Turkish authorities while Greece was an unwilling part of the Ottoman Empire.


The British Museum rejects that stance - despite indications that public opinion in the UK favours the Greek demand – and a spokesman for the Museum pledged not to "dismantle its collection."


1819 British Museum Elgin Marbles Room

The issue is complicated by a UK act of Parliament that prohibits the Museum from selling, giving away or otherwise disposing of any items in its collection unless they are duplicates or not needed for study.


On its website, the Museum says it is willing to consider loaning the sculptures to Greece, but that successive Greek governments have refused to acknowledge the Museum’s ownership.


While the Museum didn’t deny that discussions have taken place, it added that it was prepared to “talk to anyone, including the Greek government’’ about a new Parthenon “partnership.’’


“As the chair of trustees said last month, we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity,’’ the Museum said in a statement released on Saturday.


The Marbles at British Museum today

“But we are seeking new positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.”


The Greek government offered no comment on the report.


Continuing in the vein of borrowing from reporters in the know on the ground, here is additional information I’ve gleaned from Politico.


“An agreement is 90 percent complete, but a critical 10 percent remains unresolved,” a person close to the talks told Ta Nea. “It’s hard to get there, but it’s not impossible. Significant progress has been made.”


Last week, Mitsotakis sounded a positive note over the issue. “A win-win solution can be found that will result in the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures in Greece, while at the same time taking into account concerns that the British Museum may have,” Mitsotakis said.


A possible solution, dubbed the “Palermo model” for having been used with works in dispute with a museum in Sicily, would see the Parthenon sculptures “deposited” in the Acropolis Museum in Athens for a temporary period, after which the governments would announce a deal for the treasures to stay permanently, according to Ta Nea. Such a deal could be agreed on without explicitly mentioning ownership of the artefacts.


More Marbles

“I don’t think anyone is seriously thinking that when the marbles go back [to Athens] they won’t go back permanently,” former U.K. Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw told
Ta Nea.


Dionysos waiting to go home

With Greek national elections coming this Spring, I’ve no doubt Greece’s negotiators would like nothing better than to have brought home the marbles before then.






PS. Happy Birthday, Godson Rick.


  1. I think this movement is being helped by a very strong commitment by a number of European countries as well as prestigious museums to return many of the Benin bronzes looted by the Brits in the 1890s. As one can imagine, there is a variety of models by which this is happening. I, for one, give two thumbs up to any efforts that will lead to these artifacts ending up where they came from.

    1. I think so too, Stan. The strangest reaction I've seen to what I consider a very positive effort on the part of Prime Minister Mitsotakis to "get the marbles back home" comes in the form of media attacks that anything less than the complete, unequivocal renunciation of any claim to the marbles and their no-strings-attached return by the Museum will brand Greece's PM as a "sell out." My question is, would you rather have the marbles in your possession or not while you argue for the next 200 years over where they should be?

  2. I think the best solution will be for the Brits to duplicate the marbles, using modern 3D scanning and computer-controlled-machining, then return the originals to Greece.

    1. As a matter of fact, If I recall correctly from when I participated in a press event at the opening of the New Acropolis Museum, something akin to that was for the NAM exhibit.