LONDON – With polls showing a majority of Britons believing the stolen Parthenon Marbles housed in the British Museum should be sent to Greece, the arguments are growing in the media too, a columnist for The Guardian adding his voice.
Simon Jenkins mocked Prime Minister Rushi Sunak – who canceled a meeting in London with Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis for making a case in an interview with the BBC for the return of the priceless artifacts.
“The Parthenon marbles row is beyond silly. Rishi Sunak screeches “Mine, mine” like a child in a playground. He refuses a cup of tea with the Greek prime minister … the leader of the opposition laughs. The nation yawns,” he wrote.
Surveys show some 80 percent of the British think that marbles belong back in Greece, more than 200 years after they were ripped off the temple in Athens by a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, who wanted them for display in his country home.
He said he had permission of the then-ruling Ottoman Empire – which didn’t own them – but sold them to the museum after getting into financial trouble during a divorce, the museum claiming to have acquired them legally.
“Any civilized Briton knows they should be displayed where they belong – in their former home of Athens. But what fun it is to think up smart reasons why this should never happen,” he said – then moving to destroy each argument.
Sunak seemed to be particularly perturbed that Mitsotakis said the museum keeping a large chunk of the marbles torn off the frieze by Elgin was “like cutting the Mona Lisa in half,” the British leader accused of being petty and petulant.
“But as any visitor to Greece knows, what to Britain is a boring scholastic quarrel is to Greeks a burning sense of grievance that will not go away. This is an asymmetrical row,” wrote Jenkins.
BRINGING IT INTO THE LIGHT
Museum officials said more people can see the marbles there than in Greeece but he wrote that: “And so what? We are not moving the pyramids to London for a bigger show,” and larger audience.
“The Marbles issue is simply about the integrity of one of Europe’s greatest artistic compositions. These statues came from the fountainhead of European culture at its most formative moment, in the 5th Century BC,” he said.
He added that “was on the Acropolis in Athens, gazing out over the sunny Aegean with marble from the adjacent mountain, not imprisoned in a cold, gray chamber in Bloomsbury,” the London neighborhood where the museum is sited.
There have even been cases made for replicating the marbles with modern technology that can reproduce artistic masterpieces but he said that, “This indeed is about authenticity,” and the Greeks want the genuine articles, not copies.
“The Parthenon is their ancestral temple and the marbles their crown jewels. They badly want them back. And surely a cultured country such as Britain should have the dignity to oblige. It has the power to restore integrity to this stupendous composition in the land of its creation. Instead it humiliates itself by taking umbrage over a cup of tea,” added Jenkins.
He noted that the British Museum has too many artifacts, most of them stored away where the public can’t see, much of it also stolen from former colonies or other countries also clamoring for their return.
“The truth is that most museums have too much stuff, far too much. They should distribute it to the rest of the world. Returning the Parthenon Marbles might indeed be a precedent, and an excellent one,” he said, using the right term.