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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 March 2004, 12:30 GMT
What's been said about the Marbles
Centuries of arguments over the Parthenon sculptures reveal a bewildering variety of views.

"We are gilding and beautifying our city like a wanton woman, wrapping it in precious stones and statues and temples costing millions."

- The enemies of Pericles, ruler of Athens and patron of its massive building projects, quoted by Plutarch c 100 AD


The Parthenon
The Parthenon now
"It was in London that the Marbles came into their cultural heritage. They are indeed unique, uniquely the common property of Western civilisation. It is the British Museum which made them so, and it is within its halls, open to mankind, that they should remain."

- Times leader, 22 June 1998


(Of the conversion of the Parthenon into a church in the 5th century AD) "At this time the sculptures suffered their worst calamity. The whole of the middle section of the east pediment was removed, causing the destruction of a dozen statues; part of the east frieze was taken down to enable the apse to be built and the heads vandalised; and almost all the metopes on the east, north and west sides of the temple were deliberately defaced.

"Compared to this, only minimal damage was inflicted by Elgin's agents in removing some of the remaining sculptures from further risk."

- British Museum, evidence to Parliamentary committee, 2000


"That the artists meet no opposition in walking, viewing, contemplating the pictures and buildings they may wish to design or copy; or in fixing scaffolding around the ancient temple; or in modelling with chalk or gypsum the said ornaments and visible figures; or in excavating, when they find it necessary, in search of inscriptions among the rubbish. Nor hinder them from taking away pieces of stone with inscriptions and figures."

- Permit granted to Lord Elgin in 1802, addressed by the Ottoman court to the Turkish governor of Athens


"Having mutilated the Parthenon, Lord Elgin carried off the finest of the sculptures from this supreme monument of Greek antiquity. Over a period of ten years his men dismembered the Parthenon and removed sections of the buildings on the Acropolis. For ten years the enslaved Greeks watched this great crime against their cultural heritage being perpetrated before their eyes."

- Greek Ministry of Culture


"When one sees the appalling condition of the portions in Athens due to weathering and pollution the foresight of Lord Elgin in removing the sculptures to safety and loving care must be applauded."

- Peter Clayton, consulting editor, Minerva magazine, 1998


"[The visitor to Athens] marks the pediments which Lord Elgin wrecked and left stripped of their figures, he sees long bare slices of torn marble, where the frieze was gutted out..."

- Frederic Harrison, 1890


"In 1937 and 1938 the British Museum's stone mason and his team of unskilled labourers scraped some of the surfaces of the Elgin marbles with metal tools and with harsh abrasives. These crude attempts to make the Marbles appear more white were intended to meet the known wishes of Lord Duveen, a millionaire art dealer, who had donated money to build a new gallery to house the sculptures."

- William St Clair, in The Elgin Marbles, Questions of Stewardship and Accountability


"Interference with the surface of the marble in the 1930s, whatever we think of its absolute merits, was by and large carefully and thoughtfully done. It was not the aggressive violation that is implied in the documents of the Board of Enquiry.

- Ian Jenkins, British Museum (who also in his paper on the 1930s cleaning describes the episode as a "cock up" and "an unfortunate incident")


"Either all the Marbles could be assembled in one museum in London, or they could be marshalled in a museum in Athens next to the Parthenon. But to keep them in two places, one of them quite sundered from the Parthenon and its context, seems bizarre and irrational"

- Christopher Hitchens, The Elgin Marbles - should they be returned to Greece?


They can now only be an incomplete collection of fragments.

- The British Museum, 2004


"We say to the British government: you have kept those sculptures for almost two centuries. You have cared for them as well as you could, for which we thank you. But now in the name of fairness and morality, please give them back. I sincerely believe that such a gesture from Great Britain would ever honour your name"

- Greek Culture Minister Melina Mercouri at the Oxford Union, 1986


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