An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Elgin Marbles - the problem is in the plural

The new museum of the Acropolis in Athens is open now and it is, by all accounts, a truly wonderful building but the opening has been a sad occasion in one way. The so-called Elgin Marbles are still in London and there is no indication that "they" will ever be returned. And so, all of the old arguments have be rehashed and foisted upon us as if they were newly minted.

The story such as it is is simple: Athens was under Ottoman rule and the Ottomans were destroying a lot of the history that they found. The then British ambassador, said Lord Elgin, was a bit of a wily old Scot and so he knocked off a few chunks of marble from a magnificent frieze in order to decorate his own historic pile back in the UK. Sadly he ran into heavy financial waters and flogged them off to the British Museum at a knock down price. And there they remain to this day.

It occurs to me that a major part of the problem here is to do with language. Let me explain. All discussions of this thorny problem refer to either The Elgin Marbles or The Parthenon Marbles. Note the use of the plural: as if all of the fragments were stand alone pieces. Well, that just ain't so. The Parthenon frieze, from which these chunks of carved pentellic marble were ripped untimely, was and is a single work of art. It was designed as a single piece. It was executed as a single piece. And until Elgin's hired vandals got to work it had remained a single piece for several centuries.

Imagine if Elgin or one of his fellow ambassadors had cut the face out of the Mona Lisa and flogged it off to the National Gallery. Who could sensibly maintain that the 2 pieces should not be re-united?  No person in their right senses.

It's time to put back together what our forebears put asunder. There is NO reason not to and every reason so to do. And maybe if we all stop talking about the marbles (plural) and start talking about the Parthenon Frieze (singular) we shall all stop obscuring the real issue with a linguistic trick.

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