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Society

Irish Columnist Makes Moral Case for The Parthenon Marbles Return

ATHENS – Amid conflicting reports whether the British Museum would actually return to Greece the stolen Parthenon Marbles it has displayed for 200 years, a columnist for the Irish Times said there are moral reasons why it should.

The museum’s hierarchy has shown no interest in that in making arguments why the British, and not the Greeks, now own them and Greece’s government shot down reports that a deal was in the works for a long-term loan.

Writing for the paper, Finn McRedmon said the marbles belong back in Athens, where a new Acropolis Museum opened in 2009 with a glass-walled top floor having a view of the Parthenon to show off the 2500-year-0ld treasures.

“The Parthenon Marbles used to adorn the periphery of the Parthenon temple, looming over Athens from the peak of the Acropolis. Now, they sit in a dingy side room of the British Museum in central London. This – more than any other conceivable reason – is why Britain must return them to Greece,” she wrote.

“It is not a question of propriety, law, nationalism or decolonisation – though all four of those ideas have clouded this debate for too long. Instead, it is a question of aesthetics. It is a question of appreciating beauty,” she added.

“Once we might have said that the marbles are better off in London because Greece lacked any adequate place to store and display them – now that argument cannot hold,” because of the magnificence of the Acropolis Museum.

“Those who argue they should remain in London are demonstrating their refusal to succumb to the woolly and the woke; instead maintaining pride in Britain and its national museum,” she said in skewering British Museum officials.

The British Museum claims they were legally obtained in a purchase from Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin, who said he had permission from the ruling Ottoman Empire – who didn’t own them – to take them 200 years earlier.

“No part of this case is underpinned by a reverence for history. Instead it is espoused by cultural iconoclasts who moonlight as concerned guardians. For all the appeals to propriety and conservation it seems we have lost a foundational, guiding principle: Beauty matters, and respecting our history means respecting the beautiful things people made before us,” she added.

“Crucially, they are also separated from their source. Meant to be soaked in the Athenian sun, they instead absorb the artificial light of the British Museum,” she noted, in a room that has had leaks and is dim by comparison.

“The location of the marbles is intrinsic to how we understand them, to how we understand the foundational myths of classical Athens. It is hard to overstate the influence of these stories on the Western imagination,” she said, making a case lost on the British Museum for whom they are a source or revenue.

Respecting that history then becomes a process of psychological excavation – a means to understand ourselves as we live now. The aesthetic case for repatriating the marbles is more than just that, it is the moral one too. And keeping them in place? To maintain the British Museum’s engorged collection? Tell me that is not an act borne out of so-called petty nationalism. Or for the still disputed propriety of Lord Elgin’s acquisition of them in 1816? As though it is not a tawdry bickering match designed to obfuscate the overwhelmingly obvious case for their restitution.

“The return of the Parthenon Marbles would not see every artefact world-over relitigated. But it would remind us that respecting their beauty is the ultimate act of historical reverence,” she concluded.

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