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The Elgin Marbles: aka, Raiders of the Parthenon

June 21, 2009 2 comments

You ever see that Eddie Izzard bit about the UK surreptitiously hiding a few countries behind its back after the end of World War Two?
“England?”
“Wha?”
“What’s that you’ve got there?”
“Oh it’s just…India and a number of other countries.”
“Give it back.”
“Fine…wait, we need the Falkland Islands…for strategic sheep purposes.”

That’s a bit like what’s going on with the Elgin Marbles.
Travelling with archaeologists, you tend to hear about everyone’s personal villain. Some people hate Arthur Evans for reconstructing Knossos, some hate Schlieman…but EVERYONE hates Lord Elgin. Elgin had the bright idea to strip-mine the Parthenon for its friezes and have them shipped back to England as part of his personal effort to, ahem, ‘preserve’ antiquity. Once bankrupt, he sold them to the British government, and today they sit in a museum in London, of all places, that has absolutely no right to them.
Oh wait, that’s right, Elgin got permission from the Ottoman Empire, which was occupying Greece at the time. That’s a bit like saying I’ve got the right to my collection of French art I got by bribing the Nazi security guard.
C’mon, Britain. We’ve got a great new museum in Athens in which to house them. Time to give them back.

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