9 December 2014

Marbles (3)

This series continues.
There are detailed reasons why the return of the Marbles to Athens would be pointless. Some people, for example, are under the impression that the metopes would be replaced upon the Parthenon, thus giving back its artistic integrity to an important building. But they would not. The Greeks plan simply to put them into a museum ... with a distant view of the Acropolis!! ... thus shifting them from one museum to another and leaving the gaps on the Temple itself still completely empty! And there is no reason why a Principle of Return should not apply to the contents of all the great museums of the West ... to the Venus de Milo in Paris, or the very classy exhibits secured by the Getty dollars. True, the Greek Government has given assurances that it would urge no such precedent. For myself, I do believe those who, in this generation, are giving these assurances. But such undertakings, hardly enforceable in, say, two hundred years' time, surely rest upon the pragmatic realisation that it is not a good idea to fight on too many fronts at the same time; and upon a policy of maximising international sympathy for their campaign against the Brits ... after all, who doesn't enjoy seeing the Brits getting a bit of grief? Certainly not FIFA ... but I digress ...

The widespread notion that the Marbles are somehow unique is based principally upon modern concepts of the Nation State. It implies that because Athens is the Capital of the modern Greek Nation State, therefore the Acropolis is the very heart of the identity of what it means to be Hellenic. But, far from being ancient, this idea is recent ... in fact, nineteenth century. Ancient Greece was not a Nation State. And Athens was not its capital. Athens was just one city-state among very many others (the Romans didn't even make it the capital of their province of Achaea, and Constantine set his new capital somewhere else). There was a time when Athens had a short-lived 'Empire', but that was a dominion ruthlessly exercised over a number of city-states who certainly did not all gaze with sentiment at the Acropolis Hill as the centre of their own self-identification. And other states in Greece waged long and bloody wars against Athenian aggression until that imperial arrogance itself died a sordid death in the quarries of Syracuse. If these marbles did not come from a temple in the middle of the modern Greek capital but, for example, from somewhere in a Peloponesian back-of-beyond, how keen would the government be for their return? Why don't they evince any wish to get the very fine Aphaia Marbles back to Aegina from the Glyptothek in Munich? Why so little interest in the Marbles from Bassai?* (Where on earth's that? Ask George Clooney. He's the expert on all this sort of thing.)

I cannot believe that I am the only philhellene to want the Marbles to stay exactly where they are. In their magnificent home in London, they are a superb shrine and monument to the most refined tastes of the French and British and Russian 'Enlightenment', and accessible free of charge to millions from all over the world. The Acropolis Hill in Athens, white, bloodless, and ghost-like, not to mention the shiny new museum some distance away, is now of very little cultural significance. After all, the original appearance of the Parthenon would have been dramatically polychromatic ... the passion for white stone is characteristic of 'Enlightenment' aesthetics (and a taste not even shared by some of the best informed 'Enlightenment' scholars). If the Greek Government badly needs a new, tasty exhibit to get its turnstiles clicking and to distract its suffering people from their financial woes, George Clooney and his current wife (I do hope they are both still together as I write this), both stuffed, mounted, and bleached ... then slightly foxed and with the sticking-out bits distressed to make them resemble Periclean statuary ... would be very suitable. And truly unique. What a tourist attraction!!
To be concluded.
*The German nobleman who packaged up Aphaia and Bassai in 1811 had to pay a (rather small)  bribe to the local Turkish Governor to get them out of the country. Surely that ought to make their removal even more 'illegal' than Lord Elgin's activities are alleged to have been?


vetusta ecclesia said...

The activities of the British fade besides those of, say, the French in Cambodia or the Germans. The "Ishtar Gate" in the Pergamon is more a whole street!

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

If one does desire to see the Acropolis, one better hurry for every time the Greek Gov't attempts a restoration it degrades the ruins there and outside of the ruins why would anyone desire to go to Athens, an irksome city whose planner was Satan.

It is M.J.s theory that Athens is a greek word meaning a certain orifice, but, he could be wrong

Stephen Barber said...

The Acropolis museum has an excellent display of first rate casts of all the surviving Parthenon frieze on a full size frame so that you see them from the outside, as you would have on the building itself. You can also see the surviving building from the windows of the museum. It has been very well done.