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Greece should not abandon its principles – or its relics

Jim Egan is director of Ferrumar, a marine exploration company and has had a long standing interest in the case of the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles and how it might be resolved.

He recently forward me this piece outlining some of the recent interventions that he has made, along with his thoughts on how the resolution of the issue might be expedited.

The corner of the Parthenon pediment

The corner of the Parthenon pediment

Jim Egan (via email)

Greece should not abandon its principles – or its relics

Perplexed am I over Greece’s consistent failure to remedy its ancient problems, whether in small steps or creative ways.

One method for resolving the Parthenon Marbles puzzle involves sidestepping, at least temporarily, the morass of moral claims and legal principles (Financial Times, “Judgment is not set in stone”, Tiffany Jenkins, Life & Arts, February 12) over whether or not the British Museum rightfully owns the Parthenon Marbles in its collection.

David Critchley’s subsequent Letter to the Financial Times (“Restore the Parthenon with replica statues”, February 27) plots the optimum course. Coincidentally, six years ago my firm offered the Greeks that same solution so as to help relieve their understandable agony over the long-missing Marbles still residing in multiple out-of-context non-Greek locations.

Precision camera, imaging software and manufacturing technologies can facilitate the exact reproduction (in stunning detail, matching colour and similar weight) of the metopes, friezes, pediments and sculptures Lord Elgin and his agents removed en masse from the Cradle of Western Civilisation, most intensively during the years 1801-1803 (their last shipment occurred in 1812).

In 2010 I approached Princeton University with Ferrumar’s plan to recreate and ‘reunify’ the missing Marbles in this manner. I asked to meet with one of Princeton’s patrons, a wealthy ostensible enthusiast of Greek antiquity, to present our solution and ask that gentlemen to fund its costs. Six months of my periodic prodding finally elicited a one-line email reply from a low-level Princeton staffer who wrote “… I will be in touch with you at the direction of my employer.” Not at all the tenor or substance of a response one would expect. But, in hindsight, ironically congruent with the section of Princeton’s motto (‘Viget’) taken from Aristotle’s notion of ‘eudaimonia’ (aka, acting on what you learn).

Believing that Princeton suffered from gross dereliction of duty, discoloured by strains of bureaucratic inertia, I next phoned and emailed a high-end UK real estate agency. It represented that same Princeton patron who periodically bought and restored dilapidated country houses. In May 2011, after nine months of my occasional prodding, an agency partner wrote a one-line email informing me that “… [his client] … and his advisors have asked us to not contact him anymore regarding this matter.” Hardly a noble way of recusing oneself, from this new approach to helping restore the lustre of the Hellenistic Age, by tasking a proxy to conjour the spectre of frivolous legal action.

Twelve months later, after deciding the goal was worth continued effort, I approached the Acropolis Museum’s director and described Ferrumar’s plan. Lo and behold! During the two-year span between my having first contacted Princeton, and then one of the university’s patrons, and lastly the Acropolis Museum, that very plan was being actioned. Unfortunately, it was not done in an optimum manner and the museum’s attempt has since failed.

Ferrumar’s ‘reunification’ plan rests upon the pillars of: project management style; excellent sub-contractors; finely-tuned technologies; and, field execution. Moreover, this solution can incorporate the principal 15 private and public collections of Parthenon-related artefacts outside of Greece. Our process will also yield a documentary film series and a pair of breathtaking virtual reality webcasts.

Let’s change tack and approach a second realm of Greek folly involving the missing Parthenon Marbles. For at least the past 50 years this dimension has no doubt driven the Gods of Olympus, primarily Athena and Poseidon, to frequent bouts of raging frustration. Greeks have shown a complete lack of creativity and drive to either facilitate, or directly engage in, the salvaging of Acropolis objects which Lord Elgin actually lost. Those items were among the official and unofficial cargoes that sank en route to England and thus never reached the British Museum. Incredibly (and inexcusably, given Greece’s historic and modern maritime prowess), two of those three locations are in Greek waters. One, involving the brig Mentor, is not far from Athens and just 18 metres deep.

There exists a tragi-comedy chasm between the rhetoric and reality of Greece’s willpower to reconstitute the Parthenon Marbles. On the one hand (from a long-game perspective), this contentious subject’s Greek chorus is admirably vocal and passionate about the British Museum’s trove of Marbles. Yet, on the other hand (from a short-game standpoint), those same Greeks fall deafeningly mute and blasé when offered opportunities to partially or wholly resolve their conundrum now.

Recreating, as well as reuniting, long-missing Parthenon Marbles in all their glory is an elegant and engaging means for enabling generations of Greece’s citizens (and cash-laden experiential tourists worldwide), to more deeply understand and revere ancient Athens’ literal and symbolic splendour.

Those outcomes can be realised within two short years, and perpetually power an iconic nation branding strategy for Greece.

Jim Egan