Rumours of Parthenon Marbles’ return ‘overhyped’, specialists say

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Athens, Greece – A trustee of the British Museum has confirmed the establishment is in talks with the Greek authorities concerning the disposition of the Parthenon Marbles, however has instructed Al Jazeera {that a} deal could also be elusive.

“There is certainly movement, but it is being overhyped,” mentioned Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University and a trustee since 2020.

“I think something is really happening … There have been discussions between [board of trustees chair George] Osborne and [Greek premier Kyriakos] Mitsotakis,” she instructed Al Jazeera.

The Marbles are architectural sculptures faraway from the Acropolis of Athens in 1801 by Lord Elgin, when Greece was an Ottoman dominion, and displayed on the British Museum since 1817.

Greece says they type inseparable components of the monument and have to be returned.

“There is real desire to do something. After 200 years, surely we can get somewhere better than where we are,” Beard mentioned. “Is the problem going to be resolved? I’m not sure.”

There was pleasure final July, when the British Museum instructed the Sunday Times it was providing to speak to Greece a couple of “deal” over the Marbles.

“The British Museum opted to come out and say they were talking [with us] and trying to find a solution,” mentioned Eleni Korka, honorary basic director of antiquities and cultural heritage on the Greek tradition ministry and key negotiator since Greece made public its quest to carry again the Marbles in 1981.

“This sort of public statement has never happened before. It’s only in the last year. Have they changed policy? Have they been forced to?” Korka instructed Al Jazeera.

The Parthenon Marbles
The Marbles are architectural sculptures faraway from the Acropolis at Athens in 1801 by Lord Elgin, when Greece was an Ottoman dominion [File: Dylan Martinez/Reuters]

But a British Museum assertion final November dashed hopes of a fast deal.

“We operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection,” a spokesperson mentioned – a reference to a 1963 legislation that forbids the British Museum to divest itself of any a part of its assortment.

The British Museum has provided to mortgage the sculptures to the Acropolis Museum in Athens, in-built 2009 to deal with them.

Greece refuses to make a mortgage request as a result of it might suggest British Museum possession, and Greece insists on an outright return.

But Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who faces an election this 12 months, has been gently elevating hopes.

Last month he instructed college students on the London School of Economics there was progress and “a sense of momentum”.

In early January, British Museum sources instructed the media there have been “constructive discussions” with Greece over the Marbles’ return.

Mitsotakis instructed Greece’s president his authorities had made “very systematic, quiet” efforts to repatriate the Marbles.

But Michelle Donelan, the tradition minister of the United Kingdom, once more dashed hopes, telling BBC Radio four that the sculptures “belong here in the UK”.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni referred to as ongoing negotiations “difficult but not impossible”.

Asked if Greece would think about a mortgage, she mentioned the nation was sticking to its purple traces.

“The fact that the [Greek] prime minister and culture minister clarified there cannot be progress without the ownership issue being cleared up, means it’s not going well,” mentioned Korka.

Controversial from the beginning

Elgin’s removing of the sculptures was controversial from the outset.

Britain’s House of Lords debated in 1816 whether or not he had actually secured permission from the Ottoman authorities, which then held dominion over Greece.

Elgin himself implied the Marbles had been improperly eliminated, as a result of the Lords’ important concern was whether or not he had used his affect as imperial ambassador to Constantinople to extract a allow that benefitted him personally.

“Did the permission specifically refer to the removing of statues, or was that left to discretion?” the committee of inquiry asks.

Elgin replies: “No, it was executed by the means of those general permissions granted; in point of fact, permission issuing from the Porte for any of the distant provinces, is little more than an authority to make the best bargain you can with the local authorities.”

Elgin’s fellow philhellene, Lord Byron, lamented the Marbles’ removing and excoriated Elgin in The Curse of Minerva: “So let him stand, thro’ ages yet unborn, / Fixed statue on the pedestal of scorn!”

The British Museum claims Elgin “was granted a permit” to “draw, measure and remove figures”. But critics say he stretched that to take away excess of was meant.

“Among the bribes Elgin is known to have given is 100 pounds to the Kaimacam [district governor] in Constantinople to release the second shipment [of Marbles], and an amount to the Disdar [fortress commander] in Athens equal to 35 times his annual salary. Elgin documented all expenditures because he was financed by his in-laws,” mentioned Korka.

The Parthenon Marbles
The head of a horse of Selene, a part of the Parthenon Marbles [File: Dylan Martinez/Reuters]

The British folks appear to have moved in favour of restitution.

An Economist survey in 2000 discovered that two-thirds of British MPs would vote for the Marbles’ return if a movement had been tabled.

A Sunday Times survey final August discovered that 78 p.c of Britons would return the Marbles, and a ballot this month by the Evening Standard discovered a transparent majority of 53 p.c of Britons favouring their return – greater than the bulk that voted for Brexit.

“There’s a very important change in the UK in public opinion and individuals who have an opinion on the matter, from the entire political spectrum, who now openly argue in favour of the marbles’ reunification, recognising their uniqueness,” mentioned Mitsotakis.

But Elgin will not be completely reviled, even in Greece.

“It’s true that [the Marbles’] removal saved them from exposure to war and destruction,” says the world’s rating Acropolis archaeologist, Manolis Korres, who has devoted half a century to finding out and restoring the Parthenon and different buildings there.

Turkish occupiers burned a six-storey marble column from the Temple of Zeus to make ash, a part within the concrete used to construct the mosque in Monastiraki in 1758. An identical destiny befell a neighbouring temple to the river god Ilissos 20 years later.

The Greeks additionally induced harm. “There are other monuments that were utterly pulverised in the Greek War of Independence,” says Korres. “The Monument of Thrasyllos got blown up in 1827, the last year of the revolution. It was blown to smithereens. Elgin had taken the statue of Dionysos from it, and it is now in the British Museum and was thus saved.”

But Korres agrees the Marbles should now return.

“Their possession by another museum is not morally supportable. The question of legality is moot; 200 years ago slavery was legal, too.”

The British Museum is displaying “a parochial, phobic, colonial attitude” that can’t final, she mentioned.

“If at the beginning of this process I believed the marbles would return 100 percent, I now believe it 1,000 percent … The question is when.”

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