Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Team Athens or Team London?

When I went on an art history study abroad several years ago, we began our trip in Athens and traveled north, finally finishing our studies in London. It was weird to have our term begin with a trip to the Parthenon, and then have the term end with a trip to see the Parthenon the British Museum in London. Although it was fun to get close and examine details that would be difficult to see if the statues were in situ, I still couldn't help but think how wonderful it would be to see these statues in Greece, where they originated. Recently, I have been thinking about how the Elgin Marbles are a good example of how European culture claims (and repossesses) the ancient Greek culture as European heritage. (Although, arguably, ancient Greek culture has become European heritage because of the Enlightenment.)

The Parthenon statues in London, better known as the Elgin Marbles, were taken from the acropolis in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin (a British ambassador). This week's edition of Newsweek has a great article which summarizes the displacement of the Parthenon sculptures, and also discusses the ongoing debate between the Brits and Greeks as to where the marbles belong. Understandably, the Greeks want their statues back. Part of the British argument is that there isn't a proper facility in Greece to maintain the statues. Well, that argument will soon have less weight - the new Acropolis Museum will open to the public this month. (This museum looks really awesome too - there is a glass floor in the building to show an ancient site that was discovered during the excavation and construction of the site (see photo on left)).

I do think it has been great that the statues have been in London, since they probably would have been damaged or destroyed if they had stayed in Athens. (Although, ahem, the British "cleaning" of the statues in the 1930s was not exactly helpful.) However, with this new Acropolis Museum, I feel like it is the right time to let the Greeks enjoy and care for something that is inherently theirs. Although I realize there are a lot of problems that could happen with the transition of the statues (see the Newsweek article), I think that they should end up Greece. Really though, I'm a sucker for historical accuracy and original intent.

And if the Brits cannot compromise on that issue, I think that the statues should at least be sent to Greece on a long-term loan.

Where do you think the statues should be located? Are you Team Athens or Team London?

You can read more about the debate for/against the return of the Parthenon statues here - although the entry for returning the statues to Athens seems a little biased at present.