April 9, 2006

Dora Bakoyanni & the Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 10:29 pm in Elgin Marbles

Following a successful term as Mayor of Athens from 2002 until February of this year, Dora Bakoyanni has now taken the job of Foreign Affairs Minister. Her glamorous persona has added something to Greek politics in the same way as Melina Mercouri once did.
In this article we hear her views about why the Elgin Marbles should return to Athens.

Cyprus Mail

The Amazon Queen and the Elgin marbles
By Lauren O’Hara

ON WEDNESDAY night I met an Amazon Queen. She stood head and shoulders above all the men on the terrace of the Greek ambassador’s residence. The man on my right, beguiled, whispered, ” I have just met a Greek goddess”.

It was easy to see why he felt that Dora Bakoyanni might qualify: not only does her size make the rest of us mere mortals feel well, simply human. Everything about her is larger than life. She has amazing eyes. Great pools of molten chocolate. Then I was told, “this woman has known suffering and overcome it”. Those eyes have courage too.

The family was exiled to Paris during the junta years, her first husband Pavlos Bakoyannis was gunned down by the November 17 Revolutionary Organisation on September 26, 1989 leaving her with two children to raise.

She worked tirelessly to bring the assassins to justice and threw herself into a political career, becoming Culture Minister in her father’s government in 1992-93. Recently, as Mayor of Athens, she has achieved the honour of being voted World Mayor of the Year 2005. Now as Foreign Minister her eyes will be particularly focussed on the issues that surround Turkish accession to the EU, but there is another Ottoman issue that still remains unresolved.

Last year, she wrote of the Elgin marbles, housed in the British Museum and removed from the Parthenon at the beginning of the 19th century, “These monuments, removed from Greece in a highly dubious manner, form the most precious part of Athens’ artistic heritage. In order for the Parthenon to be truly appreciated, it must be viewed as an integral work of art in the new Acropolis Museum we are constructing in view of the monument itself and in the surroundings that inspired it.” I agree.

The argument has always been that if the marbles are returned it would open a floodgate of claims that museums of the world would be left with empty shelves, that there are conservation issues and access issues. It is cited that at least 5 million visitors a year pass through the British Museum and that the marbles are the second most popular exhibit after the Egyptian mummies.

But we must remind ourselves of the fact that when Elgin removed “some pieces of stone with inscriptions or figures thereon” as his official document outrageously understates, he was dealing with the Ottomans, who were coming to the end of their 400-year-old occupation of Greece and possibly cared little for the country’s ancient monuments. Even in their day the marbles caused controversy amongst the chattering classes. Byron attacked Elgin in verse, lamenting in ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ how the antiquities of Greece had been ‘defac’d by British hands’. Keats, on the other hand, wrote an enthusiastic sonnet called, “Seeing the Elgin Marbles” on their arrival in London.

There is no doubt that the marbles have been well cared for by their British hosts, there is also no doubt that at the time Elgin removed them the Parthenon was in a state of disrepair and many would support the view that he actually “saved” them. But times are different now. Personally, I would rather see the marbles back where they belong and in the new museum that is being built to house them. There would be something satisfying about being able to study them once one had actually walked around the building they belonged to. The argument that “cultural property” can be owned by all, that relics are as effective away from their sites as on them, is flawed. If we liken it to the animal kingdom, no one would argue that a tiger is better in a zoo than in the wild. They might argue that is the only way to preserve them, as their habitat is destroyed, but all zoos support reintroduction programmes. Zoos are a poor substitute for seeing an animal in its rightful surroundings.

So it is with the marbles. Send them home. They have an Amazon Queen to fight for them now, I think she’ll be fearsome advocate.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2006

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