The response to the Greek government's demand for the return to Greece of the sculptures of the Parthenon, now in the British Museum, has been so encouraging that it has given rise to hopes that the Elgin Marbles, as they have come to be known, may indeed one day be restored to their rightful home.
The favourable response has come from UNESCO and from public opinion world-wide, including Britain.
For the time being, however, the British government and the authorities of the British Museum do not agree that the marbles should be returned. They base their stand on the argument that if the Parthenon sculptures were returned, it would set a precedent by which all the great museums of the world would ultimately have to return their treasures to their country of origin.
Nevertheless, this argument cannot apply to the Elgin Marbles because they are an inseparable part of the Parthenon and cannot be compared to such things as Egyptian obelisks, pharaoh's mummies, Mesopotamian tablets or Easter Island monoliths – not even with other Greek masterpieces such as the Winged Victory of Samothrace or the Venus de Milo.
Classical scholars and art historians are unanimous in declaring the Parthenon to be a unique example of Greek classical art. Those who visit it today see it without the sculptures and many are doubtless unaware that they even exist. Yet the marbles and the Parthenon, together, form part of their cultural heritage and they are prevented from appreciating and understanding its architectural value and aesthetic worth to the full.
The aim of this booklet is to explain why that masterpiece of classical art is so important that it has become a symbol of aesthetic beauty, architectural perfection and harmony with the environment as well as of pure reason and democracy, and make the general public even more responsive to the demands now being made for the return of its missing parts.
Notes on the uniqueness of the Parthenon
The Parthenon is a representative example of the high degree of architectural accomplishment attained by the 5th century B.C.
Although straight lines seem to prevail in the architectural form of the Parthenon, there is actually not one single straight line in it. A simple test is to place a hat at the end of the pedestal base of a row of columns and go to the other end of the row. The hat cannot be seen because the pedestal base is curvilinear. Another example of the aesthetic and optical rules that governed its construction is the fact that the Parthenon's corner columns are slightly larger in diameter than the others. This was done in deference to the knowledge that the more well-lighted an object is, the less voluminous it will appear. Thus, to the viewer, all the columns appear to be of the same thickness. What is even more amazing is that the ancient architects knew exactly how much thicker a corner column should be to achieve this effect and how much closer it needed to be placed to the adjacent column than the distance between each of the other columns.
The architects of the Parthenon avoided straight lines because there are no straight lines in nature. By not having any, therefore, the temple blended more harmoniously into its surroundings.
Another ingenious method used in the Parthenon to make the marble look more malleable and more alive than inanimate stone was to create an almost imperceptible swelling around the mid-shafts of the temple's 46 outer columns which the ancients called "entasis" or tension. It gives the impression that the swelling has been caused by the weight the columns have to support.
Also, the temple columns are not completely vertical but lean slightly inwards and all these deviations from the vertical or the horizontal have been calculated with mathematical exactitude.
These are only some of the aesthetic and architectural features of the Parthenon, some of which modern science has still been unable to explain. It is believed that if a building similar to the Parthenon were to be erected today with the same overall dimensions, it would look smaller than the classical temple because it would be lacking these refinements.
Another remarkable feature is the perfection of all 400 figures of the temple frieze, attesting to the fact that Pheidias's apprentices and assistants, who worked with him on the decoration of the Parthenon, were just as accomplished artists as he was.
The History of the Parthenon
After their victory against the Persians at Plataea in 479 B.C., the Athenians returned to their abandoned city and found all the buildings on the Acropolis had been laid waste.
Themistocles, Aristides and Kimon successively vied with each other in rebuilding the city. But Pericles surpassed them all.
Pericles put the prosperity that accrued to Athens in the middle of the 5th century B.C. to good use by beautifying the city with monuments that would do credit to its fame. He wanted to make Athens an artistic and cultural as well as a political pan-hellenic centre. And as Plutarch remarks: "...the occasions and services of these public works distributed plenty through every age and condition."
"As then grew the works up, no less stately in size than exquisite in form, the workmen striving to outvie the material and the design with the beauty of their workmanship, yet the most wonderful thing of all was the rapidity of their execution...For which reason Pericles' works are especially admired, as having been made quickly, to last long. For every particular piece of his work was immediately, even at that time, for its beauty and elegance, antique; and yet in its vigour and freshness looks to this day as if it were just executed."
During the thirty years of the Pericles' rule the following buildings were erected: the Parthenon and the Propylaea on the Acropolis; the Poikele Stoa and the Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora; the Odeon at the foot of the Acropolis; the temple of Poseidon at Sounion and the temple of Nemesis at Ramnous. The general artistic supervision of the Acropolis buildings was assigned to Pheidias, who distinguished himself by producing decorations that were unique in magnificence, harmony and grace. Ictinus and Callicrates were in charge of the actual construction. The Parthenon had top priority in the reconstruction plans of the city.
Work on the Parthenon began in 447 B.C. and as we know it was dedicated to the goddess Athena in 432 B.C., we may assume it took 15 years to build. This is a remarkably short time when one considers the application of theoretical concepts and principles of architecture, some of which are still unknown to us; the very high artistic standard of the monument and the large number of sculptures that decorated it. On the frieze alone there were 400 human and 200 animal figures of unique expression and technique.
In 450 A.D. the Parthenon was turned into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was not greatly altered, with the exception of the removal of some sculptures on the eastern side to make way for the apse of the Christian church. When the Franks occupied Athens in 1204, they turned the Parthenon into a Catholic church and when the Turks arrived in 1458 the Parthenon became a mosque with Turkish houses built all around it.
In 1674, the French ambassador to the Sublime Porte in Constantinople, the Marquis de Nointel, paid a visit to Athens accompanied by Jacques Carrey, an artist, who spent two weeks making sketches and drawings of the Parthenon. However hastily-drawn and imperfect these records may have been, they ar important to our knowledge of the Acropolis. Now preserved in the Paris Library, the Carrey drawings happened to be made only 13 years before the explosion of a powder magazine partly destroyed the Parthenon during the siege of the Venetian general Francesco Morosini in 1687. Morosini's bombardment is made more reprehensible by the fact that he knew the Turks were storing gunpowder on the Acropolis.
Carrey's drawings reveal that up to 1674 the Parthenon had remained intact. The most notable of Carrey's drawings is that of the west pediment which depicted the legendary quarrel between Athena and Poseidon for the consecration of the city. When he captured the Acropolis, Morosini tried to remove these sculptures. The workmen's ropes broke, however, as the sculptures were being lowered to the ground and the figure of Poseidon and the horses of his chariot were smashed on the ground. The trunk of Poseidon's body was later found buried in the soil and escaped the notice of Lord Elgin, which is why it is now in the Acropolis Museum and not in London.
The Stripping of the Parthenon
Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, was appointed British ambassador at Constantinople in 1799 after serving as envoy in Brussels and Berlin. He decided that during this ambassadorship he would put into effect a plan he himself admits he had had ever since he was young ...to be of service to the Arts by making his countrymen more familiar with Greek antiquities. With the help of his private secretary, William Richard Hamilton, who later became the British minister at Naples, he put together a team of painters, architects and moulders. With Giovanni Battista Lusieri (a Neapolitan artist who had been commissioned to paint the Greek antiquities at Agrigento in Sicily for the King of Naples) in charge, the team was sent by Hamilton to Lord Elgin in Constantinople and thence to Athens in July 1800.
The Disdar, or local Turkish commandant, allowed the artists to make drawings, at an exorbitant per diem charge, but refused to allow them to take casts or build scaffolding for a closer look at the sculptures. Lusieri went back to Constantinople and persuaded Elgin that they could not work without a firman, or authority, from the Turkish government. Elgin obtained one without difficulty from the Sultan and sent it to Lusieri but it never arrived. Meanwhile, the Disdar stopped all operations by Elgin's team. In May 1801, Elgin sent the embassy chaplain, Philip Hunt, to Athens for an on-the-spot inspection. Hunt reported that a new firman was needed and he suggested it should also give Elgin the "liberty to take away any sculptures or inscriptions which do not interfere with the works or walls of the Citadel."
Again, Elgin had no difficulty in obtaining such a firman since relations between Britain and the Sublime Porte were very cordial at that particular time, the British having expelled the French from Egypt which was then part of the Ottoman Empire.
With the Sultan's firman in hand, which referred to the Parthenon as "the temple of idols", Hunt went to Athens and reported to Elgin that "entry to the Acropolis is free, as free as the streets of Athens."
The looting of the Parthenon began forthwith and the Erechtheum and the Temple of Wingless Victory were not spared either. The sculptures were lowered from the temple and transported by British sailors on a gun-carriage. Lusieri noted: "Whatever I can say of their value will not suffice. There is nothing in the world more perfect than those pieces." At the same time, Hunt wrote to Elgin to say that if a large enough British warship had been at Piraeus, all the Caryatids, instead of only one, would have been carried away."
On December 26, 1801, Elgin wrote to Lusieri: "From the Acropolis I want to have samples of each cornice, each frieze, each column capital, of the roof decorations of the grooved pillars, of the various architectural orders of the metopes and in general, of anything, as much as possible." He was probably encouraged by the fact that during Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, the French had taken with them a whole pile of monuments from that country. Also, fearing that the French might obstruct his work, Elgin ordered the immediate shipment of the sculptures on the brig "Mentor" which he had bought for this purpose. He also asked for the removal of what he called "Demosthenes' Lantern" meaning "Diogenes' Lantern" or the Lysicrates Monument, plus the loading on the "Mentor" of capitals from the Propylaea and as many metopes as possible from the Parthenon. It should be noted here that whatever metopes are now contained in the Acropolis Museum had been buried under the debris of the 1687 explosion and were thus saved from the rapacity of Elgin's team.
On her second voyage from Piraeus, the "Mentor" ran into a storm off Cape Matapan and was wrecked off the island of Cythera. Seventeen cases of antiquities went to the bottom and it took two years of arduous work by divers to bring them up again. Another 44 cases were taken in charge by Elgin himself at Piraeus and loaded on the warship "Diana".
Shortly afterwards, Lord Elgin happened to be in Paris when Napoleon issued an order for the arrest of all English citizens then in France. He was held in France until 1806 but even from there he was able to continue his nefarious work through his agents. It was during this time that one of the Caryatids was removed, as well as a corner column of the Erechtheum, part of the frieze of the Parthenon, many inscriptions and hundreds of vases. Another two ships were loaded with antiquities found by Lusieri while excavating in Athens and its suburbs. They included many vases, 120 of which ended up in the possession of Ali Pasha of Yannina who, in turn, presented them to Napoleon.
Lusieri's incredible activity continued until 1810 when a Hydriot ship was loaded with antiquities excavated on the Hill of the Pnyx by Lord Aberdeen who later became Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister of Britain.
The last load carried off by Lord Elgin was on board the warship "Hydra" which sailed for Malta with Lusieri and Lord Byron as passengers. It was on this voyage that Lord Byron was apparently inspired to write his poem "The Curse of Athena". During this voyage the "Hydra" crossed paths with another vessel carrying the British architect Charles Robert Cockerell to Aegina where he intended to despoil the ancient temple of Aphaea. The pieces ended up in Munich but Cockerell was nevertheless able to remove the decoration of the temple of Apollo at Figaleia in Arcadia, another of Ictinus's masterpieces. As for the insatiable Lusieri, he returned to Greece in 1817 to load two more warships, the "Tagus" and the "Satellite" with gravestones, copperware and hundreds of vases. Indeed, the loading of Greece's ancient treasures had become so fashionable that the captain of the "Satellite" moored his ship off Delos and removed sculptures that, following Lord Elgin's example, he later offered to the British Museum. Elgin visited Delos in 1802 and removed an exquisite altar from that sacred place. It can now be seen in the ancestral home of the Elgins in Scotland.
After 21 years in the service of Lord Elgin, Lusieri died in Athens and was buried in the Capuchin monastery in the Plaka district of the city, which was destroyed during the War of Independence. His gravestone turned up in an excavation in 1867 and can now be seen in the yard of the Anglican Church on Philhellinon Street (!!) in the heart of Athens. Lusieri's death and the War of Independence that broke out in 1821 put a stop to Elgin's depredations which had filled a total of 253 cases despatched to London.
The Elgin Marbles in London
The first 65 of the cases that had arrived in London up to January 1804 remained in Customs until 1806, the year in which Elgin, who had been detained in France since 1803, was released. He came to London and rented a house in Park Lane. He built a large shed in the grounds and there began exhibiting the sculptures to selected visitors. Among them was the artist Benjamin Robert Haydon who was so thrilled by the sight of them that he said:
"I shall never forget the heads of the horses, their feet on the frieze. Divine art lit my mind. I understood that those sculptures would awake European art from its deep slumber. The sight of the sculptures, together with the thought that the eyes of Socrates and Plato had seen them, fascinated me. I felt I was conquered by a passion to understand the depth of the divine art of the Greeks."
The Swiss painter Henry Fuseli, on seeing the sculptures exclaimed: "The Greeks were gods!"
The sculptures remained in the dirty and damp shed in the grounds of the Park Lane house for years, decaying in London's humid climate. In 1811, Elgin offered the marbles to the British government for about £60,000 but was given to understand the government was not prepared to pay more than £30,000. Elgin thought this figure was too low since it did not even cover his expenses. Meanwhile, he had to move from the Park Lane house and the sculptures were placed in a coal shed in the yard of the Duke of Devonshire's Burlington House. Among the visitors there was Benjamin West, president of the Royal Academy, who expressed his admiration for the exhibits.
As the collection grew, with new additions, so did its fame. Through an advertisement in "The Times" of January 8, 1814 a hairdresser announced a new ladies' hair style inspired by the Parthenon figures. The Greek marbles also exerted a considerable influence on the art and architecture of the time. Churches, public buildings and even private homes were built in the Greek classical style.
A typical example is the St. Pancras parish church in London with its Caryatids and antiquarian copying of classical details.
Further appeals to the government by Lord Elgin met with objections from Lord Aberdeen, who was an advisor to the British Museum. Aberdeen did not have a very high opinion of Lord Elgin's activities in Athens, but more about this later.
From a letter Elgin wrote on March 16, 1815, it is apparent that the sculptures were still in the coal shed at Burlington House, "decaying from the destructive dampness", as Elgin himself admits.
Again he offered his collection to the nation, this time at the price of £73,600 and suggested that if this sum was considered excessive, a parliamentary committee should be set up to assess the value of the sculptures. The government agreed to set up such a committee but, what with the excitement of the victory at Waterloo and other more important events, it did not come to a decision until February 1816. In the meantime, the collection was visited by the famous Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova, who had been sent by the Pope at the head of a commission charged with the task of reclaiming Italian art treasures looted by the French.
On seeing the marbles, Canova exclaimed:
"Oh that I had but to begin again! To unlearn all that I had learned – I now at last see what ought to form the real school of sculpture."
The parliamentary committee's preliminary report on the Elgin Marbles ended with the following comment:
"No other country can offer such an honourable shelter to the monuments of Pheidias and Pericles than ours where, safe from ignorance and degradation, they shall receive the admiration and reverence due them; they will serve as an example for rivalry and imitation."
One MP remarked that the Elgin collection would contribute to the development of the Arts in England and enhance the nation's prestige and public wealth, but the view was also advanced that the collection should be returned because it was the product of looting. But these objections were overruled on the grounds that the Greeks were indifferent to the fate of their monuments and were using them for target practice. This was not true. A Jesuit monk named Babeu had observed a Turk shooting at the monuments. After all, it is most unlikely that a Greek would indulge in such a pastime in a fortified place such as the Acropolis was at the time. More Turkish bullets scarred the columns of the Propylaea and the Parthenon when a Greek garrison was defending the Acropolis against a Turkish siege in 1826-7.
The parliamentary committee's final report was debated in the House of Commons on June 7, 1816 and was passed by 83 votes to 30. It set a price of £35,000 for the marbles and although this was a disappointing figure for Elgin, he could do nothing but accept it.
The transfer of the sculptures from Burlington House to the British Museum began at once. At first they were housed in a temporary gallery built in the Museum grounds and opened in January 1817. In 1831 a permanent gallery was built for the marbles, known as the Elgin Room, and they remained there until 1915 when they were stored underground for safety during the war until 1919. In 1928 Sir Joseph (later Lord) Duveen offered to build a much larger gallery for the sculptures at his own expense. This became known as the Duveen Gallery and was completed in 1938. When the war clouds began gathering in 1939, special precautions were taken to protect the marbles in the Gallery itself while the frieze was transferred to an unused section of the London Underground Railway. The Duveen Gallery was badly damaged by bombing in 1940. At the end of the war it was rebuilt and extended and reopened in 1949. Restoration work on the gallery was carried out in 1960 and an electrostatic precipitator was installed for cleansing the air.
In December 1940 a Labour MP, Mrs. Casalet-Keir, filed a question asking the Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, whether the British government would return the Elgin Marbles to Greece in partial recognition of that country's valiant resistance and the sacrifices of its people. Although pressure was exerted on Mrs. Keir to withdraw her question, she did not do so. The British Museum then sent a memorandum to the House which, although negative, contained two interesting points. It acknowledged that the Acropolis has remained the most outstanding national monument of Greece and it suggested that the question of restoring the marbles should be a matter for the British government to decide. More recently the British government has thrown the ball back into the Museum's court by saying it was up to the British Museum to decide.
At the same time that Mrs. Keir had tabled her question (December 1940), there was a large number of letters published in "The Times" favouring the return of the marbles to Greece. Following the British Museum's reply to Mrs Keir's question, the Foreign Office made a conciliatory gesture by suggesting that certain pieces could be returned after the war, such as the Caryatid and the column from the Erechtheum. It was also insinuated that such a gesture might make the Greeks forget their expectations with regard to Cyprus. The Foreign Secretary at the time, Mr Anthony Eden, however, considered the time inopportune for any firm decision but promised the British government would look upon the matter favourably at a future date. In January 1941, Mr Clement Attlee, who headed the Labour Party and was a member of the coalition government and Lord Privy Seal, replied to Mrs Keir's question by saying the British government did not intend to take any legal steps for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece.
In 1942 Mr. Churchill was again asked in Parliament whether the British government was thinking of restoring to Greece her ancient treasures in token of British gratitude for the significant assistance being rendered to the Allied cause by the Greek underground forces. The Prime Minister merely referred the questioner to Mr. Attlee's statement.
But, before we come to Greece's present claim and Britain's refusal perhaps it would be opportune at this point to take a closer look at the Elgin Marbles and become better acquainted with them.
A Closer Look at the Elgin Marbles
The Elgin collection is composed of almost all the statues of the pediments of the Parthenon, its best metopes, most of the frieze slabs, one of the Caryatids, one ionic-style column from the Erechtheum and the four slabs of the frieze of the temple of Wingless Victory which have been replaced by plaster casts of the sculptures.
The Parthenon frieze depicts the Panathenaea pageant which was the greatest feast of ancient Athens. During the six-day festivities, which celebrated the fame of the Athenian state, various musical, rhetorical, poetic and other contests were held, including horse and chariot racing and even regattas. There were also male beauty contests and trials to test the vigour of older men.
The most important feature of the pageant was the ceremonial procession of the newly-woven veil of the goddess Athena which was carried aloft, hanging from a ship's mast like a sail, on a cart to the Erechtheum. As can be seen from the frieze, the procession of the pageant was composed of all sorts of people such as priests, musicians, nobles, foreign delegates, and immigrants, maidens carrying pitchers or baskets, charioteers, horseman and animals headed for the sacrifice of the hecatomb.
The Parthenon frieze has a total length of 160 metres (about 500 feet) all along the four sides of the temple, and a height of about one metre (approx. three feet). It is decorated with 400 human figures and 200 animals that all appear to be taking part in the procession and form a continually-flowing stream that gradually swells in quantity, liveliness and excitement without anywhere giving the impression of superfluity or overcrowding.
The western side contains the preparations for and start of the procession. Horsemen are preparing their horses while their servants arrange the folds of their masters' tunics. Some horsemen are putting on their sandals while others are mounting and still others have already started on their way. All along the frieze the movement increases with the horses seeming to strain at the bit while their riders, whose face and body expressions radiate skill and confidence, easily keep them in check. There is a magnificent sense of perspective in the rows of horses depicted, with each figure clearly distinct from the other. The frieze must have been extremely spectacular with its original colours and with the reins and bronze lances that are now missing.
The sense of movement increases gradually from figure to figure along the frieze. At one point the horses are pacing majestically, then moving at a gallop and finally rearing on their hind legs, haughty and disobedient. Before them, the chariots advance manned by their charioteers and armed men with shields. Pageant officials can be seen along the procession giving orders and trying to organise the participants. Elsewhere, archons or ancient heroes are depicted waiting or watching the procession go by. Their heads were knocked off by the Turks in 1795, but it is believed that the first figure on the left is that of Pericles.
On the eastern side of the frieze the ceremony of the folding of the sacred veil is shown. It takes place before the gods who are shown attending it but are invisible to the participants. A priest, aided by a youth, folds the veil while a priestess of Athena prepares to place one of the two seats carried by her attendants, symbolically inviting the gods to the ceremony.
Farther down, the twelve Olympian gods are depicted, larger than mortal size. In ancient times they could be recognised by the objects they held, which were made of bronze. The drill-holes for these objects can be seen but the objects themselves are missing.
At the right, the god of love, Eros, is holding a parasol to protect his mother, Aphrodite, from the sun. The figure of the goddess has been almost completely destroyed. Artemis and Poseidon can also be seen. In the next scene, Hephaestus, the lame god, is seen addressing Athena, shown here without her helmet or her shield because she is attending a peaceful event.
Three empty drill-holes indicate she was leaning on a bronze spear. Further down, her father, Zeus is shown with Hera on his left, raising her veil to look at him. Close by is the messenger goddess Iris. Her head was found in 1889 embedded in a mediaeval wall on the Acropolis and was thus rescued.
The faces of the other gods had been defaced before Elgin's appearance. This can be seen from the wear of the marble where the faces used to be. This is worth noting because the British Museum's "Historical Guide to the Sculptures of the Parthenon" states that this would have been the fate of the Elgin Marbles if they had not been transported to London.
In the sequence of the parade of the gods, Ares, the god of war, is shown in a natural posture, supporting himself on one leg and holding a spear that is now missing. On his left is the goddess Demeter with one hand on her chin and the other holding a torch, the lower part of which is preserved.
The entire presentation of the procession had a flowing smoothness and a continuity that could not be breached without damaging the overall impression it was intended to make. Among other iniquities, it is precisely this kind of damage that has been inflicted on the frieze by the transportation of the slabs to London. Out of its total length of about 500 feet or 160 metres, 54 metres were taken to the British Museum. A large part of it, however, had been destroyed before Elgin's depredations. The same applies to the metopes which were initially 92 in number and depicted scenes from panhellenic war legends. The metopes of the eastern side showed the battle between the gods and the giants while those of the western side showed scenes of Amazon fighting. Those of the north and south sides contained scenes from Centaur battles and from the Trojan war. The fifteen metopes in the British Museum come from the south side, the largest part of which was destroyed by Morosini's bombardment.
The outside periphery of the Parthenon is in Doric style while the inside periphery is Ionic, as is the frieze. The Athenians intentionally combined the two styles in order to express the city state's power through the Doric and its internal culture through the Ionic. The two sets of decorations therefore complied with tradition by having the one in the Doric order depicting war myths and the other one in the Ionic order, inspired by scenes of entertainment, peace and spiritual attainment.
With regard to the pediments of the Parthenon, we know from Pausanias' description that the eastern pediment showed the birth of Athena out of the head of Zeus with the other gods witnessing the event in amazement. The western pediment showed the quarrel between Athena and Poseidon over the consecration of the city of Cecrops. It is to be noted that the statues of the pediment, of huge size and now exhibited at the British Museum, are showing all the signs of manifest decay caused by a century and a half's exposure to the fog and smoke of the British capital. It was only in 1960 that equipment was installed in the Duveen Gallery to purify the air while the pollution-free atmosphere of London is only a recent achievement. On the other hand, the trunk of the statue of Poseidon, the only statue from the pediment now in the Acropolis Museum, shows no signs of decay from air pollution which is only a recent phenomenon in Athens.
The far corner of the western pediment depicts the Ilissus river in human form. The river god also shows signs of decay from the London atmosphere which cannot be seen on other Pheidias sculptures in Athens. He is supporting himself on his left arm, raising himself to watch the proceedings in the centre of the pediment. The anatomical detail and accuracy of the muscles, sinews, and bone structure carved out of the marble on this statue is astounding to see. But by far the greatest damage inflicted on Pheidias' sculptures in the British Museum is the fact that they have been removed from their natural environment and from the space which they were intended to occupy. This has deprived them of a very great deal of their aesthetic value. Here is what the British traveller Edward Daniel Clarke had to say about the subject:
"At the eastern gable there was a horse head appearing to be springing from the soil after Poseidon had pierced the earth with his trident while quarrelling with Athena over the patronage of the city. The horse head was made and placed by Pheidias in such a way as to appear to those looking at it from below, as if it were rising from the abyss, foaming and struggling to free itself from the suffocating position, with such a vivid movement as befitted the situation. The perspective of the sculpture, its harmony and deliberate intentions for the dimensions, all the strength and impression of the composition depend on the viewing of the work in relation to that exact distance and optical angle which Pheidias himself had calculated."
In order to achieve his masterly effects, Pheidias ordained that the lower part of the frieze decorations should have a depth of only three centimetres, while the upper part has a depth of 5.5 cm. The frieze figures also stoop slightly downwards. It is pitiful to hear some people say the Parthenon sculptures were removed in order to save them, with total disregard for the aesthetic damage involved.
The British Refusal to Return the Marbles
The British arguments against returning the marbles are first, that they were bought legitimately from the Turks on the basis of a legal document (the Sultan's firman); secondly, that they removed them with the object of saving them from total destruction and, thirdly, that the Greeks were indifferent to the fate of their ancient treasures. Since atmospheric pollution has come to plague the Athens area the added argument is now advanced that the marbles are better off in the clear and unpolluted air of London. These arguments were used as lately as November 1983 after the official Greek demand for the return of the sculptures and were repeated in the House of Commons by the spokesperson for the British government.
To deal with these arguments one by one, the first one is invalid because any purchase from the conqueror in a conquered land is tantamount to buying stolen articles from a thief or a robber. In any case, in all the correspondence and documentation relating to the Elgin Marbles, no actual purchase is mentioned but only bribes consisting of such things as jewel-studded pistols, an Arab horse, a watch, a telescope and British-made leather reins. These gifts were made to the Turkish garrison commander of the Acropolis, the Cadi of Athens and even to Ali Pasha of Yannina, for Elgin did not limit himself to looting the Acropolis but sent his agents to Epirus and to the Peloponnese as well, to pick up any antiquities they could find.
As for saving the sculptures from destruction, Elgin did not only cause irreparable damage to the Parthenon and the Erechtheum by stripping them of their decorations but also mutilated the sculptures by sawing some of them in half in order to reduce their weight and facilitate their transport. Thus, the column capital of the Parthenon, the Erechtheum cornice and many metopes and slabs were sawn and sliced. And Elgin would not have contented himself with one caryatid but would have removed the entire colonnade if a large enough ship had been at hand to transport it. Even so, the removal of the single Caryatid was enough to upset the stability of the monument.
As to the third argument, concerning the indifference of the Greeks to their ancient treasures, there is little doubt that any Greek voice raised in protest would have been quickly and brutally subdued by the Turks when a similar protest by the French consul in Athens resulted in his imprisonment.
There are many indications, however, that the Greeks grieved over their looted treasures such as the myth that the Caryatids could be heard wailing at night, mourning for their plundered sister, who could also be heard lamenting from the city prison where she had been temporarily confined after being removed from the colonnade.
There is also the story that the Greek porters who were carrying the wooden cases containing the sculptures to Piraeus thought they could hear cries coming from the figures in the crates and, setting them down, refused to carry them an inch further.
Edward Dodwell, an antiquarian, classical scholar and collector, who visited Greece early in the 19th century, reports that whenever a Greek farmer would find an ancient sculpture in his fields, he would embed it into the masonry above his front door, considering it to be an object of veneration and a guardian of his home. In his book, "A Classical and Topographical Tour through Greece", published in London in 1812, he mentions the looting of the Acropolis and affirms that the Athenians were lamenting the ruin of their antiquities and reviling the Turks for giving permission to foreigners to remove them.
Early in 1812, a group of distinguished Athenians, two of whom were members of the secret Philike Etairia (Friendly Society), founded the Philomusical Society (Society of the Friends of Music) among the members of which was Lord Guildford. One of the Society's aims was the protection of ancient monuments. The Society's activities were also encouraged by the Patriarch's office in Constantinople which instructed the Greek clergy to protect and preserve antiquities from damage or theft.
Further proof of the attachment of the Athenians to their monuments is contained in a letter from Lusieri to Elgin in which he says:
"If I cannot remove the entire Pandrossium (the colonnade of the Caryatids) I do not despair about one of the Caryatids. But the Greeks are devoted to it." (i.e. the Pandrossium).
The final argument about air pollution in Athens cannot be accepted because the sculptures suffered much more damage from their lengthy stay in the heavily-polluted atmosphere of London than they would have done if they had stayed in Athens where pollution is only a recent phenomenon. Lord Elgin himself, in his memorandum to the House of Commons affirms that London's dampness had caused decay to the sensitive Pentelic marble. This was in 1816. Since then, a more severe deterioration can be observed in the blackened sculptures of the temple of Epicurean Apollo at the British Museum.
In any case, regardless of whether the foregoing arguments have any validity or not, the fact remains that when an ancient work of art is removed from its original setting, of which it forms an aesthetic and historical part, it loses most of its value and becomes merely an item of archaeological interest. The contention, therefore, that there are no grounds for the return of the marbles is entirely insupportable.
Lord Byron put it very well when he said:
"The sea-ruling Britannia snatched the last spoils of Greece, that was in the throes of death."
The words of Alexander Rangavis at the meeting of the Greek Archaeological Society on May 12, 1842 before the eastern pediment of the Parthenon are also apt:
"What would Europe say, atremble, if one should find a drawing by Raphael or Apelles and, unable to carry it all away, should cut off the legs or the head of that work of art? If England, the friend of valiant deeds, cannot carry this entire temple to her soil and, with it, the deep blue sky under which this all-white monument stands, and cannot carry the transparent air which bathes the temple and the brilliant sun that gilds it -- if England cannot carry all those things to her far-northern climate then, just as kings and commoners formerly sent humble tokens of worship to the Parthenon and the Acropolis, so should England send us, as a token of reverence to the cradle of civilisation, the temple's jewels which were snatched from it and lie now, far away and of little value, while the temple itself remains truncated and formless."
In its various publications on the Elgin Marbles, the British Museum presents Elgin as a lover of antiquity who dedicated himself to rescuing Pheidias' sculptures from ultimate destruction. But the facts of the case present a very different picture. With the Sultan's firman in hand, Elgin seemed to think he had been given the right to take away anything he could lay hands on. This becomes manifest from the manner in which he went about his depredations and the way he abused his diplomatic status. Indeed, at one point, a parliamentary committee carried out an investigation to find out whether he had overreached his diplomatic privileges in this respect. Furthermore, the way he disposed of the 120 vases he gave to Ali Pasha of Yannina is indicative of his "concern" for the safety of the antiquities he was collecting. His rapacity seems to have been shared by his agents with Thomas Lacy suggesting the removal of the entire Pandrossium and expressing his regret that the transport of the pieces he found in Olympia would be too expensive and Philip Hunt voicing his grief at the fact that the two lions over the gate at Mycenae were too heavy to carry off. In the Peloponnese, Elgin managed to obtain from the local Turkish authorities "unlimited permission to excavate" and he returned from there with many vases and inscriptions.
But his activities did not pass unnoticed. J. Newport MP stood up in the House of Commons and protested:
"The honourable Lord benefited of the most unjustifiable means and committed fragrant looting. He looted what Turks and other barbarians had considered sacred."
Another MP, H. Hammersley, suggested that the collection be bought for £25,000 and kept at the British Museum,
"in order to be returned, whenever requested to the first Greek government formed after the liberation of the country."
Hammersley also condemned Elgin for the manner in which he had acquired the collection.
Over the course of time, these protests were forgotten in Britain and more recently, Elgin has even been represented as a protector of Greek antiquities. But the words of Horatio Smith, the poet who called Elgin a "marble-stealer" live on as do those of Lord Byron in "Childe Harold" where he writes, after witnessing Elgin's looting of the Parthenon during his stay in Athens during the winter of 1810-11:
"Blind are the eyes that do not shed tears while seeing, O, Greece beloved, your sacred objects plundered by profane English hands that have again wounded your aching bosom and snatched your gods, gods that hate England's abominable north climate."
In the same poem, Byron stigmatises the pillage and the vandalism which, he remarks, neither the Goths nor the Turks had dared perpetrate.
The publication of "Childe Harold" was accompanied by many footnotes regarding the looting. In one of them, he says:
"At this moment, 3 January 1810, besides the objects already brought to London, a Hydran ship is waiting at Piraeus for another load. I heard a young many saying, together with many of his countrymen, that they are afflicted deeply, sensing the situation; Lord Elgin may now boast of having ruined Athens."
In 1828, four years after Byron's death, his poem "The Curse of Athena" was published for the first time in England. It had been inspired by his stay in Athens in March 1811. In it, he calls Elgin a robber and likens him to a Goth. In another publication, "Hermes the Erudite" (1818) we find: "Byron and other Englishmen who toured Greece lately are naming Elgin a shameless thief."
John Hobhouse, a friend and fellow-traveller of Byron's notes in his book on the voyage, published in 1813, that on a wall in a chapel on the Acropolis he saw the following carved inscription: "Quod non fecerunt Gothi, hoc fecerunt Scoti" (What the Goths did not do, the Scots did here) – an obvious reference to Elgin who was a Scotsman.
The argument put forward by Elgin in his time and by the present curators of the British Museum, that the antiquities were transported merely to be saved, is pure hypocrisy. One look at the state of the sculptures of the temple of Epicurean Apollo in the British Museum will convince anyone that their long stay in London has done them considerable harm.
Another British traveller to Greece, Edward Clarke, in his book "Travel to European Countries" published in 1811, also predicted the disastrous effects the damp London climate would have on sculptures made from Pentelic marble.
We are told by Forbin, a French traveller of the time, that the Caryatid Elgin removed was the best preserved of them all. Yet, by 1965, when the atmosphere in Athens was still relatively unpolluted, the London Caryatid appeared more eroded than those in Athens.
Another argument advanced by the British is that by being in the British Museum, the sculptures can be seem by many more people. This is also a fallacy because in 1983, more than 1.2 million entrance tickets were sold on the Acropolis and if one should add the attendance on the two days per week which are free and that of schoolchildren and others with free passes, the figure rises to 2,500,000 or 7,000 per day. The Duveen Gallery could never account for that number. But even if this argument were valid, the fact remains that it makes a very great difference to the aesthetic value of the sculptures to see them out of context instead of in their natural environment.
Contemporary comments on Lord Elgin's looting
One of the most poignant descriptions of the actual operations on the Acropolis by Lord Elgin's work team, under the supervision of Lusieri, refers to the removal of the metopes. It is contained in Clarke's book, mentioned in the previous chapter, as follows:
"I saw the marvellous sculpture (the eighth in the sequence of detachments) being hauled from its position among the triglyps; but while the workers were trying to adjust the direction of the movement of the load according to the projecting descent line, part of the marble structure subsided under the pressure of the machines and voluminous Pentelic marble pieces collapsed noisily, scattering their white fragments among the ruins. The Turkish Sirdar (garrison commander), seeing the profanation, removed from his mouth the pipe he was smoking and with his eyes full of tears, he stated resolutely: "Finished!" and nothing would persuade him to permit the continuation of ruining the building."
Lusieri himself, writing to Elgin on September 16, 1802 on the acquisition of a metope depicting the abduction of a woman by a Centaur, confesses:
"The marble caused us a lot of difficulties and I had slightly to become a barbarian."
However, in spite of the Sirdar's horror at Lusieri's barbarity, Clarke tells us he "was poor and had to sustain a family; he could not resist the temptation of accepting some money and brilliant promises, so, despite his determination, he was dissuaded and he allowed the lowering of the most valuable sculptures of the Parthenon from their positions."
Clarke also makes the points already made in the previous chapters regarding the damage to the Parthenon from the aesthetic and statics point of view and the damage to the parts removed, not only from breakage during the process of detachment but from being sawn or split into smaller pieces afterwards for easier transport. Clarke is also aware of the fact that Pheidias and his fellow sculptors had designed the decorations in such a way as to be seen, for their best effect, from below. He concludes by saying:
"The lowering of the sculptures has frustrated Pheidias' intentions. Also, the shape of the Temple suffered a damage greater than the one suffered by Morosini's artillery. How could such an iniquity be committed by a nation that wants to boast of its discretional skill in arts? And they dare tell us, in a serious mien, that the damage was done in order to rescue the sculptures from ruin; why wasn't the English influence exercised on the Turkish government to take measures to protect them?"
Edward Dodwell, in "A Classical and Topographical Tour through Greece", London 1812, says:
"During my stay in Athens, since the Christians had started the work of extermination, the Turks imitated these acts still more basely. On order of the Sirdar, the Erechtheum epistilium, towards the Pandrossium side was lowered and placed at the fortress gates. As I thought he, the Sidar, planned to lower still other parts of the beautiful building, I had the courage to protest against the indecency of the deed. The Sirdar then, showing me with his finger the Parthenon, the Caryatids and the Erechtheum, shouted at me angrily: 'What right do you have to complain? Where are now the marbles which your own countrymen have taken away from these temples?' "
In refutation of the British argument that the Greeks were indifferent to the preservation of their monuments, Dodwell also notes that the Athenians, as well as some Turks resident in Athens, loudly lamented the ruination and berated the Sultan for giving permission to Elgin to carry out his plans. Dodwell goes on to say:
"I felt the grief and the humiliation of being present when the Parthenon was being despoilt of its most exquisite sculptures and architectural members which were thrown to the ground. I saw many metopes being lowered. As they were strongly attached between the triglyphs, the wonderful cornice that covered them was demolished. The same was done to the north-east Tympanum, which was reduced to fragments. I had made sketches of what all this had been before, and what the glorious monuments were reduced to. Trophies of genius that had resisted Time for more than twenty-two centuries and had avoided every indecency, have now suffered what we shall mourn for."
Dodwell adds that the arts in England could have benefited also from castings made out of Pheidas' sculptures and remarks that not only the sacrilege of the detachment had been dared, but the work had been assigned to people guided by their individual interests, people having the disgusting impunity of mercenary agents.
The Reverend Thomas Hughes, an English clergyman, visited Athens in 1813 and in his "Travels to Sicily, Greece and Albania", published in London in 1820, he gives a shocking picture of the plunder of the Acropolis:
"Tympana, capitals, entablature and crown, all were lying in huge heaps that could give material for the erection of an entire marble palace. The abduction of small parts of the Parthenon, of a value relatively small but which previously contributed to the solidity of the building, left that glorious edifice exposed to premature ruin and degradation. The abduction dislodged from their original positions, wherefrom they precisely drew their interest and beauty, many pieces which are altogether unnecessary to the country that now owns them."
A few years later, the English painter Hugh Williams, who had visited Greece and published a wonderful series of Greek landscapes, confessed that the Elgin Marbles might truly have contributed to the progress of the arts in England, but he also denied the legitimacy of the right to uproot them from Greece. He notes:
"What can we reply to the visitor to that country which is now deprived of a rich enjoyment, about a reward for that visitor's wayfaring labours? A small consolation shall it be to him to be told by us that he will find, in England, those missing Parthenon sculptures."
The damage to the appearance and the deformation of the Parthenon are also mentioned by Lord Broughton who also accused Elgin of having planned to remove the entire temple of Hephaestus (now known as the Theseum).
Francis Douglas, a British MP, speaking on Lord Elgin's proposal to the British government for the purchase of the marbles, assured the House that the Greeks respected the remnants of their ancestral glory and added that even the Turks had begun to appreciate their value. He particularly condemned the amputation of whole buildings such as the removal of the Caryatid and the corner column of the Erectheum, which, he said, obliterated whatever value an object may have when it is detached, even as a whole piece, from the building it belongs to. He continued:
"On the Acropolis each sculpture seems to add something living to our sight, reminding us of the chisel of its creator but also of those for whom it was created." He concludes by expressing his wonderment at the impudence of the hands that had dared to dislocate the objects Pheidias had positioned as suggested by Pericles and remarks that eminent foreigners such as Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand had charged Elgin with sacrilege."
British views on the return of the Elgin Marbles
When Lord Elgin submitted his second petition to the British government, offering to sell the Parthenon sculptures, the matter was discussed in Parliament where Sir John Newport MP said about Lord Elgin:
"The Honourable Lord has taken advantage of the most unjustifiable means (Ed. Note: he was referring to the bribing of the Turkish garrison commander of the Acropolis and the Cadi) and has committed the most flagrant pillages. It was, it seems, fatal that a representative of our country loot those objects that the Turks and other barbarians had considered sacred."
On the same day, the speaker of Parliament noted in the calendar:
"Lord Elgin's petition has been filed. His ownership rights on the collection have been contested; his conduct has also been censured."
Among the first to criticise the Parthenon looter was H. Hammersley MP who denounced the dishonesty of Lord Elgin's transaction and, as mentioned previously, proposed that the collection be purchased but kept at the British Museum and returned to the country from which it had been basely removed whenever the collection was demanded by any future Greek government without any further procedure or negotiation.
Dodwell and Clarke recommended to the government that at least the Erechtheum cornice and the Ionic column should be returned.
In 1890, an eight-page editorial by Franklin Harrison appeared in the magazine "19th Century" entitled "Return the Elgin Marbles!" In that article, the writer appeals to the gentle feelings of the English people and maintains that "even if Elgin's looting is excused, the retaining in London of parts essential to the Parthenon is no longer tolerable or convenient; their restitution is urgent both as an act of international justice and as an act beneficial to science and the arts."
In the same article, Harrison also maintained that the sculptures were more dear to the Greeks than to the British, that for 2,240 years they had formed an integral part of Greece and that therefore they were much more sacred than the Tower of London or Westminster Abbey. He writes:
"What would be our feelings if some raider had deprived us of our national monuments?"
Further on, he remarks:
"During their transportation and their long exposure to London's stormy weather, those marbles have sustained and are still sustaining an irreparable damage. Only the vulgar and ignorant are unable to grasp the difference between their shape in London's air and in the Acropolis' clear sky."
This article inspired the Irish revolutionary Roger Casement (hanged during the First World War), to write the following verses:
Give back the Elgin marbles, let them lie
Unsullied, pure beneath the Attic sky
The smoky fingers of our northern clime
More ruin work than all ancient time.
How oft' the roar of the Piraean Sea
Through column'd hall and dusky temple stealing
Hath struck these marble ears, that now must flee
The whirling hum of London, noonward reeling.
Ah! let them hear again the sounds that float
Around Athene's shrine on morning's breeze --
The lowing ox, the bell of climbing goat
And drowsy drone of far Hymettus' breeze.
Give back the marbles; let them vigil keep
Where art still lies, over Pheidias' tomb, asleep.
Philip Sassoon, MP and private secretary to the Prime Minister at the time, wrote in "The Times" of November 26 1928 that when he visited the Acropolis he kept thinking that the splendid ruins of the Parthenon and the bright air of Athens would be a more suitable place for the most harmonious sculptures in the world, than the British Museum.
Indicative of the feelings of British philhellenes regarding the looting of the sculptures are the remarks of William Miller in his book "The English in Athens before 1821". He reports that J. Galt, who went to Athens with Lord Byron in 1810, told him he had seen two ships anchored in Piraeus Harbour. One was waiting to take a load of spoils from the Parthenon while the other was loaded with black slaves from Africa. Galt did not know, Miller says, which of either loads was more gruesome.
Dr. W. Black visited Athens in 1824 and heard the touching myth of the lament of the Caryatids. Of Athens, he says whatever he had seen so far in his lifetime could not match the archaic magnificence of the view of that city. Passing by the house of the English consul, Black saw in the yard some remarkable sculptures and a clay replica of the Erechtheum Caryatid which had been sent by Elgin from England. It lay broken in fragments, smashed by Athenians indignant at Elgin's plunder which had necessitated the despatch of a clay replica. This comes as more proof of the Greeks' interest in their ancestral heritage and another refutation of the British contention that the sculptures were rescued from impending destruction due to the indifference of the Greeks.
Anglo-French wrangling over the Parthenon Sculptures
In 1776 Monsieur le Comte Choiseul de Gouffier visited Athens on his way to take up his appointment as ambassador to the Sublime Porte in Constantinople. He was a member of the French Academy and author of a book entitled "Voyage Pittoresque en Grece" published in Brussels in 1824. A Greek chronicle of the time states:
"On August 10, Monsieur Choiseul de Gouffier arrived in Athens on his way to Constantinople to take up his post as Ambassador of France to the Sublime Porte. He was received with honours by Hadji Ali who sent his Belumbashi to receive him with a splendidly harnessed horse for the ambassador to ride. The Hissar Aga decked the top of the fortress with flags."
In describing his itinerary Gouffier makes no mention of collecting or "rescuing" antiquities, as Elgin termed it. But he did manage to obtain a firman, as Elgin did later, to remove antiquities from the Acropolis. In 1788 Gouffier sent to France a part of the Parthenon frieze which was two metres (about six feet) long. A. Millin, a French archaeologist, examined the sculptures and valued them at 80,000 francs with the comment:
"No one has been able to surpass the Greeks in the art of wearing their clothes in folds. In that field the Greek women were unmatched. But this relief work proves that men, too, dressed with an equal nobleness and grace."
Millin's assessment was used by Lord Elgin in his petition to the British government as a yardstick for the estimation of the value of his own frieze sculptures which were 84 metres (about 277 feet) long.
In addition to the 2-metre length of frieze, Gouffier sent to Paris one metope from the west side of the Parthenon. Both these pieces are now in the Louvre. Later, Gouffier secretly picked up the three fragments of the Parthenon metope which the French consul in Athens, Louis Fauvel, mentions as having been displaced by a storm. These pieces, together with other antiquities, were packed in a large crate and forwarded to Talleyrand in Paris.
But France happened to be at war with Britain at the time and the ship carrying Gouffier's crate was seized by the British. The antiquities were sent to London to be sold at auction as war booty. Guessing that Lord Elgin would probably show up at the auction, Gouffier appealed to him, as a diplomatic colleague, to allow him to obtain the broken pieces of the metope at least. As it turned out, Elgin bought the metope and the antiquities for the derisory sum of £24. Gouffier continued pressing Elgin for the metope and Elgin assured him he could have it, inviting him to London at the same time. But Gouffier died in the meantime and the broken metope ended up in the British Museum.
This single incident has been used by the British as a pretext in arguing that had Lord Elgin not removed the Parthenon sculptures when he did, they would have been plundered by the French. This argument does not stand up because neither the internal conditions in France nor that country's relations with Turkey could have been conducive to such a course of events.
Unknown facts of Elgin's looting
A rare edition by an "anonymous" author, dated 1815 in London, can be found in the library of the Estia of Nea Smyrni. The "anonymous" author is William Richard Hamilton, private secretary to Lord Elgin. The book appeared at the time when Elgin was negotiating with the British government for the sale of his famous collection of sculptures which he had looted from Greece, taking advantage of Turkey's need for British support against Napoleon.
The object of the book was to stress the incomparable value of the collection, which is described, in the text, as infinitely more valuable than any other collection in the world. The fact that the book was published anonymously, for obvious reasons, reveals one more facet of Elgin's character.
However, this rare London edition contains some very interesting information which is unknown to those who are familiar with the story of the Elgin Marbles.
For instance, the book tells us Napoleon was very keen to acquire the Elgin collection at any price, so that Britain would be deprived of it. Indeed, at about that time, Napoleon had bought the famous Borghese collection for the staggering amount of £500,000.
A more interesting fact contained in the book is that Elgin's team dug up and looted the graves of Euripides and Aspasia. Unfortunately, the author describes only the finds in the grave of the famous courtesan from Miletus. They were contained in an impressive tomb, outside the gates of Piraeus on the ancient road to Eleusis. The excavation turned up a huge marble crater with a diameter of 1.5 metres. Inside it was a funerary urn containing the ashes and charred bones of the woman whose presence in Athens had so greatly influenced the city's political and cultural life. There was a gold wreath over the ashes in the shape of flowers made of gold.
Among the other priceless antiquities looted by Elgin in Athens and the surrounding area are the statue of Dionysos from the theatre of the same name, as well as the theatre's sun dial which, according to the "anonymous" author, gave the time in the days of Sophocles and Euripides.
Elgin also removed important architectural members from the temple of Aphrodite at Daphni, while from the courtyard of the Athenian Logothetis, who was British consul at the time, he acquired exceptional ancient sculptures which decorated a fountain. Among them was an Athenian inscription of inestimable importance to ancient Greek history, since it contained the names of the Athenians who fell at the battle of Potidaea. There was also a funerary inscription with the name of Socrates.
Another bit of information provided by the book is that Elgin had obtained permission from the Bishop of Athens to remove sculptures embedded in the walls of churches or monasteries in Attica. He also removed many ancient bas-reliefs and many inscriptions containing irreplaceable historical data.
Among the works of art he plundered from the monasteries was the marble throne of a gymnasiarch with beautiful carvings on the back depicting the assassins of the tyrant Hipparchus, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, with daggers in their hands and the death of Leaena who, in order not to betray the plotters under torture, bit her tongue off.
In a recent article in "The Times", Roger Scranton, publisher of the "Salisbury Review" outrageously claims that moral order dictates that Britain should keep the Elgin Marbles because Britain is the "true heir of Pericles' democracy"! In another issue of the "The Times" a translation of the Sultan's firman, authorising Lord Elgin to loot the Parthenon - the "Temple of Idols" as it is called - was published, apparently to support the legitimacy of Elgin's actions. But instead of strengthening the British position, these attempts at justification merely do the opposite.
Another argument put forward is that the Elgin Marbles belong to all Europeans since they are the heritage of a common European culture. This argument also favours the Greek position because if the marbles are part of a common European heritage, so is the Parthenon and since the marbles are an integral part of that edifice, they should be returned to it.
The Cultural Committee of the Council of Europe has recommended that the sculptures be retained in London, where they have been adequately preserved so far, and should not be exposed to the "polluted air of Athens".
Also, there is a recently-accepted tradition that "certain works of art should not be transported to a Museum in their country of origin if they are very fragile and if they can be preserved in a different climate". The Committee seems to ignore the fact that the marbles suffered considerable damage in London's damp climate, as Elgin himself reports, and they should take a look at the damage sustained by the sculptures of the Temple of Epicurean Apollo in the hall of the same name in the British Museum.
Moreover the Committee seems unaware of the fact that a Nitrogen Air-Conditioning Hall has been built in Athens where the Caryatids will be sheltered and protected from the city's pollution. Other relative measures are being taken to preserve the Elgin Marbles if and when they are eventually returned.
Incidentally, the recommendations of the Cultural Committee in this respect were virtually rejected by the plenum of the Council of Europe which has recommended to Britain and Greece to conduct negotiations for the return of the Marbles.
In November 1983 Mr Michael Foot, then leader of the Labour opposition in Parliament, pointed out that the methods by which the Elgin Marbles were detached from the Parthenon and removed from Greece, without the approval or consent of the Greek people, have been denounced by many Englishmen, with Lord Byron in the forefront. He asked the British government to examine seriously the Greek demand for the restitution of the marbles to Greece since such a demand has been made by a "friendly and democratic government."