The Case of the Elgin Marbles
Posted on November 11th
At the end of the summer of 2007, the week before fall university classes began, Greece was on fire. The Peloponnese was uniformly scorched, nearly a hundred people were killed, rural economies were displaced, and flora and fauna indigenous only to Greek pine forests and mountainsides were burned, perhaps beyond any eventual recovery. Though the fires were barely held back from the famous antiquities of Olympia and Athens, other archaeologically priceless sites were not so fortunate .Though some of the fires were attributed at their source to arsonists, Greek Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, whose New Democracy party was returned to office this past September, is partially culpable in this tragedy. Karamanlis and other Greek officials were slow to acknowledge the severity of the fire emergency and have yet to admit the true extent of the damage.“There are several well known ‘arsonists’ in Greece — garbage dumps (burning spontaneously), farmers burning brush, animal farmers burning land to sprout fresh grass for grazing,” Nikos Charalambides, director of Greenpeace in Greece, told a reporter from Reuters on October 1.“But the biggest arsonist is the state, which has not clarified the use of land, leaving suburban forests vulnerable to rogue developers,” he added in the same piece.“The lack of a national land registry and national zoning laws leave room for doubt about the characterization of land, whether it is forest or not,” told Reuters.It is not a good time for antiquities, and the dire circumstances are of course more attributable to the traditional colonial superpowers than to Grecian malfeasance.The blame for the theft of treasures from the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, the burning of Baghdad’s National Library, and the looting of more than 10,000 Ur, Sumerian, and Babylonian archaeological sites may be laid, in the name of Operation Iraqi Freedom, on the doorstep of the United States and bullied ally Great Britain.
It is in this poisonous atmosphere (additionally contaminated by pollution, global warming, and the threats of vandalism and terrorism) that the debate over who rightfully owns the Parthenon sculptures – or, more accurately, who owns the right to display the friezes – continues at: