January 26, 2006

The marbles should not be returned, because of Greece’s past record

Posted at 11:15 pm in Elgin Marbles

Yet another Dorothy King interview, this time from Reuters. She seems (as always) convinced, that her perception of past behaviour by the Greeks ought to be the sole deciding factor for whether the marbles stay in Britain or not.


Greeks ‘don’t look after treasures’
Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:43 PM GMT170
By Paul Majendie

LONDON (Reuters) – The government should not return the Elgin Marbles to Athens because Greece has a lamentable record of caring for its Parthenon treasures, a leading archaeologist says in a new book.

“I think they have to start looking after what they have,” said Dorothy King. “Most of the Parthenon sculpture in Athens isn’t on display and hasn’t been cared for.”

The government’s refusal to give back the treasures, known in Greece as the Parthenon marbles, has been a contentious issue in Anglo-Greek relations for nearly 200 years.

The series of statues and fragments were taken from the Parthenon temple in the early 19th century by British ambassador Lord Elgin who sold them to the British Museum.

Greeks see Elgin as a sinister figure, who bribed the then Ottoman authorities to raid the Acropolis and whisk away part of Greece’s identity. Archaeologists restoring the Parthenon say his rushed operation caused great damage to the marble temple.

Since its independence in 1832, Greece has repeatedly requested the return of the marbles.

Recent attempts to get the marbles back, initially revived by Greek actress turned culture minister Melina Mercouri in 1982, have gathered support in Britain with such vociferous backers as Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave.

King, interviewed by Reuters in the run-up to publication of her book “The Elgin Marbles,” said of Mercouri: “She believed in a cause and fought for it and you have to respect someone who believes in something.”

In her book, King says Mercouri once turned up at the British Museum with a camera crew in tow.

Flinging herself to the floor in one sculpture gallery, Mercouri proclaimed her love for the Parthenon.

The dramatic impact was somewhat diluted when a museum curator whispered to her: “These are beautiful sculptures, Mrs Mercouri, but the Elgin Marbles are in the next room.”


King is firmly opposed even to loaning the marbles exhibit to Greece. “It is not an option. What are we going to do — send in the SAS to bring it back. If we loan it, it is not going to come back.”

King, who studied classics at King’s College, London where she did her PhD on Greek architectural sculpture, rejects the argument that Britain’s refusal to return the marbles is an arrogant echo of its imperial past.

She says the marbles are well preserved, well cared for and accessible to all free of charge in the British Museum.

In contrast, she says the Parthenon sculptures in Athens are mostly in poor condition, continuing to disintegrate and accessible only to specialists.

The Greeks refute such charges, saying they are well capable of caring for their own antiquities.

King is also implacably opposed to the building of the new Acropolis Museum in Athens on the site of an early Christian site. The museum, long delayed and expected to finish in 2008, is being especially built to house the marbles.

“I am not being rude about the Greeks,” she insisted. “But I think various Greek governments have made it into a political issue which they shouldn’t have.

“I have objections to the way the Greeks are very nationalistic about it. I don’t like the way they have become this symbol of Greek superiority. The world has become multi-cultural.”

(Additional reporting by Dina Kyriakidou in Athens)

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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