Dear Commons Community,
The New York Times had an article yesterday reviewing the debate between Britain and Greece over the question of returning the Elgin Marbles to Athens. One possible solution is to duplicate the marbles using the latest robotic technology (see video above). Here is an excerpt from the article.
“Few cultural disputes inflame British passions more than the disposition of the Parthenon Marbles. Public debate about the statuary has raged since the early 1800s, when the sculptures and bas-reliefs, which date from 447 B.C. to 432 B.C., were stripped from the Parthenon and other Classical Greek temples on the Acropolis of Athens by agents of Thomas Bruce, a Scottish statesman and seventh earl of Elgin. The marbles were purchased — some say looted — by Elgin during his time as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, the occupying power; they have resided in the British Museum since 1817.
Greek campaigners have repeatedly called on Britain to repatriate the works, arguing that the Turks were a foreign force acting against the will of the people they had invaded. The works, commonly known as the Elgin marbles, would instead be exhibited in Athens, in a purpose-built museum at the foot of the Acropolis. In May, the country’s culture minister, the archaeologist Lina Mendoni, said in a statement to the Guardian, “Lord Elgin used illicit and inequitable means to seize and export the Parthenon sculptures, without real legal permission to do so, in a blatant act of serial theft.”
But officials at the British Museum have staunchly rejected the requests. Backed by a succession of British governments, the museum has justified retaining the marbles on the grounds that Lord Elgin acquired them legitimately; it claims that taking the relics to London helped to safeguard them from neglect and the corrosive effects of Athens’ acid rain and that they are part of a shared heritage, and thus transcend cultural boundaries.
“We are open to exploring any potential loan,” a British Museum spokesperson said, “with formal acknowledgment of the lender’s title to objects and a commitment to return objects a standard precondition.” But Greece will neither acknowledge the lender’s title to the objects, nor will it abide by the “standard precondition.”
Mary Beard, a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge and a British Museum trustee, is on the fence about the marbles. “I see the good arguments for returning them and also the good arguments for keeping them,” Dr. Beard said. In her book, “The Parthenon,” published in 2002, she wrote that the temple has come to stand for deracination, dismemberment, desire and loss.’
“For me,” she has said, “the Parthenon sculptures raise some of the biggest questions of cultural property, ownership and where works of art ‘belong.’”
Roger Michel, executive director of the Institute of Digital Archaeology, believes the long-running dust-up can be resolved with the help of 3-D machining. His University of Oxford-based research consortium has developed a robot with the ability to create faithful copies of large historical objects. In 2016, in Trafalgar Square in London, the organization unveiled a two-thirds scale model, made of Egyptian marble, of a Syrian monument called the Monumental Arch of Palmyra, also known as the Arch of Triumph. The original was built by the Romans and was thought to be two millenniums old, but it was destroyed by Islamic State fighters in 2015.”
And so the debate goes on!