London 1 September 2019 – Visitors of British Museum didn’t know about it yet: Greek government launched an ultimatum to get the friezes, pediments and metopes of the Parthenon back to Athens. The latest news on the contended Elgin Marbles comes from the Observer where on Sunday the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spelt his stony words: “I don’t think Britain should fight a loosing battle. Eventually this will be a loosing battle”.
It definitely sounds like an out-out, now facilitated by the context of Brexit.
We interviewed some arts lovers at the museum: all said they should go back where they belong to. But ‘belonging’ could be a complex matter when it comes to legal challenges. In the very first place when the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, the Earl’s of Elgin, removed the sculptures by Phidias from the Parthenon in 1805, he claimed he had a licence issued by the Empire’s authorities, but no prove of this has been found over two centuries. The appropriation then has always been held as a theft by many historians. Following bankruptcy the Earl’s of Elgin sold in 1816 the Marbles to the government.
The 2.500 years old sculptures of Periclean age, attract thousands of visitors every day at the British Museums, they are an icon of culture and one of the most important collections. “Each year millions of visitors, free of charge, admire the artistry of the sculptures and gain insight into how ancient Greece influenced- and was influenced by- the other civilisations that it encountered. The Trustees firmly believe that there is a positive advantage and public benefit in having the Sculptures divided between two great museums, each telling a complementary but different story.” the Museum states.
In 2016 the first-ever legal attempt to force the British government to return the Marbles to Greece has been a lost battle: the European Court of Human Rights didn’t even hold the hearing as the case happened over two centuries ago. Now Greece is going to fight back showing a classical Olympic balance in advising the counterpart to refrain from their warlike instincts:
The fight between Lapiths and Centaurs carved in the metopes tells wisdom will prevail over animal instinct for possession. It’s the meaning of Parthenon itself, the temple of Athena, goddess of wisdom, law and justice, erected to celebrate the victory of the democratic Athens over the Persians invaders. But the myth suggests also what British imperialism, with its violent instinct of possession disguised as expansion of civilisation, actually has been. The marbles should go where they belong, but it’s also true they are desperately needed in Britain right now because of their deep meaning in a moment democracy and wisdom are hit by the centaurs’ arrows.