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Thirteen British athletes support the return of the Elgin Marbles

Thirteen British Olympic Athletes have stepped forward to say that they support the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens.

From:
The Times [1]

November 13, 2003
Required reading
The Elgin Marbles

THIRTEEN of Britain’s top athletes have stepped into the controversy over the carvings, backing Greek demands for them to be sent back to Athens before it stages the Olympic Games next year. But what is the significance of Lord Elgin? In his concise and approachable The Elgin Marbles (British Museum Press), B. F. Cook explains that the Scottish peer who became Ambassador Extraordinary to Turkey, visited Athens in 1802. The city had declined under Turkish rule, so Elgin commissioned European artists to make drawings and moulds from the carvings on the Parthenon, the temple built on the Acropolis between 447 and 432 BC. The sculptures seemed at risk, and the Turks gave Elgin permission to ship the marbles to England where he exhibited them to great acclaim at his home in Piccadilly and finally sold them to the British Government for £35,000.

Although the Greeks now claim that Elgin stole the carvings, they can never be put back in their original positions on the Parthenon as it is too ruined. So the Greek plan centres instead on displaying the marbles in a new, custom-built Acropolis museum. But Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, claims that “the world benefits by being able to see and understand the surviving sculptures (roughly half are in Athens; half in London) in two different contexts: as an achievement of ancient Greek culture in Athens, and of world culture in London”.

It is a good argument. Anyone wanting to make up their own minds should explore both sides of this tortuous argument. As well as charting the marbles’ history, Cook illustrates details from both the carved frieze and the more substantial pediment figures. He even shows a restored model of the lost gold and ivory Athena statue by the renowned sculptor Pheidias, which once dominated the temple’s east end. And The Parthenon Frieze (British Museum Press) by Ian Jenkins concentrates on the shallow relief carvings that ran 524 feet around the Parthenon. The case for returning the marbles is put forward by William St Clair in Lord Elgin and the Marbles (Oxford paperbacks). It is also urged by the polemical Christopher Hitchens, who makes his eloquent plea the focus of Imperial Spoils: The Curious Case of the Elgin Marbles (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). If you still feel confused, Bernard Ashmole is well worth consulting. His Architect and Sculptor in Classical Greece (Phaidon) is a classic study, placing the Parthenon in the context of other great monuments including the temple of Zeus at Olympia. But be warned: even if you also read The Parthenon and its Sculptures (Thames & Hudson) by John Boardman, the experts all admit that the meaning of the marbles remains, in many respects, completely baffling.

RICHARD CORK