Από τον Chris Anart
With the recent opening of the new hypermodern Museum of Acropolis, of course, the issue of the Parthenon marbles gains a new momentum. Not that it has ever lost the edge, but now the last cynical and arrogant argument of dimwit curators of that weird place called The British Museum ceases to stand. Remember, the argument was that there were no adequate facilities at their original site that would guarantee their proper preservation and conservation. But, let’s take things from the beginning.
First of all, the very way in which Mr. Elgin acquired the marbles is doubtful. That is, it is not clear whether it was a legitimate purchase or just a poorly covered snatch. But, let’s assume that everything was legitimate. That brings us to the second usual point made about the late benefactor of global cultural tradition.
That second point is that Elgin actually saved the marbles from disaster. But, mind you, that couldn’t have been his intention, because he simply couldn’t know that the notorious shelling of the Parthenon was going to take place some years later. Unless, of course, one wants to add clairvoyance and prophecy to other amazing qualities and abilities this hero was attributed with. Now, that doesn’t stand simply because most of the marbles and statues that were left behind by Elgin did survive. Furthermore, he actually ruined them by having the top layers of the marbles scrubbed off with iron brushes. What can we say: they just weren’t white enough for Mr. Elgin’s taste.
Finally, even the argument — generally so appealing to the well-known British arrogance and cynicism — claiming that the locals (I hesitate to call them Greeks, since the continuation of Greek national identity is somewhat a point of contention among those same exquisite British scholars) do not have the knowledge or expertise to properly preserve the remnants of the culture the West claims to be the rightful hair to; even that argument remains quite shaky. They (the locals) did do, and are still doing quite a good job in protecting the Acropolis and other ancient monuments and sites from pollution and other perils they are exposed to nowadays.
- One thing has to be said, though, and that is a big thanks to the Italians, the Brits, the Germans, the French and others who did their best to uncover, preserve and revive the legacy of ancient civilizations, especially Greek and Roman. However, given the comments and the “arguments” put forward by the curators of the British Museum — which were, of course, duly reported by the BBC, together with the malicious comments about the official opening of the Museum of the Acropolis — one seriously doubts whether they are the right people for the job.
I mean, given the lame arguments one wonders whether they ever did such a good job at preserving and conserving the legacy everyone in Europe is so proud of, or is it actually the legacy of Mr. Elgin that they preserve. For those comments and statements reveal a typical “Elginian” attitude, which could be summarized in this way: they (the marbles) are great, they are beautiful, I want them and I’m not giving them to anybody else. That seems to be the position behind the dimwit — and certainly extremely arrogant (as stupidity and stubbornness always are) — statement of one British Museum official that the marbles should stay separated so that their Greek side be visible in Athens and their universal meaning will still be observed in London.
Now, that seems to imply that Greece is not a part of the world but rather just a peculiar local community and place, whereas the British Museum holds a copyright on universal values and meanings. And all that by exhibiting artifacts from all over the world in a place called, not the World Museum, but exactly the British Museum. And, aside from a childish anal fixation on possession, that shows just how much the remnants of old British cultural colonialism are still alive and kicking in the Kingdom.
What are we supposed to think? That this is all somehow British art and architecture, and not Egyptian, Greek, Indian etc.? Well, if it’s not the colonial heritage and the nostalgia for it, there could be only one other reason for this stubbornness: the profit. Understandably and expectably, the profits of the British Museum are bound to drop should the marbles be returned, and we all know how much it hurts to lose money.
Another “argument” that could be heard from a lady curator of the Brit Museum was that the marbles could not be returned to their original location because they are not isolated single statues or works, but part of an ensemble, of a greater complex. Well, this clearly shows how these people totally miss the essential points of this matter.
· They have to be returned exactly because they are parts of a greater and absolutely integral work. That’s exactly why, dummy!
And that is the essential thing here: if you keep them separated (now that there is no infrastructural reason and no problem with the facilities or adequate expertise) their very essence will remain ruined and mutilated. Those marbles were made in a certain environment, they emerged from that specific soil and were meant to blend with the landscape and the configuration of their homeland. In other words, they lack their full meaning, value and sense as long as they are wrested from their original location. and, of course, nobody (be it an expert, a tourist or an art lover) could even begin to truly and properly appreciate this meaning, value and sense as long as the separation is in effect.
But, this goes without saying for anyone who knows anything at all about classical antiquity, about art, or about history and archeology. Ask any classicist and she will tell you that this and other great works of classical antiquity possess exactly that characteristic: they are incorporated in their immediate environment and they are fully functional as works of art only if and when they are completed with the soil they emerge from and the landscape (location, configuration) they are situated in. Only then and there are they complete and are what they really are.
· So, it is not — or at least should not be — a question of anybody’s national treasure, national legacy or right to possession of the marbles. (Hence, the question of whether they were looted or legally purchased is absolutely irrelevant.) It is a question of the universal cultural legacy of this planet. Therefore, the marbles will not be returned to the Greeks, nor taken away from the Brits. They were never theirs, or anybody else’s for that matter.
· The marbles will return to their home, their homeland and their origins, the only place they belong to and the only place that rightfully belongs to them.