January 17, 2002
Mark Steel writes about the Parthenon Marbles in his own inimitable way – with his tongue planted very firmly in his cheek. As always though, there is a lot of truth in what he says.
24 January 2002 00:45 GMT
Mark Steel: Lord Elgin was only trying to help the Greeks
‘They should retaliate by running off with the dome of St Paul’s and placing it upside down in Athens’
17 January 2002
Whenever the British reject a plea from the Greeks for the return of the Elgin Marbles, we sound like a small-town petty criminal making an excuse for being caught with a van full of stolen bacon. They will “never” be returned to Greece, it was announced this week, because we can look after them better than the Greeks. The full original statement probably went: “We haven’t nicked them or nothing, we’re just looking after them, ‘cos if they were left in Greece, they’d melt with all that sun. And olive oil brings statues out in blotches, apparently.”
This is similar to Lord Elgin’s original argument, that he was swiping the sculptures to protect them from the Ottoman Empire. Since then, we’ve given them nothing but loving care, if you exclude incidents such as the time in 1938 when someone decided they weren’t white enough, and scraped the top from almost the entire collection with wire wool. I suppose the Greeks are lucky that, in the 1970s, no one decided to paint red hats on the statues, stick fishing rods in their arms and stick them in a garden next to a pond. Or cover the whole collection in formica, pebble-dash them and hang window-boxes full of pansies from the water carriers. Or, in the 1980s, try to strip them back to the original wood.
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