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Why Neil MacGregor thinks the Parthenon Marbles will never return to Greece

More coverage of Neil MacGregor’s statement that the Parthenon Marbles will never return to Athens [1].

Kathimerini (English Edition) [2]

Monday February 24, 2003
Museum severs Marbles talks

LONDON (AP) – The British Museum’s Elgin Collection of sculptures from the Parthenon should never be returned to their original home in Greece, the museum’s director was quoted as saying yesterday.

“I do not believe there is a case for returning the marbles,” Museum Director Neil MacGregor said, according to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. “They have a purpose here because this is where they can do most good… The British Museum can situate the achievements of these Greek sculptures in the context of the wider ancient world.”

Asked if he thought the fifth-century-BC works should never return to Greece, he said: “Yes.” MacGregor has previously said that the marbles are so important to the British Museum’s collection that they can never be removed, even on loan.

MacGregor, who took the helm of the museum last August, said he had broken off talks with the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles, which wants to see the sculptures returned to Greece.

Greece has long sought, and Britain long resisted, the return of the antiquities, a 160-meter frieze from the Parthenon. The British Museum acquired the marbles in 1811 from Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

The Greek government wants the pieces returned in time for the 2004 Olympic Games and proposes to build a new Acropolis gallery where the treasures could be displayed — on permanent loan — near the building they originally adorned.

MacGregor was quoted as saying Greece should accept a computer-generated image of what the sculptures would look like in their original home. “The Parthenon can never be reconstructed, so let’s try and put together what’s left of it virtually,” MacGregor was quoted as saying.

Telegraph [3]

Re: Lost marbles
From: William Douskalis
Date: 24 February 2003

Sir – I admit I was not surprised with Mr. Neil MacGregor’s remarks regarding the Parthenon Marbles given recent history [Elgin marbles ‘will never be returned to Greece’, 23 February 2003].

It seems the case Mr MacGregor is making, and with which Mr. Blair goes along with, is that the marbles were rightfully stolen. Rightful theft seemingly goes hand in hand with the case for moral war these days. So what is next for Britain’s new definition of morality? Perhaps Blairite Britain plan to steal all the ancient world heritage monuments in Mesopotamia and send them to the British Museum?

It is all very sad if not very surprising.

Daily Telegraph [3]

By Andrew Marr
(Filed: 26/02/2003)

Another stolen moment recently involved interviewing the excellent Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, for BBC4. MacGregor said at the weekend that the Elgin Marbles should not go back to Greece.

He believes that it’s important to see what the Greeks, Romans, Aztecs and Africans were doing, all in the same place, alongside one another, rather than in their local context, so the distinctions and similarities help build up a true history.

The misnamed British Museum is, of course, one of the very rare places where this can be properly done: the world’s first such museum is now a true world heritage site.

Years ago, when he was in charge of the National Gallery, MacGregor told me he thought the job of running the crisis-struck BM would be appallingly difficult and almost certainly destroy the reputation of whoever next took it on. Yet there he now is, struggling with the deficit and the sackings. Why?

I think he is a proper public servant, with a real sense of the wider good; but he is also clearly having a ball. It is the only spot on the globe where the North Koreans and South Koreans meet in official amity – the Korean galleries.

In fact, he added, with a delighted smile, the excellent Assyrian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Korean and North African collections would allow him to offer me a full-dress “axis of evil” cultural tour.

Kathimerini (English Edition) [2]

Saturday March 1, 2003
Never say ‘never’ to the return of Greece’s Parthenon Marbles!

Pedimental sculptures of gods from the Parthenon in the British Museum.

Discussion of the return of the Parthenon sculptures, taken away to Britain by Lord Elgin approximately 200 years ago, should continue between the authorities in Greece and at the British Museum, where the sculptures are displayed. “The Marbles will never be returned to Athens,” is the main thrust of a Daily Telegraph interview with British Museum Director Neil McGregor, his adamant stance that the discussion was over, as well as the proposal that photographs and virtual reality images of the Parthenon be used by the Greek government, were the main points raised in a letter of reply on February 27 by Professor Anthony Snodgrass, president of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures. Snodgrass sent the letter to government ministers, the trustees of the British Museum and to the media, taking exception at McGregor’s statements which he said did not reflect the views of the trustees, whom he called upon to resume bilateral talks in the name of culture.