Reader Response: “Me Talk Pretty One Day” (Revision)July 30, 2010
David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge: (Discussion Board)August 15, 2010
These matters are perhaps best handled on a per case basis. I cannot say across the board that artifacts belong to their country of origin but, I do believe that the Parthenon Sculptures specifically, should be returned to Greece. While reading the British Museum’s statement regarding their acquisition and right to ownership of the Parthenon Sculptures, there were several points that stood out to me. The first thing to catch my attention, was how one sided their position seemed. In fact, it would appear that they might have gone as far as to stretch the truth, in part to defend their own position. While I respect the effort the British Museum has made in regard to preserving the items, I do not agree with their assertion that Lord Elgin acquired the items legally. In fact, this directly contradicts history, something you would think a Museum should hold in the highest regard. The extent, to which Lord Elgin bribed and bartered with corrupt Ottoman authorities in order to be granted any access to the Acropolis at all, is well documented. This access was later revoked in January 1801 when rumors of a pending French attack circulated throughout the region. It was only after the British defeated the French in June of 1801, that the occupying Ottoman Authorities, still boiling over with gratitude for Britain’s role in defeating France, allegedly granted a Firmen allowing Lord Elgin and his men to “enter the Acropolis without hindrance or need for further bribe”. I say “allegedly” because the issuance of this Firmen has never been independently authenticated and remains the topic of much controversy itself. Even if the letter is genuine, it is important to point out that the alleged Firmen was limited to allowing Lord Elgin and his men to erect scaffolding, draw and make molds and remove any “obstructions”. However, with time and additional bribes they soon began dismantling entire portions of the building. At one point, Lord Elgin had planned to dismantle the entire Erechthion, also known as the Porch of the Maidens. In the end he decided against it when they realized the ships then employed by the Queens Navy were just to small to transport the massive structure.
The second issue relates to section 9.2.4. of the British Museum’s Statement.
9.2.4. The opinion of the 1816 Select Committee of the House of Commons, after examining a series of witnesses, was that Elgin had acted with the permission of the Turkish authorities, and as a private individual (although it was suggested that such permission might only have been given to an Ambassador).
This gets to the heart of this debate, which is, to the victor goes the spoils. The Turkish / Ottoman Empire was an occupying invader at the time that they negotiated with Lord Elgin. This essentially, amounts to trafficking in stolen property. I am not overly familiar with England’s property laws, however, it is my understanding that an individual has no legal claim to a piece of property that is proven to be stolen, even if said property was obtained by that individual through otherwise legal means.
The third issue was the fact that, repeatedly in their statement, the Museum suggests that Lord Elgin should only be judged by his time. With this in mind, I’ll close with a quote from Lord Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” published between 1812 and 1818 in which he directly attacks the then recent actions of Lord Elgin.
Cold is the heart, fair Greece! that looks on thee,
Nor feels as lovers o’er the dust they lov’d ;
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defac’d, thy mouldering shrines remov’d
By British hands, which it had best behov’d
To guard those relics ne’er to be restor’d.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they rov’d,
And once again thy hopeless bosom gor’d,
And snatch’d thy shrinking Gods to northern climes abhorr’d.