An article from the International Herald Tribune on the Parthenon Marbles, prompted by the Olympics.
International Herald Tribune 
Monday, July 19, 2004
The Elgin Marbles
The Greek government is using the spotlight of the Olympics to press its case for the return of the Elgin marbles, now housed at the British Museum in London. Once an adequate exhibition space is ready in Athens, the museum’s trustees ought to restore these treasures to their rightful home.
The poet Byron did not think Lord Elgin, the British minister in Constantinople, had the right to remove the marbles from the Parthenon and take them to London in 1806.
Byron wrote: ‘‘Dull is the eye that will not weep to see/ Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed/ By British hands, which it had best behoved/ To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.’’
Elgin and Byron lived in times of great turbulence in the eastern Mediterranean, with Greece in the process of wresting its independence from the decrepit Ottoman Empire, a struggle that cost the poet his life. For much of the last two centuries, the marbles were better off in Britain.
Over the last 30 years, however, Greece has thrown off a military dictatorship, embraced democracy, and joined the European Union. And it has persistently called for a return of the marbles, which, its Olympic exhibit shows, were hacked from the western frieze of the Parthenon by Elgin’s workmen.
The Parthenon, impressive ruin of the great Hellenic Age temple in Athens, holds a unique place in the Greek national memory. The marbles, perhaps created by the classical sculptor Phidias, are an integral part of the Parthenon., that impressive ruin of the great Hellenic Age. its greatness.
The sculptures are too precious to be left out in the polluted air of Athens. The Greek government was supposed to build a new museum on the hillside in the hope that the marbles would be returned in time for the Olympics. Construction was delayed, however, when workers digging the foundation discovered other ancient artifacts.
Twenty years ago, museum trustees in the United States and Europe worried that a return of the marbles would set a harmful precedent. Even though the trend of opinion, as typified by a UNESCO resolution, favors Greece, this has not provoked calls for the ransacking of other great museum collections.
Last week the Vatican showed great sensitivity and diplomatic finesse w when it decided to return a precious icon to the Russian Orthodox Church. In a few cases, a work of art is best exhibited in its homeland.
Lord Byron once said, ‘‘If I am a poet, the air of Greece has made me one.’’ When the Greeks complete their new museum, the Elgin marbles should go home. be returned. housed in its climate-controlled environment.