Everything about the Elgins

ARTS

The British Museum has lent one of the so-called “Elgin Marbles” to Russia. What are the Elgins, what is cultural repatriation, and why is this such a controversy? (The Telegraph)

Use our resources to better understand cultural repatriation.

Should the statues be returned to Greece? Scroll down to vote!

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

This gorgeous group of figures fit neatly into the tympanum of the east pediment of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Photograph by Andrew Dunn, courtesy Wikimedia. (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

This gorgeous group of figures fit neatly into the tympanum of the east pediment of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Don’t worry about that language—we got you in the next photo.
Photograph by Andrew Dunn, courtesy Wikimedia. (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

A tympanum is the space created by a pediment. A pediment is a triangle-shaped structure that sits above the horizontal entablature (structure on top of the columns) on many ancient Greek buildings. The pediment of the Parthenon pierces the blue Athenian sky in this photo, but its tympanum is empty. (I don't know if this is the east or west pediment—regardless, this is the building the statues were created for.) Photograph by Franc and Jean Shor, National Geographic

A tympanum is the space created by a pediment. A pediment is a triangle-shaped structure that sits above the horizontal entablature (structure on top of the columns) on many ancient Greek buildings. The pediment of the Parthenon pierces the blue Athenian sky in this photo, but its tympanum is empty. (I don’t know if this is the east or west pediment—regardless, this is the building the contested statues were created for.) The Parthenon itself is probably the most recognizable building on the Athenian acropolis (elevated area of land), but historians and archaeologists can’t quite agree on what its purpose was.
Photograph by Franc and Jean Shor, National Geographic

These ladies, in the famous Greek "wet sheet" drapery, filled out the other side of the tympanum. Photograph by Deepak, courtesy Wikimedia. (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

These ladies, in the famous Greek “wet sheet” drapery, filled out the other side of the tympanum.
Photograph by Deepak, courtesy Wikimedia. (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Discussion Ideas

  • Pro: What are the arguments for cultural repatriation—returning the sculptures to Greece?
    • Money. The new Acropolis Museum and business community of Athens would benefit economically from repatriation. The artifacts would help generate millions of euros in revenues.
    • Heritage and Context: The Elgin Marbles are part of “one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments,” the Parthenon. Archaeologists think the Parthenon was Athens’ “great billboard,” establishing the city-state’s “myth, memory, values, and identity.” The Parthenon and its sculptures are the cultural heritage of Athens, Greece, and are best appreciated within their cultural context.
    • Ownership: The statuary was taken during Greece’s occupation by Turkey. This trade with an invading force makes the transaction illegal.
    • Preservation: While it may have been true that the statues may have been in danger from conflict or pollution in the past, that is not the case now. The Acropolis Museum is a high-tech, well-maintained cultural facility that successfully displays other artifacts and treasures from the Acropolis and ancient Greece.
  • Con: What are the arguments against cultural repatriation—for keeping the statues in London?
    • Money. The British Museum and the London business community employ thousands of people and are responsible for millions of pounds in tourist revenues every year.
    • Exposure and Exchange. The British Museum is in London, England, one of the most-visited cities in the world. Moreover, the museum is free. The Elgin Marbles are seen and enjoyed by millions of people every year: teachers, students, historians, and the general public. If the Elgins are repatriated to Athens, fewer people will be able to appreciate the art or the culture from which it came.
    • History. The Elgin Marbles were legally obtained from the authorities in power at the time. Laws that limit the current sale of antiquities should be enforced, but this purchase was made long before any such laws existed.
    • Heritage. The Elgin Marbles represent the foundation of Western Civilization, not just Athens. In addition, modern nations (including Greece) do not really have strong connections to cultures that existed thousands of years ago. Our cultures are separated by language, society, fashion, religion, etc.
  • Why is the British Museum’s loan of one of the Elgin Marbles to Russia reviving the controversy?
    • This is the first time any of the sculptures has left England. In the words of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, “The decision by the British Museum to give out on loan one of the Parthenon sculptures for exhibit in St. Petersburg is an affront to the Greek people.
      “The British argument held until recently—that the Parthenon Marbles cannot be moved—is no longer valid; just as the existence of the new Acropolis Museum invalidated the other British argument that there was no appropriate space for exhibiting the sculptures.
      “We Greeks are one with our history and civilization, which cannot be broken up, loaned out, or conceded.”

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

The Telegraph: Why are the Elgin marbles so controversial – and everything else you need to know

Nat Geo: Hopi Fight To Halt Artifact Auction

Wikipedia: Art Repatriation: Arguments

Debatepedia: Returning cultural treasures to country of origin

The Acropolis Museum: The Parthenon Gallery

The British Museum: The Parthenon Sculptures

One response to “Everything about the Elgins

  1. Pingback: Dinosaur ‘Dragon’ on Sale | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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