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Friday, 3 December, 1999, 10:47 GMT
Should the Elgin Marbles stay in the British Museum?
The 2,500-year-old Elgin Marbles were taken from the Parthenon in Athens 200 years ago, and are still in the British Museum in London.
Greek campaigners believe the carvings should be returned to Athens, and claim that they have been irreparably damaged by "cleaning" at the museum in the 1930s.
Supporters of the museum say they are in a better condition than if they had been left in Greece and have been protected from vandalism and air pollution during their time in London.
And some people say that if museums around the world had to return all the works which originated in other countries, the whole concept of museums would die.
Read what News Online users had to say:
Return them or we shall steal the Spice Girls!
Georgios Voropoulos, Greece
To imply that by returning the pieces to Greece means that all museums must return all artefacts to their 'rightful' owners is misguided. We are not discussing a few shards of shattered pottery here. The marbles form part of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, an edifice that people from all over the world identify with Greece and the ancient and magnificent culture of the ancient Greeks. If the Greeks could give the world the likes of Socrates, Plato, and others, then the return of the marbles to their heirs is small thanks indeed.
Katie Harrington, United States
The demands to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece are much like the demands of a negligent parent to return a mistreated child to the parent's custody. The mission of a museum is to do what the British Museum did... preserve that which would otherwise perish from mistreatment or neglect. It's obvious that our president Clinton is unfamiliar with this concept.
Michael Grybush, USA
The display of the Elgin Marbles in the BM has inspired and educated many people in the past 2 centuries. Apart from the damage caused when they were shipped over in 1816, let's not forget the 1937 fiasco- where the marbles were so blatantly tortured by skinning them and then improperly covering up the flaws (I won't even discuss the fact that the museum then proceeded to cover up the whole incident with falsified information). This is just a typical example of a foreign nations attempt to preserve ancient relics of which they have no real understanding. Hence, it is now high time to return them to their birthplace; to the place where their magic can really be felt. As however much the British try they can never understand and appreciate the marbles true value, nor their cultural significance. By keeping the marbles away from their home we are denying future generations the right to explore and experience a culture that gave birth to democracy, philosophy and aesthetic beauty. Send them home
The temple of Parthenon, represents the spirit of Democracy. Right now, with the Parthenon marbles been away, the idea of Democracy is incomplete. Is that what the British want the people to think in the new Millennium? Is that what the British want to pass to the generations to come?
Kriton Piperas, Greece
The Marbles were first destroyed by Elgin in his barbarous attempt to remove them from the Parthenon. Many say that they were further damaged during the cleaning procedure in the British Museum. Unfortunately, these crimes cannot be revoked, but at the very least the Marbles should be returned as soon possible to their home and viewed in the setting for which they were created, the Acropolis, Athens. The same applies for any other of the millions of Greek treasures now found worldwide that were stolen or sold to foreign hands.
Lesley Probert, Greece
Mike Still, UK
I think we should thank the British Museum for protecting the marbles (may be more than it should) since the 80's but now we can and we want to take care of the marbles ourselves. We are the heirs of the ancient Greeks and they belong to us by right. Would it be better to visit them in their proper place than in a basement in UK!
Minas Messaritakis, Greece (Studies in UK)
I am so tired of all this post-imperial guilt.
Michael O'Shea, UK (in The Netherlands)
John Darcy, UK
Even if Elgin 'bought' the Marbles from the Sultan, it really doesn't mean much, because the sultan wasn't really selling away his own heritage - I wonder how he would have reacted if Elgin had asked for the minaret from a major mosque or the carvings in his palace.
It is a historical fact that during the Greek war of independence, the Greek forces had besieged Ottoman-held Athens and after some time the Ottoman forces faced a shortage of lead for their pistols. It was decided that they should break up the pillars of Acropolis to get the metallic rods that run through their middle (supporting them), to meld and make bullets.
When the general on the Greek side learnt of that he ordered a large amount of bullets to be sent over to the enemy, in order to prevent that atrocity. Do you think that the Greeks would have sold the Marbles if they were rulers of their own state?
No matter what, the marbles belong to the Parthenon, on the Acropolis. For those that they profess their "protection" in the BM, why then do they not claim possession of all the Acropolis Monuments, for the same reason? Return the Marbles or else the BM is accessory to international pillage!
Y. Solomonides, Cyprus
If they want them that badly, then why don't they come and get them.
They should be returned as soon as possible for the sake of the country that has given us the lights of civilisation, but also for the integrity of the British nation.
Costas Mannouris, USA
Is theft permitted in the UK? I'll assume that it isn't and suggest that the UK applies its laws to itself.
Many years ago, my family owned an important stately home in England. During the war it was requisitioned by the Government to house an army unit. Post war, it was in such a dilapidated condition that my family could not afford to restore it and were forced to accept outrageously low compensation from the Government. Should I now try to claim it back? It's no more ridiculous a concept than returning the marbles to the Greeks!
Benjamin O'Locke, Ireland
This is my answer to those who assert that modern Greeks have no more a claim to be the true owners (creators) as do the British: Modern Greeks might not be genetically identical to the ones that carved the marbles. They have though inherited their language and their culture. And during the centuries they proved to be protective over the ancient constructions. And please remember that the marbles were not sold by them, but by the Ottoman conquerors.
D Harris, Greece
John Hourdakis, USA
When Greece, which ruled one of the most oppressive and barbarous empires known to man, returns all of the artefacts (which have probably been destroyed through corruption and neglect, just like these marbles would have been if they had stayed in Greece), to their rightful owners then England should be pressured into returning them. Political correct hypocrisy never ceases to amaze me.
Mark Parish, USA
Many people seem to be worried about the vacuum that will be left in the British Museum if the marbles are returned to Athens. I am sure that the Greek government will have no objection to stage seasonal exhibitions of other important ancient Greek artefacts in the place of the Elgin marbles if Britain proves to be so generous to return them. Similar exhibitions have taken place many times in New York and will prevent the British Museum from losing its "intercultural" flavour.
Dionysis Grigoratos, England
Well its not like Elgin "found" them is it? Surely their return is long overdue. They are not a British national treasure, they are plunder. Arguments for their continued separation from their rightful owners further undermine traditional British virtues of decency and fair play. Do the right thing chaps!
Tony Young, Germany
Unfortunately the British authorities have proved unequal to the Greek civilisation. They claim better protection of the marbles while they had been cleaning the marbles as if they were kitchen marbles, not to mention the parties that took place to...increase the income of the British Museum. Well the Parthenon Marbles (why Elgin Marbles? Did Elgin make them? He stole them) can not be decor for entertainment. The arguments of the British Museum (and of those who support it) are maddening. They even dared to say that modern Greeks are not descended from ancient Greeks! So they don't deserve them. What can you expect from Barbarians as ancient Greeks would say.
Defkalion Tsagarakis, Greece
Come on, this is about money, as always. Come and see the famous Elgin Marbles! Only ten thousand drachmas entry fee! Genuine Greek works of art! With as much relevance as Anglo-Saxon English people demanding that Celtic Briton piles of rocks be returned to their rightful place. But Washington has spoken, so they'll go back. Isn't that right, Tony?
Eleni Eleftheriou, USA
London is safer than Athens for political, geological and environmental reasons. It is very likely that these artefacts would not have survived to this time if it were not for their removal to England. They have been, and will continue to be, far more accessible to a far greater number of people than if they had stayed in Greece. The British Museum should be commended for its guardianship to date.
Nina Curtis, Australia
The marbles are of greater significance to the people of Greece than to the people of Britain as they provide a link to their history and their past spiritual beliefs. This should be respected and the marbles returned particularly as they were not obtained ethically.
Georgia Bray, Australia
The history of the Parthenon includes being a shelling target by Turkish soldiers. The marbles did remain discarded for some time. The value we have of them today is from the resolute value the Museum as placed on them. Many cultures let their historical connections fall into disarray, including native Canadians. The only real value comes from the collectors who rescue them and restore them to something of their original condition.
Michael J Sullivan, Canada
I believe that Greek people are not apposite to their works being in museums of other countries. After all this is a very good promotion tool for our country and our civilisation. But since the Elgin marbles were not respected and treated as they should have been they must return to Greece.
Magopoulos Nikos, Greece
The British Empire undoubtedly stole the Elgin Marbles, but they did so from an even more oppressive empire, the Athenians. If anyone deserves the statues, it's the small Delian League member states, some of which are now in Turkey, who were forced to subsidise Athens' lavish building products.
Heywood Jablowme, Canada
The world's museums contain artefacts from every country. To return all of these would result in the end of museums and less multicultural awareness as each country only presents its history to it's population.
Nicholas Shaw, England
If one has at least some shred of self-respect one would not seek the possession of anything which belongs to another by right. "Thou shall not eye thy neighbours apple - not even for safe keeping."
They are second-rate forgeries.
Colin Butts, USA
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
Over the last few years, the British government has made a fuss about returning art and treasures stolen by the Nazis during their occupation of various European countries. Perhaps it's time they practice what they preach.
David Wilkes, UK
Sure we should keep them, but only on the condition that we make a very good synthetic copy for the Greeks. I am in the business and if the Greeks or the Museum care to contact me I can do a good price. I also do kitchen fittings.
Jambridge Dupper, UK
Stop the post-imperial guilt. The marbles were removed quite properly for their preservation and they have been well-preserved There is no evidence they would have been better treated elsewhere and history cannot be a game of "what if." That is, again, the resort of those who take refuge in shame and not pride). The British Museum is one of the world's great repositories of art and ancient artefacts. The Marbles belong there. And if they do not then I have to ask; should the Louvre return the Mona Lisa to Italy?
Matthew Todd, England
I would not be surprised if, by modern standards, the vast majority of such artefacts in museums around the world were obtained in less than satisfactory manner. If, as a matter of principle, the marbles are returned, what other exhibits can be justifiably retained by museums? If the British Museum is still a 'valid' institution, which of course with 6 million visitors per year it is, then the marbles should stay in London.
Julian Skingley, England
Who should we return the marbles to; the modern Greeks have no more a claim to be the true owners (creators) as do the British. To believe this you have to believe that the Modern Greeks are the direct descendants of the Ancient Greeks of Athens, conveniently forgetting 2500 plus years of History.
Gareth Evans, England
The tide of history is sweeping against the British Museum retaining the Parthenon Marbles. They are simply too important to the Greek people and it is only right that they should be returned. There is little doubt that the marbles have been lovingly (maybe too lovingly) taken care of by the Museum for nearly 200 years. Delaying their return is only going to further tarnish and erode the reputation of the British Museum.
Edward Wilson, Canada
There was a time when Greece and Britain stood alone against the Nazis. There is still a special bond between these two vastly different yet proud people. The Marbles should be returned as a gesture of goodwill from the mother of modern democracy to the cradle of western civilisation.
Victor Houghton, England
The argument that museums will perish if we return artefacts to their countries of origin is unsubstantial. Each country should have the right to exhibit it's own heritage and, let's face it, the Elgin marbles were never part of British heritage. Greece wasn't even a British colony as far as I'm aware. I do not understand how the British government can justify their current position on the matter. We should return the marbles to Greece. It is where they belong.
Alexander Vince, UK
B Matsen, USA
Considering the deteriorating conditions of the Acropolis due to the pollution in Athens, the Elgin marbles would be better off in Britain, where they can at least be maintained in their current state of repair.
Scott Rhymer, USA
I think the marbles should be returned to the rightful owners if they will take good care of it. After reading the comments I admire the honesty and integrity of British people, most of whom admit that these are stolen treasures.
Shri, Sri Lanka
I think it's a little late to still be having a go at Elgin and the Ottomans. Elgin just did what was then so common for travellers from all western countries. Ancient artefacts didn't have the huge cultural value they now have in their countries of origin and were often sold for a quick profit by officials. Irrespective of whether they knew it or not, men like Elgin did save many, many artefacts from destruction by giving or selling them to museums. I bet Clinton's comments raised a few eyebrows in the Smithsonian, the Getty and other US museums.
Peter Gibbs, England
In my view, Britain has no right to keep the Elgin Marbles even though the British Museum claims to have kept them better preserved than the Greeks would have, had they remained in their rightful country. If the Marbles are really so important to the UK, why not make copies of them before returning the originals to Greece, so that both countries can admire them and the originals can be viewed as their creators intended?
Jill Ogilvy, UK
I believe the Marbles should be returned to the Parthenon in Athens. I have been to other historic sites around the world and have found that one is better able to imagine and appreciate the past culture or society if one can be at the original site restored as close as possible to what it may have looked like at that time. If the British Government could set a positive example by returning the marbles, perhaps other countries and government leaders would be encouraged to do the same. There have been may other famous collections of artefacts that have gone on international tours to other parts of the world. Perhaps someday (if the marbles are returned), Greece may allow the marbles to go on tour to various countries from time to time for all who are unable to travel to see.
I do not think there is place for any hostilities in this discussion. Britain has kept the marbles for many years in a relatively good condition. We Greeks should appreciate that. There is no way we can demand their return. But we would largely appreciate it as a gift from the British people. The marbles are our cultural heritage and they belong to the Parthenon. Giving the marbles back would be seen as a noble gesture from one of our closest allies and would be appreciated in Greece.
Dionysis Grigoratos, London, England
Christian Hunter, England
As an historian, and despite being an American, I must disagree with Mr. Clinton. I believe they should stay in the British Museum. So many great artefacts from around the world are preserved in the museums around the world in significantly better condition than perhaps most would be if left in their native lands. These things have become part of Britain's heritage, morally right or wrong, and should stay where they are. We in America would be hard pressed if required to return all we have "stolen" over the years from other countries and other cultures.
James Thomas, USA
I think that the Elgin marbles should be returned Greece. I believe that objects like this is best viewed in its original context. The UK is not the only country though that that holds stolen cultural objects. Sweden for example also has a lot of stolen artefacts that should be returned to the rightful owners.
Henrik Persson, Sweden
It is about time the Marbles were returned to their rightful place. Lord Elgin caused irreparable damage to them when he was bringing them over to England, breaking them up. We should be given them back, they are part of Greek history and culture, not English history. How would the English react if Stonehenge was broken into little pieces and then shipped to some other country? The English would not accept that and so they should not practice double standards.
Marianna Lamari, Cyprus
Of course they should be returned to Greece. Things have changed in the last two hundred years. Britain can no longer claim a monopoly of civilisation. Our retention of these wonderful examples of ancient Greek culture makes a mockery of Robin Cook's hope for operating an ethical Foreign Policy.
David Large, England
Why do the Greeks expect the British Museum to compensate them for Turkish rule? Elgin acquired the marbles by negotiating a fair price with the Turkish governors of Greece. Although the price he paid seems ridiculously low by today's standards, this was not an act of thievery. I agree that the Museum should repatriate the marbles in the interest of European harmony, but equally the fair market value has to be paid. The Greek nationalist rallying cries of "give back our marbles" and "thieving British" are ridiculous, if Greece wants the marbles back they have to pay for them. Countless families and countries have sold assets under bad management or duress only for later generations to regret the hardships of history. All parties involved should negotiate a fair price, say 500 million US dollars.
Spiro Erdün, USA
Should not stolen goods be returned to their rightful owners?
Anwer Ali, Pakistan
Of-course they should be returned to their rightful owners...Greece. And by the way, they were not "taken" they were stolen! Greek civilisation is one of the oldest and worthiest of all mankind's history and the Parthenon, with its marbles are a very important part of Greek heritage. Don't the English have artefacts of their own culture and own history that they can show in museums? England is a great nation in its own right...You don't really need to steal culture!
Vivien Cooksley, Cyprus
The marbles should be returned to Athens. The descendants of their sculptors are asking for them and have all the rights to have them. Thanks to the British Museum for their 200-year-old effort, but now it's time for them to go home.
Pavlos N. Liristis, Singapore
Apart from the obvious reason that they morally belong to Greece, there is another good reason to return the marbles. Ever since Lord Elgin (the Bruce Clan Chief) "acquired" them, there has been a curse on the Bruce name, which, apparently will only be lifted once the marbles are returned. So you can see why I am keen to see them returned!
Stuart Bruce, Scotland
M Stewart, UK
The Elgin Marbles should of course stay in the BM. Reasons: (1) The marbles cannot be confined to narrow ethnic interest. They are not an expression of Greek ethnicity. Unlike national dress, food, folk music etc. (2) There is no way of integrating the marbles into their original setting. The best bet is some museum.
Gareth Williams, UK
I think the Elgin marbles should be returned to Greece. What right have we to hold on to something that a) we stole in the first place and, b) we seriously damaged in the process of 'cleaning' them? Come on British Museum, catch up with the times and do the honourable thing!
Deirdre Burnet, UK
The Elgin marbles should stay in this country because of the way we have kept them. If Greece had them back no doubt they would be damaged.
Nicholas Dinsdale, England
It is most ironic that President Clinton should voice his opinion on the Elgin Marbles. Mr Clinton would be wise to read American history. Perhaps he will now give back much of the American countryside to the Native Americans, while at the same time returning the 'stolen' Southern states to Mexico?
Gary Kilminster, England
It seems perfectly reasonable that countries would like to reclaim 'artefacts' which have so much more meaning in their proper context than in a museum. We have preserved them for posterity, now let's put them back in their rightful place.
Michael Harman, Britain
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the removal of the marbles from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin two centuries ago (and let's be fair, it was more wrong than right) there is insufficient reason for their return now. The world's great art transcends national ownership. If it did not, all museums would be morally under pressure to return the majority of art and artefacts to countries of origin, which would be impractical and culturally impoverishing.
Guy Matthews, UK
Britain has had a long and sorry history of pillaging other countries in the name of colonianism. It is time to repay some of this debt and hand back the marbles.
Feargal Duffy, Ireland
John Jenkinson, Great Britain
If President Clinton says they must be returned, then they better be returned. Perhaps they could be added to the returning loads of foreign artefacts consigned from US museums. Personally, I would go to see them in London, but I am not commenting on the ownership issue.
The Marbles should be returned to Greece whether or not it is considered they would be better off in British Museum
Pauline Walker, UK
Simon Smith, England
The Parthenon is one of the greatest sites on earth, truly awe-inspiring and all of its wonders should be together, where they rightly belong in the Parthenon museum on the Acropolis. Elgin was a vandal. Even calling these marbles "The Elgin Marbles" takes away from them.
Peter FitzPatrick, Ireland
The marbles for us is our history. You don't know what it means for us. I know that the British took good care of them in spite of what is being said. But it's about time they come back.
My grandfather was in World War II and saved four British by hiding them in the mountains. He used to talk to me about England with warmth and love. I once asked him about the marbles and he said, they will return them. I think that Britons will stand above of the situation and give them back.
David Jones, UK
The argument that the Elgin marbles would be damaged by pollution in Athens is ridiculous The pollution is no worse than London and the marbles would be housed in a special Museum at the base of the Acropolis where the Pantheon Marbles were taken from.
They should be returned to Greece, they are a great cultural Greek relic of huge symbolic importance to Modern Greece.
Jason Thomas Williams, UK
As a native of a small country which over the centuries has been rampaged by Philippe II's, Marlborough's, Napoleon's, the Kaiser's and Hitler's armies - each doing its own bit of looting - I would favour Britain restoring the Elgin marbles to their country of origin.
Marcel Schoeters, Belgium
A Flynn, Greece
The Parthenon Marbles belong in Athens. It seems amazing that the UK government can move a small stone (Scone) to its rightful place but is totally unwilling to consider the restitution of an actual building - one of the most important historical sights in the world. The marbles are not artefacts, they formed part of the Parthenon.
Coming from a country with such a colourful history I feel ashamed that we continually keep something that is not part of our history. If the public want to see the marbles they should get the full picture, along with all the other features of the birthplace of democracy, and go to Athens.
The British museum is hiding behind what it says is custodian responsibilities. The Greek government in developing a new Acropolis museum is making appropriate conditions for the return of the marbles. With Britain's history of continued vandalism to the Marbles, it has breached its custodian responsibilities and must now hand them back.
Paul Heslop, UK
For too long the British Museum and British Government have sought to hide the truth. At last, we are beginning to see what has really gone on.
How long will they say that the marbles were 'saved' by Elgin? When he had never seen the marbles when he brought them back to the UK - and only did so to adorn his own property. After falling on financial hardship he then let them rot in a shed for 20 years before finally selling them to the UK government as payment for debts. Does this sound like a 'saviour'?
Malcolm Wright, UK
When in addition I read stories of the marbles being exploited in their current location, by allowing parties to be held with them as a centrepiece, I am disgusted.
I R Boulton, UK
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