Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Return the Marbles

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Return the Marbles

Article excerpt

To the Editor:

James Cuno ("Culture War," November/ December 2014) makes an unpersuasive argument against the repatriation of museum artifacts to their countries of origin. Certainly, as Cuno writes, encyclopedic museums broaden our understanding of the historical interplay among cultures. But he goes too far when he flatly dismisses countries' claims to historical objects as "frivolous" and overly nationalist. He too easily brushes aside the moral case for returning objects to the countries in which they were first unearthed-and, in particular, he is too quick to dismiss Greece's case for the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles.

Apparently with the permission of Greece's indifferent Ottoman rulers, Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, acquired the marbles between 1801 and 1812, crudely hacking off the Parthenon's sculptures and shipping them to the United Kingdom. Far from protecting the sculptures, however, the British Museum spent years systematically scraping and destroying their surfaces in an attempt to whiten them, only to belatedly realize its mistake and attempt to cover up the damage it had done.

Cuno scoffs at Athens' insistence that returning the marbles would "restore the unity" of the Parthenon. …

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