Losing Your Marbles

Yesterday we paid a flying visit to the British Museum. It was on out route, and promised an Olympics Trail, where you can wander through the museum and check out their collection of antiquities that relate to the original events in Greece. One of the items in question was in a large gallery, the contents of which has left the British Museum at odds with the Greek government for decades. The Elgin Marbles – the sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon in Greece.

Should ‘we’ keep them? Well, ‘we’ did rescue them and save them from destruction. They were obtained as legally as could possibly have been done at the time. They might no longer exist had they not not been relocated. Or at least be in a much worse state – they are already all rather the worse for wear. They can’t ever be reattached to the Parthenon. And they are now located in possibly the greatest museum in the world, which allows five million people to see them, free of charge. every year. Also, ponder the precedent and what that might do to our planet’s great cultural collections.

Does any of this overcome the simple fact that these sculptures are Greek, and were sold by the Ottomans who were occupying Greece at the time? And whilst the Greeks do have a beautiful, shiny new museum built specifically to take all the Parthenon sculptures, what does the future hold? The economy isn’t terribly great in Greece, and the extra tourist dollars that might be gained from recovering all the marbles won’t save them from the troubles that lie ahead.

The Greeks are going to have to accept some harsh realities, one of them being that they might very well not be able to retire a decade or two earlier than the rest of Europe, and another reality being that pensions and social security payments might not meet their needs. In the UK when times get tough we’d look at a few options to get cash flowing again – perhaps an equity release from With the value of properties still staying so high, it makes sense for a lot of us Brits to make the most of it. Perhaps the Greeks can do something similar. It appears that they have a willing investor in Germany. How long would they keep the marbles before selling them on again?

But this is a bit by the by.  Should they stay or should they. If they go, there could be trouble. If they stay, well…it’ll make it much easier to visit them again, and post the photos. But what do you think? It really is still a hot topic. And whilst the ‘keep them’ side have always been the majority, the tide could be turning if the likes of Stephen Fry have anything to do with it.



7 thoughts on “Losing Your Marbles

  1. norm says:

    A sticky wicket indeed. We have our own pile of babbles from far flung parts here in our beloved Cleveland Art Museum. The Mayan collection is better than what Merida has on display. The Butler in Youngstown has a better collection of Southwestern Native American art than I have come across in the American southwest. Do we send that back as well? Where do we put the cut-off at, 2000,1900, 1800? I’ve been to more looted ruins than you can shake a stick at, where does the local yahoo digging for his own profit stop and the state picking a site clean meet? (check out Copan for an example of government picking)
    As to the marbles: keep them and make a good plaster cast to send back to the Greeks. Being over run by your neighbor’s army should have some negative fallout,..


  2. Norm has a god idea. There are already plaster casts on the Acropolis.A few more in the museum would not be a bad solution. Or have someone carve good marble copies, and start an international shell game of who really has the originals. Just like Columbus’s corpse.

    I love the Elgin marbles. Wherever they end up, I will go there to see them.

    Or how about Ohio? It seems to have a grandmother’s attic of collections. Put hem in Norm’s rumpus room.


    • Trouble is, plaster casts can look pretty good. So good, the average Joe might struggle to see which ones are real and which ones aren’t. And bang goes a whole load of the sympathy vote…


  3. norm says:

    I think we can blame the collecting on Grandfather Rockafeller and his buds, they were bad about shipping home very piece of bling they came across.


  4. Kim G says:

    I think the Greeks have bigger fish to fry these days. How can a bankrupt country possibly argue that they’d take better care of these sculptures than the British Museum? They’re having trouble keeping the hospitals stocked with medicine these days.

    The mere fact that they are in Britain is also of historical interest.

    I say leave them be.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where seeing the Elgin marbles was the highlight of our visit to the British Museum some years back.


    • They could argue that the marbles should be returned at no cost, and that they’d increase revenues at their Parthenon museum. I guess.

      I think the story of how an antiquity came to be in British Museum works well with the Rosetta stone, which was an otherwise fairly unremarkable slab. It’s fame and importance comes from it’s life post 1799, not it’s original creation. That’s not true with the marbles.

      I never go to the museum without strolling through the Greek galleries. But the Egyptian galleries are my favourite ones to roam.


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