Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Articles about Greece
A Loss of Marbles

Clearly it would be wonderful to be able to view more of the Parthenon Marbles here in Greece, in the Acropolis Museum. To be within touching distance of these sculptures and at the same time looking through the enormous plate glass windows to the Parthenon itself would be a truly uplifting experience. Yet such are the politics, the hidden agendas and the petty squabbling that this outcome is becoming increasingly unlikely despite, or perhaps partly because of, the loan of one of the ‘Elgin’ marbles to the Hermitage museum.

From the UK viewpoint they acquired the pieces legally by means of a dispensation from the then government of the country – albeit that it was based in what was then Constantinople. The Marbles were ‘protected’ by being in the hands of the British Museum, and they are seen in their current location by many more people than would see them in Athens.

From the Greek point of view these sculptures were ‘stolen’ from their rightful place on the Parthenon. The dispensation was of doubtful validity and anyway the Ottomans were an occupying force. The Marbles were badly cared for (at least at first) and their location in London is absurd.

If we probe a little deeper the entrenched positions of both sides becomes a little clearer. I doubt if the British would fight tooth and nail to retain these Marbles (and that wonderful sixth Caryatid) if their ‘repatriation’ did not form a worrying precedent. Like the museums of Germany, France, the USA and elsewhere most of the objects displayed at the British Museum were acquired, often dubiously, from countries that might well view the return of the Parthenon Marbles as a fine reason to press their own cause.

The Greeks also have a hidden agenda. The marbles to them are not just pieces of Classical sculpture that should be ‘returned to their rightful place’. They symbolise a deep-seated need for international respect, and it is for this reason that they would not countenance a long-term loan.

The Greek State is a nineteenth century construct of the Great Powers. There had been no such State since the Romans conquered Greece. The British, along with the French and the Russians, then imposed a Bavarian monarch and Germanic law upon this country. They ‘created’ Athens as the capital, simply to re-conjure a Classical mythology. They saddled the new Greece with an enormous financial debt that it could not possibly repay and which led to national bankruptcies long before the present crisis. What the Greeks want, and what we should give them, is respect. The return of the Marbles would be so much more than the acquisition of a few sculptures, it would be The UK treating the Greek State as an equal, for the first time.

To loan even one sculpture to Russia is seen by the Greeks as the ‘Great Powers’ of old just amusing themselves with artefacts that rightfully belong to them. The UK is, to Greek eyes, rubbing their noses in their inferiority. Perhaps that explains Samaras’ rather childish assentation that “This loan to Russia is an affront to the Greek people.” He went on to say: “We Greeks are at one with our history and civilisation, which cannot be broken up, loaned out, or conceded.” A remark that is total balderdash as anyone with an eye to Greek history will confirm, and which more worryingly bodes ill for the future of the Marbles when they are finally established in the Acropolis Museum.

Whether the Marbles ‘belong’ to the Greek State or not they certainly do ‘belong’ to the Parthenon. Is it too fanciful to consider those artifacts to have been ‘untimely ripped’ from their Parthenogenic womb. We British are, on the whole, a civilised people. In the past we have fought for the establishment of the Greek State, we have fought alongside Greeks in their own country in two World Wars. We are ‘brothers in arms’. It is not generosity that they seek of us, it is understanding and respect – and I for one would be happy to forge a permissory note from Mr. Erdogan, commission a frigate or two, sail up the Thames, and in true Elgin style ‘liberate’ these Marbles from the British Museum and return them whence they came!


Back to ' Greek Articles Menu'
Distant Fells
Inspiration from this glorious world.