Being True to Ourselves: Elgin Marbles, Aegean Islands and Macedonia

Αssociated Press

FILE - Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky, center left, and British Museum director Neil MacGregor attend the opening of the exhibition on Greek art with the marble sculpture of the river god Ilissos, in front, in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

The Elgin Marbles are a collection of Ancient Greek sculptures that were taken from Greece to London, England by Thomas Bruce, 7th Lord Elgin.

Lord Elgin was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803 and began sending priceless Greek artifacts to the United Kingdom in 1802, with the full process being completed in 1812.

Elgin found it difficult to transport many of the pieces that he found intact at the Parthenon and other sites, so he ordered the chopping off of arms, legs and other parts of statues to assist in moving the pieces. Additionally, his workers scraped and hacked at large swaths of the interior and exterior alike of the Parthenon, causing irreparable damage to the ancient temple.

The Elgin Marbles were sold to the British government for half of the cost of Elgin excavating and transporting them to England. The British government placed the collection in the British Museum in 1816, where they are housed to this day in the Duveen Gallery.

For years, the British have claimed that Lord Elgin legally was gifted the right to excavate and take what he chose by the Ottoman Sultan of the time, Selim III. Additionally, they claimed for generations that Greece lacked the proper museum to house such priceless works, and so considered it a duty for them to protect the artifacts in the impressive and appropriate British Museum. On the other hand, the Greeks have asked for pieces of their heritage back, have the Acropolis Museum since 2009 that has a specially built room for the Marbles, and that the agreement at the time with the Sultan was invalid due to the Ottomans being occupiers and not having real authority on the land. Furthermore, there is widespread belief that the agreement with the sultan came to be through illegal means, with bribery and other forms of nefarious behavior, which would legally void any such agreement.

I was in London April 20-24. It was surreal being at the Parthenon and Ancient Greece Galleries at the British Museum and hearing a large part of the visitors speak in Greek. I spoke to many and they had come from Athens, sometimes specifically to see large chunks of their own history at this renowned museum.

The ineptitude and deep-rooted corruption of Greek politicians and the socioeconomic leaders of Greek society has led to laughably halfhearted demands for the Elgin Marbles and works of art of their own culture. They’ve learned only to serve themselves with a complete lack of appreciation for who and what came before them, which is saddening.

The Elgin Marbles need to return to Greece. The argument that states that if Greece gets them returned there will be legal precedent for other nations to step up and reclaim their history will consequently empty the museums of Western Europe is truly ludicrous. If a nation depends on exhibiting and advertising culture and history that is not their own, they need to examine themselves more closely in the mirror and instead promote their own as proudly as they shamelessly promote the history and stolen artifacts of other nations.

It does not stop at the works of at the British Museum. History is repeating itself today with the sovereignty of the Aegean Islands being questioned openly by Turkey and the Slavs of FYROM, claiming Ancient Macedonia and Alexander the Great as their own and not Greek.

We have allowed, and continued to allow, the world to marvel at the brilliance of our ancestors and we’ve stood idly by and forgotten who we are ourselves. “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst.” – Aristotle.