February 2, 2006
According to this review by the classicist Peter Jones, it would appear that the answer is an emphatic no. It is worth bearing in mind when reading this that the author of the review, to the best of my knowledge is in fact against restitution of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.
The Literary Review
Is Dorothy King's book on the Elgin Marbles worth reading?,
December / January issue
THE ELGIN MARBLES: the Story of Archaeology’s Greatest Controversy
By Dorothy King
Review by Peter Jones
(Hutchinson 288pp £16.99)
This is the worst book I have ever reviewed. It reads as if it has been cut and pasted from a web-site by a semi-literate school-girl (in my proof copy, King talks of Greeks cities ‘still under the [Persian] yolk’), struggling with her GCSE course-work. Doubtless a great deal of labour has gone into it, but to little purpose when the author’s ignorance on many topics is encyclopaedic, her ability to clarify and marshal arguments based on evidence that demands careful handling almost non-existent, and her English style execrable (her favourite conjunction is ‘and so’).
Here, for example, King is struggling to say something about (i) the Athenian claim that their first king was born from the earth, and (ii) the absence of mothers from the Parthenon marbles (‘ … and so one can read the Parthenon as a statement of Athenian misogyny’, she concludes, absurdly):
‘The Athenians also thought of themselves as superior to all other Greeks, for they claimed that they had always inhabited Attica, and had not arrived as migrants, and so their race was the oldest. Athenian mythology is confusing, for it emphasises this notion of autochthony, and the lack of a human mother also of course emphasises how little the Athenians thought of women, and so we have not one king who sprang from the earth, but a whole series of them, so that a king almost didn’t need a queen, or to bother himself with such trivial matters as procreation. Autochthony meant that Athenians could claim they were purer, allowing themselves to see other Greeks as pseudo-foreigners.’
Don’t ask. I haven’t the remotest, either.
Not only is the book unreadable, its title is also misleading. King begins her story millions of years ago with the formation of the Mediterranean basin, spends a hundred pages mangling Athenian history and trying to describe the original Parthenon, and another hundred pages labouring through Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times, before finally arriving at the subject of the title, Elgin, two-thirds of the way through. The subject of the title is then treated to a royal fifty pages before we turn to the controversy over the marbles’ subsequent treatment and ownership (forty-six pages). The word ‘history’ would have been helpful somewhere.
King’s views on this controversy continue to exemplify the seamless fit between prose style and logic evident from the rest of the book, i.e. she is against returning them, but then again, she isn’t. The following points pop out like ping-pong balls from a lottery machine. Greeks: the marbles can be appreciated only in Athens. K: this is cultural nationalism. British Museum: we acquired them legally and have cared for them well. K: Greeks have made requests to get the marbles returned, rejected by various political and cultural bodies. Christopher Hitchens say that Greeks want only the marbles back, but we cannot know that. Greeks: we now want you to loan the marbles to us. K: they would never give them back. Their demand is cultural nationalism. BM: the marbles are better seen in the BM, in the context of other cultures. K: they have inspired poets and painters, and millions see them every year here. They are part of our culture. They have inspired philhellenism and led to the recognition of Greece as a country. They are part of our heritage. The city state of Athens no longer exists, but the marbles have been here for 200 years. Henry Moore and Selfridges have been influenced by them. Had Elgin not brought them back, they would not exist. BM: the trustees are not allowed to make permanent loans. Only an Act of Parliament will allow their return. K: states cannot return everything. Should we return things in chronological order? The marbles belong to the whole of humanity. To the Greeks they are a symbol of their imperial past. Should we destroy e.g. Venetian palazzi which contain bits of the marbles? The Greek and BM holdings could not be displayed next to each other because their quality is so different. The BM gets more visitors than Athens would. When I was studying Greek art, Greek authorities would not let me see material. The BM is open and free to all. The Parthenon was famous only to Athenians, not all Greeks. Greeks have not looked after their own material well, so ours and theirs could not be displayed next to each other.
And so the little balls continue popping out, some re-appearing two or three times, till she unveils a conclusion which she has already explained is constitutionally excluded, quite apart from contradicting everything she has said: ‘When the Greeks can demonstrate that they too have done an admirable job of caring for the marbles in Athens then, perhaps, we can discuss a loan’.
I love that ‘we’.
- Another review of Dorothy King’s book on the Parthenon Marbles : February 12, 2006
- Dorothy King interview : January 25, 2006
- The Elgin Marbles & Dorothy King : January 9, 2006
- The marbles should not be returned, because of Greece’s past record : January 26, 2006
- Olga Palagia lectures on the Parthenon sculptures : October 7, 2005
- Dorothy King’s book on the Elgin Marbles : January 4, 2007
- Dorothy King speaks about against the return of the Marbles : June 20, 2004
- Peter Hitchens supports the return of the Elgin Marbles : June 4, 2005