Why England should return the Parthenon marbles to Greece:

For nearly two hundred years, the largest collection of marble sculptures from the Parthenon has been sitting on the other side of Europe in the British Museum in England. The collection of marble art from the Parthenon, sometimes known as the Elgin Marbles, is the center of much controversy between England and Greece. Originally sculpted in Greece during the 5th century B.C, Lord Elgin seized the sculptures in 1816. At this time, the Turkish Empire ruled Greece. Lord Elgin believed he was rescuing the sculptures from untimely ruin. Greece reclaimed the Parthenon during their bid for unification in 1819. In accordance, Greece should reclaim the marble sculptures from England.

Unfortunately, the marble sculptures deteriorated significantly at the hands of the British. Ian Jenkins, sent by the British Museum to report on the cleaning of the Parthenon marbles while in British possession, discovered that a committee issued by the museum admitted to damaging the marbles. "At a meeting of the Standing-Committee of Trustees on 8 October 1938, Forsdyke reported that 'through unauthorised and improper efforts to improve the colour of the Parthenon sculpture for Lord Duveen's new gallery, some important pieces had been greatly damaged.'" In the 1930s, the British Museum attempted to restore the Parthenon marbles to the original color. Somehow, the museum believed the sculptures originally had a bright white sheen. In fact, the original Parthenon featured a more natural gray. Once exposed to air, the improperly cleaned artifacts gave off an unnatural honey color. I twice had the opportunity to view the expansive exhibit in the British Museum. Although a casual observer, I can testify to the poor quality of the specimens in relation to photographs displayed nearby of the artifacts before the cleaning. Also, I could not help but notice the amount of suspicious white plaster used to haphazardly replace much of the specimens.

Supporters of England's bid for the sculptures have always pointed out that Greece lacks a proper location to store the relics. At the time Lord Elgin captured the now infamous marble sculptures, Greece was not able to care for the pieces. After all, the Turks controlled the Parthenon in 1816 and were not mindful of the relics within the structure. Soon, however, the Greeks will be more capable of caring for the sculptures than anyone else in the world. By 2004, the National Archeological Museum of Athens will complete the New Acropolis Museum. Situated adjacent to the hill on which the Parthenon stands, the museum's major function will be to care for the Parthenon marbles.

In fact, the British Museum lacks the proper funding to take care of the Parthenon marbles. As recently as 10 November 2002, the BBC news agency in England reports that the British Museum's debt has reached six million pounds. The Greek government already allotted twelve million U.S. dollars to build the New Acropolis Museum. Even if the museum in Greece does not attain any more operating money, the operation will still have nine million more U.S. dollars than the British Museum. Moreover, the British Museum has many other artifacts to care for. The main focus of the New Acropolis Museum will be the Parthenon marbles.

Another of the British government's arguments for retaining the marbles is that England retains a receipt of purchase. However, Lord Elgin made the transaction with the Ottoman Empire, which stole the Parthenon from the Greeks to begin with. Such a document is as persuasive as a receipt for stolen goods.

Regardless of whether or not the transaction was legal at the time or is still legal today, most Britons would like to see the marbles returned to Greece. A survey in 1987 by the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles found that only 7% of the population of England would be disappointed if the artifacts returned to their original owners.

In his book "Lord Elgin and the Marbles," William St. Claire speculates that if England returns the sculptures to Greece then there will be a mass outcry for artifacts around the globe to be returned to their lands of origin. Additionally, Daniel Shapiro, in his essay "Repartation: A Modest Proposal," predicts a "balkanization" of the world's museums if England returns the Parthenon sculptures to Greece. However, the Greek government refutes these accusations in a statement released by the Minister of Greek Culture, Evanghelos Venizelos. The statement announced that the Greek government would not seek the return of any other antiquities. In fact, "Greece would be willing to send rare and even newly discovered antiquities, which have never been seen outside Greece." Additionally, other high profile cases of artifact relocation have already been solved in favor of the original owners. For example, England returned the Stone of Scone to Scotland in 1996. England, in their tradition of capturing artifacts from less powerful nations and then returning them, should similarly relinquish Greece's Parthenon marbles.

The British Museum believes that more people will see the marbles in London. Of course, the conclusion that more visitors will see the Parthenon marbles in London rather than Athens does not follow. With a wholly restored Parthenon, Athens surely would not reduce the amount of visitors to the location. The Parthenon marbles in the British Museum are a portion of a greater relic, as well as part of Greek heritage. Actually, taking into account the size and national pride felt for the Parthenon, the building is more of a monument than a simple relic. Greece will hold the Olympic summer games in 2004, just in time for the completion of the New Acropolis Museum. Then would be an opportune time to display the artifacts to the world. England has the opportunity to make Greece whole once more. Imagine if some far away alien nation stole the Statue of Liberty's torch to do with as they please. England has done this to Greece, and she pines for the return of her statues. Without these sculptures, the Parthenon and Greece are incomplete.



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