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What is lost when historical context is destroyed?

Vanity Fair has published a number of letters in response to Christopher Hitchens’s piece on the Parthenon Sculptures [1]. Most are positive, but one tries to perpetuate the myth that Elgin saved the sculptures for the Greeks – referring to an article [2] that has already been discredited by more than [3] one commentator [4].

Vanity Fair [5]

September 2009


Greek Love

THANK YOU for “The Lovely Stones” [July], Christopher Hitchens’s beautiful and insightful piece on the Parthenon, the most elegant edifice created by a free people. His argument for the return of the amputated pieces is stunningly simple and persuasive. And his relating Obama’s stimulus ethos to Pericles’s plan “to recover from a long and ill-fought war”—to “give employment (and a morale boost) to the talents of [Greece’s] citizens … over tremendous conservative opposition to his spending”—is a breathtaking historical reflection. —GEORGE LOIS, director, Good Karma Creative, New York, New York

CRITICS OF LORD ELGIN’S purchase of the Parthenon marbles—Britain’s late foreign secretary Robin Cook, The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott, and now Christopher Hitchens—depict the then ambassador to the Ottoman Empire as a grave digger. This group fails to acknowledge that Elgin saved these particular marbles from being used as target practice. He also gained Turkish consent to transport them, at his own expense, to London. As Richard Dorment, writing in The Daily Telegraph, recently pointed out, “half of the Parthenon’s sculptures have been lost forever and surviving sections are now in 10 museums in eight countries.” —JOYCE E. BEATTIE, Chevy Chase, Maryland

“THE LOVELY STONES” helped bring the debate over the fate of the Parthenon marbles and what is lost when historical context is destroyed out from dusty academic international cultural-property-law journals and into mainstream thinking. Let’s hope that Vanity Fair continues to bring to the forefront discussion on such critical cultural assets, the loss of which affects generations to come. —BONNIE CZEGLEDI, Toronto, Ontario