Thoughts on the Parthenon Marbles

I’m in London today, because this morning I took part in a ‘bloggers’ interview’ with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. I’ll be blogging about that soon.

However no visit to London is complete without a visit to one of my favourite places – the British Museum. I particularly wanted to go today because a couple of months ago I was in Athens and visited the New Acropolis Museum, where most of the Parthenon marbles are displayed – many of the remaining marbles, of course, are displayed here in the British Museum.

There’s been lots of discussion for a long time about whether it is right for the British Museum to keep these marbles, which were taken from Athens and brought back to the UK by Lord Elgin in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

I’m not interested in getting into a political or moral discussion about the rights and wrongs of this. We are where we are, and we must now decide whether the marbles stay here in London or whether they are returned to Athens.

I am now convinced that they should be returned to Athens. I say this not because I think it is necessarily the ‘right’ thing to do in ethical terms (although I think it probably is), but for another – far more compelling – reason.

In my opinion the most impressive Parthenon marbles are those which formed the east and west pediments of the building. (In case you’re not aware, a pediment is the triangular section above the entrance of a classical building, which is typically decorated with sculptures.)

The sculpture on the east pediment of the Parthenon displays the birth of Athena, and the west displays the battle between Athena and Poseidon.

The pieces are big, imposing and impressive. The problem is that roughly half are in the British Museum, and half in the New Acropolis Museum (well, perhaps not actually half – I think some is still on the Parthenon itself).

The reason, then, that I think the marbles in the British Museum should be sent to Athens is because I want to see the pediments put back together, in all their original glory. It would be a truly awe-inspiring display.

The Parthenon is an incredible building now, even in the relatively dilapidated state that it’s in, but one can’t appreciate how immensely imposing and grand it was in its finished form without seeing its decoration collected together in one place.

Frankly I can’t see how anyone who is passionate about the ancient world can argue that the Parthenon marbles should remain separate. I sincerely hope that in my lifetime I can see the marbles, separated now for over 200 years, reunited in the shadow of the building that they once adorned.

5 responses to “Thoughts on the Parthenon Marbles

  1. The archaeological reasoning behind your article is impecable and none can argue with it. However, the marbles are and will always be a political or a national issue.

    • Thanks for that. I know you are – sadly – right. Perhaps, though, if the archaeological argument (which is compelling) gains a wider acceptance, then the political one will follow? Or perhaps I’m being a hopeless optimist!

  2. Pingback: A compelling reason why the Parthenon Sculptures should be reunified in Athens » Elginism

  3. Another argument is that Athens provides the appropriate backdrop and context. It is a pity that the Lib Dems do not rake up this issue wholeheartedly – and also that of the dispersal of the Turner Bequest and Turner Gallery.

  4. Pingback: Andrew George joins Stephen Fry in support of returning the Parthenon Marbles