Losing 'Our' Marbles: The Current Economic Crisis in Greece Has Drawn Attention Once Again to the Question of Where Best to Display Treasures Such as the Elgin Marbles. Jonathan Downs Offers Some Solutions to a Historical Tug of War

By Downs, Jonathan | History Today, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Losing 'Our' Marbles: The Current Economic Crisis in Greece Has Drawn Attention Once Again to the Question of Where Best to Display Treasures Such as the Elgin Marbles. Jonathan Downs Offers Some Solutions to a Historical Tug of War


Downs, Jonathan, History Today


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The debate on the return of ancient artefacts to their countries of origin is far from over. The economic crisis in Greece has bolstered the case against handing back the Elgin, or Parthenon, Marbles. Can Greece, in its present condition, take care of them properly? The same is wondered of Egypt when it calls for the return of the Rosetta Stone.

The financial chaos now gripping the birthplace of democracy is perceived as evidence of a deeper malaise. Yet the Greeks were ruined partly by their need to borrow money to stage the 2004 Olympics and also to pay for the massive project to redevelop Athens. What had been a frenetic city, blighted by delayed construction, choked with pollution and imperilled by madcap taxi drivers, became a 21st-century Euro-capital the equal of anything north of the Alps. But financial problems escalated due to poor tax-collection and the reluctance of the wealthy to pay tax.

To argue against handing back the Elgin Marbles because Greece cannot pay its bills presupposes Britain is in much better shape. However, government cuts and the foreclosures and fallout from the banking crisis tell a different story. On the other hand, to return such treasures would be the greatest boost a nation such as Greece could receive. The New Acropolis Museum sold 11,000 tickets in its first five days of opening in June 2009 and its website had 260,000 hits worldwide. It had over 90,000 visitors in the first week. These numbers would increase with the return of the marbles, providing a national focus for a stricken economy.

The supposition that only northern Europeans or Americans are capable of preserving everyone else's history is something of a pricked balloon: harsh copper chisels and carborundum stone were used in an unauthorised cleaning of Elgin's collection, which took place in 1937-38. The action ruined the 2,400-year-old patina on the figures, in some cases changing the sculptures' form. It was London soot which darkened the Rosetta Stone as it stood exposed for decades in the foyer entrance of the British Museum. It was not moved to its current protective case until 1999. Neither example compares favourably with the proper care demanded of other nations.

For all the finger-pointing, however, most arguments avoid the fundamental fact: these items are not 'ours' and the nations concerned would like them back. Lord Elgin (1766-1841), British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople between 1799 and 1803, obtained a licence, or firman, from the Ottomans who controlled Greece at the time. He sought to record the Acropolis site in Athens with the help of the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Lusieri (c.1755-1821) and then removed various pieces for shipment to Britain. The legality of this episode has long been questioned. There is no doubt that Elgin saw such removals partly as rescue; the site was being slowly consumed by frequent fires and theft. Yet there was outcry even then from observers such as the mineralogist Dr Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) at the sight of Elgin's men hacking at the Parthenon friezes. In the voyage home, some pieces were lost at sea and had to be dredged to the surface. The final bill in 1812 for the operation reached some 75,000 [pounds sterling], nearly 4 million [pounds sterling] in today's money, and Elgin sold his collection to the British Museum for less than it cost him to acquire it. It is this purchase which yielded a legal receipt for the statuary: thus the marbles were bought 'in good faith'.

The case of the Rosetta Stone is more complex, though it too is held legally in Britain by the tenuous dictate of a 200-year-old Ottoman signature. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Losing 'Our' Marbles: The Current Economic Crisis in Greece Has Drawn Attention Once Again to the Question of Where Best to Display Treasures Such as the Elgin Marbles. Jonathan Downs Offers Some Solutions to a Historical Tug of War
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.