That pretty much sums up my reaction to this excellent NY Times article on recent requests from Greece to “repatriate” the Elgin Marbles.
My father–who is British–would say “we stole ‘em fair and square". True enough, and that theft is a fact of history–the presence of the marbles in Britain inspired the 18th/19th century Neo-Classical revival in the West. Prior to that, the Parthenon was a Turkish munitions dump, a makeshift mosque, a church–why, again, should all this be stripped away in favor of an archaeological reconstruction of Periclean Athens?
This blog proves I’m a big fan of the ancient world, but I also think it’s foolish to ignore later events in arriving at some pristine reconstructed notion of ancient civilization. All history is a process; take the example of the Euphronius Krater recently returned to Italy my the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Stolen property is stolen property. But how curious that an ancient Greek vase, which centuries after it was made came into the possession of an Etruscan collector (a kind of ancient Elgin) living on what is now the outskirts of Rome, and then ended up buried for thousands of years below what became modern Italy, is today Italian cultural patrimony. By that definition, Elgin’s loot is arguably British patrimony.
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