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George Osborne’s sordid Elgin plan The artefacts belong neither to Greece nor Britain

Mr Osborne’s sad hostages (DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)


March 23, 2023   4 mins

From the very beginning, Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon’s statues and friezes caused something of a discursive British civil war. On one side were humanists, like Lord Byron; on the other were Empire apologists, who defend Elgin’s actions and support the British Museum’s inalienable property rights to the artefacts it, eventually, purchased from him.

Over the last few years, the people of Britain are increasingly falling on the side of Lord Byron — who, in 1812, mourned the Parthenon’s sorry post-Elgin look: “Dull is the eye that will not weep to see. Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed.” According to successive YouGov polls, a clear majority of Britons want to see the Parthenon artefacts displayed in the magnificent New Acropolis Museum, in a special hall overlooking the defaced Parthenon.

Alas, the British government and Elgin’s surviving supporters are resisting tooth and nail, insisting that the Parthenon artefacts in the British Museum are its property and must remain so eternally. Their claim to legal property rights is both tendentious and detrimental to the British sense of justice. They point out that Elgin had a permit from the Ottoman occupying forces in Athens to take what he liked from the Acropolis — which, they insist, gave him the right to own and to sell on whatever he removed. Even if we set aside the fact that said Ottoman permit never granted Elgin permission to hack the statues and friezes from the monument with the use of saws, the claim is absurd and, indeed, quite dangerous.

Imagine if the Nazi occupying forces in Paris had granted some gentleman a permit to remove statues from the Louvre. Or if Putin’s men in Mariupol were, today, to grant a visiting antiquities dealer a permit to remove priceless artefacts from a local museum. The very notion that these permits bestow secure property rights over the removed artefacts is an affront to every decent person worldwide. As for the British establishment’s usual rejoinder — that the Ottoman occupation of Greece was centuries long, or that Greece had not been a modern nation-state before the Ottomans invaded it — it is terribly disrespectful to scores of Britons who, like Lord Byron, travelled to Greece shortly after Elgin had vandalised the Acropolis to fight alongside the Greeks reclaiming their liberty and founding the modern Greek state.

This unending saga is back in the news. For the last six months or so, George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer who currently serves as Chair of the British Museum, has been negotiating a deal with the Greek government. It will see a portion of the Parthenon sculptures sent to Athens, on loan, to be displayed at the British Museum in exchange for other antiquities. The real reason Osborne has entered into such negotiations is self-serving: he needs to raise £1 billion to refurbish the British Museum, but fears that, in view of British public opinion, unless he washes away the stench of Elgin’s larceny from the halls and corridors of the British Museum, sponsors will not be forthcoming.

Unfortunately, constrained by the British establishment’s determination to insist on maintaining full property rights over the artefacts Elgin brought to England, the deal Osborne is offering the Greek side is shameful. Indeed, it could not be otherwise, as long as the UK government and the British Museum insist that they own the artefacts outright.

Think about it: members of the British establishment, who consider the artefacts to be British, and know that the Greek side does not recognise their property rights, oppose even lending them to the New Acropolis Museum, fearing that a Greek court, if not the Greek government, might decree that they not be returned to Britain. The only way they would consider lending them is on the basis of the deal that Mr Osborne is now putting to the Greek government: a deal stipulating that, for the privilege of being lent half the removed Parthenon artefacts, Greek museums must send over other priceless artefacts to be kept in the British Museum as “collateral” — essentially as hostages that will force the Greeks to return the loaned Parthenon marbles.

No Greek government can ever agree to such a sordid deal. And no decent Briton should look at it with anything other than deserved scorn.

Speaking personally, I think it is absurd, after 200 years, to be having the same discussion. It is upsetting for us Greeks and it is dispiriting for the Brits. I am no cultural nationalist, in that I do not want to see every fragment, every statue, every frieze or vase produced in Classical Greece returned to us. The Parthenon friezes, metopes and pediments are a very, very special case. They were created as integral parts of the Parthenon and were hacked down by Elgin with a permit from our enslavers. They belong neither to the Greeks nor to the Britons. They belong to the Parthenon, with which they can be best re-united if they are displayed in the perfectly-designed room on top of the New Acropolis Museum. It is visually connected with the temple in a manner that would bring tears to any visitor’s eyes.

And what about the British Museum? Does it end up with an empty room where the Parthenon relics are now? Absolutely not. As an internationalist, and an Anglophile, I would loathe that. But imagine the following. Let the Parthenon Marbles be re-united with the Parthenon permanently. And let the Greek government commit to keeping the relevant room in the British Museum stocked with a permanent, rotating exhibition of priceless stand-alone classical era treasures. It would allow the people of Britain and international visitors a reason to visit the British Museum again and again and again.

In this manner, the Parthenon will become whole again. And the British Museum will be enriched by a never-ending parade of splendid Greek antiquities that function as joyous ambassadors of Classical Greece in central London, not as Mr Osborne’s sad hostages.


Yanis Varoufakis is an economist and former Greek Minister of Finance. He is the author of several best-selling books, most recently Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present.

yanisvaroufakis

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Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

The case put by the author is, in my view, unanswerable.
This isn’t about any ‘woke’ sense of appropriation, simply that the marbles were created for a specific location and would best be viewed there, or in the space close by that Varoufakis describes.
On a more general point, i’m often struck by how soulless the viewing experience of cultural artefacts becomes when deposited in museums. This applies to all, whether it’s the British Museum or statuary in the Louvre or the Uffizi for instance; often just long corridors of pieces without context and rendered insignificant.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

There’s the argument that the BM and a few others are world museums – however they were formed, their collections represent the whole world, and the whole world visits them, to be able to easily see the history of the world in one place. That the artefacts are seen more there than if they were all scattered and returned to source.

I’ve always liked this argument because I’ve seen the marbles in the BM and like the thought that this great institution has them. But I’m a sucker for terrific writing and Yanis has won me over – give them back.

Yanis’ idea of rotating displays of Greek antiquities in the BM is a good one. Also the BM could these days create exact replicas and display them in a way (painting them!) that the originals can’t be. I really liked the Parthenon reproduction in Nashville – different to the original, but terrific, the statue of Athena knocks your socks off!

https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/14603

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Hamilton
Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Even if they returned to Greece they would never be “reunited”. They will simply be in another museum, again displayed on their own. This article is typical of its author in simply being provocative without real arguments. I have done my best to put all available arguments here, please join in https://www.kialo.com/the-marbleworks-taken-from-the-parthenon-by-lord-elgin-should-be-returned-to-greece-25951

R E P
R E P
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Good article but the issue goes beyond the marbles. If they are returned, there will be a rush of directors to prove their credentials by returning items that donors, evil by dint of not being like us, donated. Striking all UK institutions from my will.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

There’s the argument that the BM and a few others are world museums – however they were formed, their collections represent the whole world, and the whole world visits them, to be able to easily see the history of the world in one place. That the artefacts are seen more there than if they were all scattered and returned to source.

I’ve always liked this argument because I’ve seen the marbles in the BM and like the thought that this great institution has them. But I’m a sucker for terrific writing and Yanis has won me over – give them back.

Yanis’ idea of rotating displays of Greek antiquities in the BM is a good one. Also the BM could these days create exact replicas and display them in a way (painting them!) that the originals can’t be. I really liked the Parthenon reproduction in Nashville – different to the original, but terrific, the statue of Athena knocks your socks off!

https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/14603

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Hamilton
Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Even if they returned to Greece they would never be “reunited”. They will simply be in another museum, again displayed on their own. This article is typical of its author in simply being provocative without real arguments. I have done my best to put all available arguments here, please join in https://www.kialo.com/the-marbleworks-taken-from-the-parthenon-by-lord-elgin-should-be-returned-to-greece-25951

R E P
R E P
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Good article but the issue goes beyond the marbles. If they are returned, there will be a rush of directors to prove their credentials by returning items that donors, evil by dint of not being like us, donated. Striking all UK institutions from my will.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

The case put by the author is, in my view, unanswerable.
This isn’t about any ‘woke’ sense of appropriation, simply that the marbles were created for a specific location and would best be viewed there, or in the space close by that Varoufakis describes.
On a more general point, i’m often struck by how soulless the viewing experience of cultural artefacts becomes when deposited in museums. This applies to all, whether it’s the British Museum or statuary in the Louvre or the Uffizi for instance; often just long corridors of pieces without context and rendered insignificant.

Paul T
Paul T
1 year ago

Unlike Putin or Hitler the Ottoman’s had been in Greece, by the time of the removal of these artefacts, several hundred years. It is absurd to claim that the agreements at the time were not legal in retrospect. Non-retroactivity is a legal principal that people such as Mr Varoufakis here, like to cast as some sort of tool of colonial oppression. It isn’t.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T

He’s making an interesting point about their appropriate location. Using the phrase ‘people such as’ does rather show that you are uninterested in listening to him because he is a ‘leftie’; I feel do feel sorry for those with closed minds.

Alan Kaufman
Alan Kaufman
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

The Moai sure look better on Easter Island. But then no one see one, ever. The “it looks better where it came from argument” bears weaknesses that one need not have a “closed mind” to appreciate.

Alan Kaufman
Alan Kaufman
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

The Moai sure look better on Easter Island. But then no one see one, ever. The “it looks better where it came from argument” bears weaknesses that one need not have a “closed mind” to appreciate.

Michael Marron
Michael Marron
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T

I recently read something that made me sit back and think. When fighting the Civil War, Greeks were unable to identify a specific area that was/is Greece. (Understandably, given the spread of Greek city states and of Greek culture before and during the Roman Empire, and of course during the Byzantine).
Surely therefore as Greece never existed as a unitary state before their removal, and only came into existence after that removal, there is and was no state for them to be returned to?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Marron

Greece had colonies from Southern France to Crimea. Should countries demand that Greece pay for removal of colonial structures?
Should Britain demand Rome or perhaps the Pope as Bishop of Rome pay for the removal of Hadrian’s Wall?

Michael Marron
Michael Marron
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

A bit of a conundrum really.
Were Athens to regain city status



Alan Osband
Alan Osband
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The Delian League was in the process of being turned into an Athenian empire at the time the Parthenon was built . Tut tut

Better let these expensive monuments to Imperialism stay where they are

Michael Marron
Michael Marron
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

A bit of a conundrum really.
Were Athens to regain city status



Alan Osband
Alan Osband
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The Delian League was in the process of being turned into an Athenian empire at the time the Parthenon was built . Tut tut

Better let these expensive monuments to Imperialism stay where they are

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Marron

Correct!

Paul T
Paul T
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Marron

Same with the product-of-slave-state Benin Bronzes.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Marron

Greece had colonies from Southern France to Crimea. Should countries demand that Greece pay for removal of colonial structures?
Should Britain demand Rome or perhaps the Pope as Bishop of Rome pay for the removal of Hadrian’s Wall?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Marron

Correct!

Paul T
Paul T
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Marron

Same with the product-of-slave-state Benin Bronzes.

geoffrey cox
geoffrey cox
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T

Interesting to have the viewpoint of the greengrocer community (Ottoman’s). And putting a comma between a subject and its verb ( … people such as Mr Varoufakis here, like … ‘) is odd as well.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

We have had a fairly unpleasant relationship with Greece in recent years. First the crushing of the Communist elements in 1944, then their support of the EOKA terrorists in Cyprus from 1956-60.

Followed by ‘The Colonels’ and their sponsorship of that idiot the late Nikos Samson, and his Cyprus coup of 1974!

Then their acceptance into the EU, which they proceeded to plunder on an industrial, scale before reaching their well deserved denouement in the recent debt crisis.

“Beware the Greek bearing gifts” as they used to say!*

(* Laocoön.)

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
D Glover
D Glover
1 year ago

If you’re opposed to Muslims taking over European countries then that position has consequences.
You can’t just smile complacently when the Bey gives you a carnet to take the locals’ treasures away.
If you’re on the European, classicist side you have to side with the Greeks against the Ottomans, Sulpicia

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  D Glover

Indeed, it will lead to a war of extermination, the like of which we have not seen for centuries.

In fact it is a Darwinian Imperative that it does happen.

Sadly I’ll probably miss it!

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  D Glover

Indeed, it will lead to a war of extermination, the like of which we have not seen for centuries.

In fact it is a Darwinian Imperative that it does happen.

Sadly I’ll probably miss it!

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
J. Hale
J. Hale
1 year ago

Crushing the communists in Greece was a great idea. In contrast, look at what happened to Eastern Europe after WWII.

D Glover
D Glover
1 year ago

If you’re opposed to Muslims taking over European countries then that position has consequences.
You can’t just smile complacently when the Bey gives you a carnet to take the locals’ treasures away.
If you’re on the European, classicist side you have to side with the Greeks against the Ottomans, Sulpicia

J. Hale
J. Hale
1 year ago

Crushing the communists in Greece was a great idea. In contrast, look at what happened to Eastern Europe after WWII.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

We have had a fairly unpleasant relationship with Greece in recent years. First the crushing of the Communist elements in 1944, then their support of the EOKA terrorists in Cyprus from 1956-60.

Followed by ‘The Colonels’ and their sponsorship of that idiot the late Nikos Samson, and his Cyprus coup of 1974!

Then their acceptance into the EU, which they proceeded to plunder on an industrial, scale before reaching their well deserved denouement in the recent debt crisis.

“Beware the Greek bearing gifts” as they used to say!*

(* Laocoön.)

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Alan Kaufman
Alan Kaufman
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T

The author makes a good argument. But he misses the point. All great museums in the world have prized objects taken from other lands at various times in history. To return some is to invite demands to return all. Does Greece have a better argument than Benin? Better than Egypt? Better than Easter Island? Everything argued here applies to all.
The “rapacious” Museums of the Western world (and Russia — Hermitage) represent something noble as well: preservation, in perfect condition. There’s a reason most readily accessible Egyptian tombs were empty: looting.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T

He’s making an interesting point about their appropriate location. Using the phrase ‘people such as’ does rather show that you are uninterested in listening to him because he is a ‘leftie’; I feel do feel sorry for those with closed minds.

Michael Marron
Michael Marron
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T

I recently read something that made me sit back and think. When fighting the Civil War, Greeks were unable to identify a specific area that was/is Greece. (Understandably, given the spread of Greek city states and of Greek culture before and during the Roman Empire, and of course during the Byzantine).
Surely therefore as Greece never existed as a unitary state before their removal, and only came into existence after that removal, there is and was no state for them to be returned to?

geoffrey cox
geoffrey cox
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T

Interesting to have the viewpoint of the greengrocer community (Ottoman’s). And putting a comma between a subject and its verb ( … people such as Mr Varoufakis here, like … ‘) is odd as well.

Alan Kaufman
Alan Kaufman
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul T

The author makes a good argument. But he misses the point. All great museums in the world have prized objects taken from other lands at various times in history. To return some is to invite demands to return all. Does Greece have a better argument than Benin? Better than Egypt? Better than Easter Island? Everything argued here applies to all.
The “rapacious” Museums of the Western world (and Russia — Hermitage) represent something noble as well: preservation, in perfect condition. There’s a reason most readily accessible Egyptian tombs were empty: looting.

Paul T
Paul T
1 year ago

Unlike Putin or Hitler the Ottoman’s had been in Greece, by the time of the removal of these artefacts, several hundred years. It is absurd to claim that the agreements at the time were not legal in retrospect. Non-retroactivity is a legal principal that people such as Mr Varoufakis here, like to cast as some sort of tool of colonial oppression. It isn’t.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
1 year ago

Where do you stop?

These situations are always contested and arguable either way. Anyone who says ” there is no argument” is really saying they have just lost one.

E.g. is the Greek government going to return much of the contents of the Archaeological Museum to the islands and other locations from where they were taken, many of which were not part of the Greek state until much later? If the Parthenon Marbles must be displayed near their original location, then logically the gold of Mycenae must be displayed on site there?

You can reduce ad absurdum the contents of all museums.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  JOHN KANEFSKY

Excellent point and very valid argument.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  JOHN KANEFSKY

Excellent point and very valid argument.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
1 year ago

Where do you stop?

These situations are always contested and arguable either way. Anyone who says ” there is no argument” is really saying they have just lost one.

E.g. is the Greek government going to return much of the contents of the Archaeological Museum to the islands and other locations from where they were taken, many of which were not part of the Greek state until much later? If the Parthenon Marbles must be displayed near their original location, then logically the gold of Mycenae must be displayed on site there?

You can reduce ad absurdum the contents of all museums.

John Mundell
John Mundell
1 year ago

An interesting article, although interesting it mentions the Louvre as an example people would be shocked to see pillaged, it is full of stolen loot.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  John Mundell

Well why don’t greek ask for the Venus di Milo back from the Louvre?

Paul T
Paul T
1 year ago

The UK, unlike France, has always had a large community of lefties that utterly despise their own country. Consequently there aren’t all the useful idiots either.

Paul T
Paul T
1 year ago

The UK, unlike France, has always had a large community of lefties that utterly despise their own country. Consequently there aren’t all the useful idiots either.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  John Mundell

Well why don’t greek ask for the Venus di Milo back from the Louvre?

John Mundell
John Mundell
1 year ago

An interesting article, although interesting it mentions the Louvre as an example people would be shocked to see pillaged, it is full of stolen loot.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
1 year ago

“It will see a portion of the Parthenon sculptures sent to Athens, on loan, to be displayed at the British Museum”. Am I the only one with trouble deciphering this sentence? Has the Brit Museum moved to Athens?
Maybe I need more coffee.  

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Ross

Mr Baroufakis is an expert in saying nothing in the most provocative way possible and hiding it under a veil of what passes (to some) as rational arguments.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Ross

Mr Baroufakis is an expert in saying nothing in the most provocative way possible and hiding it under a veil of what passes (to some) as rational arguments.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
1 year ago

“It will see a portion of the Parthenon sculptures sent to Athens, on loan, to be displayed at the British Museum”. Am I the only one with trouble deciphering this sentence? Has the Brit Museum moved to Athens?
Maybe I need more coffee.  

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
1 year ago

‘They belong neither to the Greeks nor to the Britons. They belong to the Parthenon.’
…which is in Greece. If Varoufakis sincerely believed in the ethical power of his argument he wouldn’t dress it up behind such a rhetorical smokescreen.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

Are the ‘modern’ Greeks* in any way related to the men who built The Parthenon?

(* Sometimes described as ‘Turks pretending to be Italians’)

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
geoffrey cox
geoffrey cox
1 year ago

The answer to your question is a resounding ‘yes’. Ethnography has moved on quite a bit since the days of Fallmerayer (1790-1861), the most notorious proponent of a negative answer.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

Thank you, so what went wrong?

Also what about cross-fertilisation with numerous Ottoman and Slavic conquerors, or were they all celibate, or perhaps practiced Endogamy?

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago

What do you mean “what went wrong”? Greece was occupied by a colonial force for 400 to 500 years, depending on the region.
There was no cross-fertilisation worth mentioning.
Ottoman conquerors famously absorbed their offspring from mixed marriages into their own population (Sharia mandated that children of Muslims are raised as Muslims, and apostasty was not allowed).
Slavic incursions into Greece were dealt during the Byzantine era with a mix of violent pushbacks, forced Hellenisation and resettlement into other regions (e.g. Asia Minor).

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago

What do you mean “what went wrong”? Greece was occupied by a colonial force for 400 to 500 years, depending on the region.
There was no cross-fertilisation worth mentioning.
Ottoman conquerors famously absorbed their offspring from mixed marriages into their own population (Sharia mandated that children of Muslims are raised as Muslims, and apostasty was not allowed).
Slavic incursions into Greece were dealt during the Byzantine era with a mix of violent pushbacks, forced Hellenisation and resettlement into other regions (e.g. Asia Minor).

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

Thank you, so what went wrong?

Also what about cross-fertilisation with numerous Ottoman and Slavic conquerors, or were they all celibate, or perhaps practiced Endogamy?

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

Utterly irrelevant. I defy anybody to ACTUALLY visit the Parthenon and not conclude that the statues must be reinstated.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Didn’t I say that 13 hours ago?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Didn’t I say that 13 hours ago?

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago

Yes. There’s numerous research papers on the genetic relationship between ancient and modern populations of Greece, e.g. “Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans” (2017).
They’re definitely more related to each other than modern Britons are to the medieval inhabitants of Britain, at least judging from the current British Government, the mayors of major English cities like London or the demographic and religious shift of several English cities and hamlets.
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t through stones.
Maybe when the “multicultural” transformation of the UK is complete, the major monuments of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Britain should be given back to Germany and France.

Last edited 1 year ago by Leo Macedonian
geoffrey cox
geoffrey cox
1 year ago

The answer to your question is a resounding ‘yes’. Ethnography has moved on quite a bit since the days of Fallmerayer (1790-1861), the most notorious proponent of a negative answer.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

Utterly irrelevant. I defy anybody to ACTUALLY visit the Parthenon and not conclude that the statues must be reinstated.

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago

Yes. There’s numerous research papers on the genetic relationship between ancient and modern populations of Greece, e.g. “Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans” (2017).
They’re definitely more related to each other than modern Britons are to the medieval inhabitants of Britain, at least judging from the current British Government, the mayors of major English cities like London or the demographic and religious shift of several English cities and hamlets.
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t through stones.
Maybe when the “multicultural” transformation of the UK is complete, the major monuments of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Britain should be given back to Germany and France.

Last edited 1 year ago by Leo Macedonian
Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

“They belong neither to the Greeks nor to the Britons. They belong to the Parthenon.”
That is indeed rhetorical overkill, Josh. Great art belongs neither to this or that people nor to this or that site (let alone building). Art is a universal language and is the universal human heritage. It belongs ultimately, therefore, to all people per se.
Underlying this controversy is a closely related one, which, carried to its logical conclusion, would almost empty the great museums of world art, turning them into national (perhaps nationalistic) repositories of local art. Most countries do have museums of this kind, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the same principle would prevent local people (except, of course, for the rich) from seeing, studying and rejoicing in the art of many cultures no matter how remote in time and space. This consequence would undermine not only the purpose of art museums as institutions but also the profoundly important idea that underlying all of our differences is something that unites us all: the ability to create beauty or truth–or whatever gives human existence meaning–in visual form.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Well put. On top of that in their current location, the Elgin Marbles are a fantastic ambassador for Greece’s main export product – tourism. Millions of American and Chinese tourists making their first trip outside their countries to Europe “do” London and Paris. If the Greeks wanted to pay for better advertising it wouldn’t exist. The British Museum is one of the most visited on the planet.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Well put. On top of that in their current location, the Elgin Marbles are a fantastic ambassador for Greece’s main export product – tourism. Millions of American and Chinese tourists making their first trip outside their countries to Europe “do” London and Paris. If the Greeks wanted to pay for better advertising it wouldn’t exist. The British Museum is one of the most visited on the planet.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

The main problem with “They belong to the Parthenon.’ is that there is no plan to ever put them back on the Parthenon. The Greeks simply want to replace their replicas in the new museum with the originals! Athenian air is the 5th most polluted in the world, no way the frieze is “reunited” in any way

Michael Kellett
Michael Kellett
1 year ago

Exactly. And if Elgin hadn’t taken them when he did, they probably wouldn’t exist now. At the time, the Parthenon was apparently having parts of it taken away by locals for use as building material elsewhere and the pollution since then would have finished off the job.

Michael Kellett
Michael Kellett
1 year ago

Exactly. And if Elgin hadn’t taken them when he did, they probably wouldn’t exist now. At the time, the Parthenon was apparently having parts of it taken away by locals for use as building material elsewhere and the pollution since then would have finished off the job.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

Are the ‘modern’ Greeks* in any way related to the men who built The Parthenon?

(* Sometimes described as ‘Turks pretending to be Italians’)

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

“They belong neither to the Greeks nor to the Britons. They belong to the Parthenon.”
That is indeed rhetorical overkill, Josh. Great art belongs neither to this or that people nor to this or that site (let alone building). Art is a universal language and is the universal human heritage. It belongs ultimately, therefore, to all people per se.
Underlying this controversy is a closely related one, which, carried to its logical conclusion, would almost empty the great museums of world art, turning them into national (perhaps nationalistic) repositories of local art. Most countries do have museums of this kind, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the same principle would prevent local people (except, of course, for the rich) from seeing, studying and rejoicing in the art of many cultures no matter how remote in time and space. This consequence would undermine not only the purpose of art museums as institutions but also the profoundly important idea that underlying all of our differences is something that unites us all: the ability to create beauty or truth–or whatever gives human existence meaning–in visual form.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

The main problem with “They belong to the Parthenon.’ is that there is no plan to ever put them back on the Parthenon. The Greeks simply want to replace their replicas in the new museum with the originals! Athenian air is the 5th most polluted in the world, no way the frieze is “reunited” in any way

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
1 year ago

‘They belong neither to the Greeks nor to the Britons. They belong to the Parthenon.’
…which is in Greece. If Varoufakis sincerely believed in the ethical power of his argument he wouldn’t dress it up behind such a rhetorical smokescreen.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

The Greek case would be stronger if the friezes that were left on the Parthenon had not been severely damaged by a combination of Greek neglect and air pollution.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

I agree that that was a good argument in the past, but they now have a purpose built museum to house them. Personally, I find this a difficult question, a part of me says return them and a part says no. The reason for the “no” part is that I think if they were returned there would be clamourings from others to return other things until hardly anything remained. The reason for the “yes” part is more emotional, I always like to see items in their whole not scattered in different museums, for example the right hand panel from the Frank’s Casket is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, and whenever I see the casket in the BM it annoys me that there is only a replica in place of the original panel.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago

I am half Greek and live in Greece. Greeks are TOTALLY USELESS at protecting antiquities. And I am not talking about the thousands (not exaggerating) of ancient sites not even fenced off due to lack of resources. Even major sites like Olympia (robbed in broad daylight, zero protection!) or ΜυÎșÎźÎœÎ”Ï‚ (burnt! TWICE!) are at the mercy of civil servants that dont give a hoot and strike on every occasion possible.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

If it’s any consolation the Italians aren’t much better, and NEVER have been.

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but spare us the false claim that you are half Greek and living in Greece.
You make spelling mistakes in every sentence and spew hate against Greece and the Greeks. You’re just a troll with an axe to gring.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

If it’s any consolation the Italians aren’t much better, and NEVER have been.

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but spare us the false claim that you are half Greek and living in Greece.
You make spelling mistakes in every sentence and spew hate against Greece and the Greeks. You’re just a troll with an axe to gring.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago

I am half Greek and live in Greece. Greeks are TOTALLY USELESS at protecting antiquities. And I am not talking about the thousands (not exaggerating) of ancient sites not even fenced off due to lack of resources. Even major sites like Olympia (robbed in broad daylight, zero protection!) or ΜυÎșÎźÎœÎ”Ï‚ (burnt! TWICE!) are at the mercy of civil servants that dont give a hoot and strike on every occasion possible.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

I agree that that was a good argument in the past, but they now have a purpose built museum to house them. Personally, I find this a difficult question, a part of me says return them and a part says no. The reason for the “no” part is that I think if they were returned there would be clamourings from others to return other things until hardly anything remained. The reason for the “yes” part is more emotional, I always like to see items in their whole not scattered in different museums, for example the right hand panel from the Frank’s Casket is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, and whenever I see the casket in the BM it annoys me that there is only a replica in place of the original panel.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

The Greek case would be stronger if the friezes that were left on the Parthenon had not been severely damaged by a combination of Greek neglect and air pollution.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

Quite apart from the content of the article – it’s great to see Yanis Varoufakis back at UnHerd. I heard he was attacked in Athens recently and hope he is completely recovered from that.
(I’m in favour of the return of the marbles btw. Imagine if the Sutton Hoo treasures were displayed somewhere in Spain for whatever reason and the Spanish insisted on claiming ownership and didn’t want to give them back. I don’t think the British would be too happy about that. Certain artefacts are so meaningful for a certain culture, there is a kind of spiritual connection with the country of origin. And that is where they should be located. And that country should own them too.)

Last edited 1 year ago by Katharine Eyre
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

But there are things taken from England. How did the Codex Aureus end up in Spain in the 16th century before being sold by some Spanish noble to Sweden? Who gave permission for its removal?

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Then England needs to also return all the Dinosaur skeletons that took from America too.

J. Hale
J. Hale
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Suppose the Vikings had put the gold and silver jewelry they pillaged from Britain in a museum in Norway (instead of melting them down.) Would anyone in Britain insist Norway return them? Of course not. To the victor goes the spoils. It’s not fair, but that’s the way history works.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

But there are things taken from England. How did the Codex Aureus end up in Spain in the 16th century before being sold by some Spanish noble to Sweden? Who gave permission for its removal?

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Then England needs to also return all the Dinosaur skeletons that took from America too.

J. Hale
J. Hale
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Suppose the Vikings had put the gold and silver jewelry they pillaged from Britain in a museum in Norway (instead of melting them down.) Would anyone in Britain insist Norway return them? Of course not. To the victor goes the spoils. It’s not fair, but that’s the way history works.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

Quite apart from the content of the article – it’s great to see Yanis Varoufakis back at UnHerd. I heard he was attacked in Athens recently and hope he is completely recovered from that.
(I’m in favour of the return of the marbles btw. Imagine if the Sutton Hoo treasures were displayed somewhere in Spain for whatever reason and the Spanish insisted on claiming ownership and didn’t want to give them back. I don’t think the British would be too happy about that. Certain artefacts are so meaningful for a certain culture, there is a kind of spiritual connection with the country of origin. And that is where they should be located. And that country should own them too.)

Last edited 1 year ago by Katharine Eyre
Rob Britton
Rob Britton
1 year ago

There is so much misinformation in this article it is difficult to know where to start.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

Not only misinformation but the way he throws a false argument and then immediately builds on the quicksand he has laid. He is a true master of this method

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

Not only misinformation but the way he throws a false argument and then immediately builds on the quicksand he has laid. He is a true master of this method

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
1 year ago

There is so much misinformation in this article it is difficult to know where to start.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

“Imagine if the Nazi occupying forces in Paris had granted some gentleman a permit to remove statues from the Louvre. Or if Putin’s men in Mariupol were, today, to grant a visiting antiquities dealer a permit to remove priceless artefacts from a local museum.”
This is a nonsensical analogy. To compare the Ottoman state that existed for centuries in Greece to mere military occupations lasting a handful of years at most is duplicitous.

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

OK, maybe a comparison with the English occupation of Scotland and Ireland would be more apt. And as far as I know, the “Stone of Scone” was indeed returned to Scotland in the 1990s.

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

OK, maybe a comparison with the English occupation of Scotland and Ireland would be more apt. And as far as I know, the “Stone of Scone” was indeed returned to Scotland in the 1990s.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

“Imagine if the Nazi occupying forces in Paris had granted some gentleman a permit to remove statues from the Louvre. Or if Putin’s men in Mariupol were, today, to grant a visiting antiquities dealer a permit to remove priceless artefacts from a local museum.”
This is a nonsensical analogy. To compare the Ottoman state that existed for centuries in Greece to mere military occupations lasting a handful of years at most is duplicitous.

Rob N
Rob N
1 year ago

The stolen v legally bought article should be completely ignored. It is not only subjective and too likely to lead to misuse with regards to other museum pieces but also irrelevant.

The Elgin marbles are a TINY part of a much larger culturally and historically significant bulding/site. The Greek Govt should thank Elgin and the BM for having looked after them and protected them from the Ottomans, those who came after them and the hostile environment.

The BM should make copies and return the originals so that they can be reunited with the 99.9999% of the Pathenon that is still in Athens.

On a legal basis one could argue whether they were fixtures or fittings. They are/were clearly fixtures and so stay with their building. That would mean most paintings, vases etc which are their own piece are not the same and stay where they are, unless irrefutably stolen.

Rob N
Rob N
1 year ago

The stolen v legally bought article should be completely ignored. It is not only subjective and too likely to lead to misuse with regards to other museum pieces but also irrelevant.

The Elgin marbles are a TINY part of a much larger culturally and historically significant bulding/site. The Greek Govt should thank Elgin and the BM for having looked after them and protected them from the Ottomans, those who came after them and the hostile environment.

The BM should make copies and return the originals so that they can be reunited with the 99.9999% of the Pathenon that is still in Athens.

On a legal basis one could argue whether they were fixtures or fittings. They are/were clearly fixtures and so stay with their building. That would mean most paintings, vases etc which are their own piece are not the same and stay where they are, unless irrefutably stolen.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Simple solution. Use laser tomography to copy Elgin Marbles and then use 3 d printing to recreate them using material which can endure air pollution. I believe statutes used to be painted so could recreate original colours. British Museum could allow Greeks to copy Elgin Marbles at night. All costs to be paid for by Greece.
While we are discussing the past can we have an apology from the Left Wing Greeks who were responsible for killing 210 British soldiers and an unknown number of British civilians in 1944/5.

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The 3D printing of the Parthenon Marbles in London has already been done, although against the wishes of the British Museum.
The Greek Left will apologize for killing British soldiers in 1944 as soon as Britain apologizes for the 451 civilians killed by British military forces during the same period. (source: aoav.org.uk).

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Leo Macedonian

British forces SOE undertook ambushes and blew bridges to delay Nazi forces re-inforcing Normandy with little help from Left Wing Greek forces. ELAS stole munitions from British SOE units in order to fight other Greeks rather than the Nazis.British SOE officers ended up booby trapping their own munitions to prevent Left Wing Greeks stealing them and in some cases became prisoners of Left Wing Greeks. British Parachute units were in Greece trying to stop a civil war when they should have been in Normandy.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Leo Macedonian

British forces SOE undertook ambushes and blew bridges to delay Nazi forces re-inforcing Normandy with little help from Left Wing Greek forces. ELAS stole munitions from British SOE units in order to fight other Greeks rather than the Nazis.British SOE officers ended up booby trapping their own munitions to prevent Left Wing Greeks stealing them and in some cases became prisoners of Left Wing Greeks. British Parachute units were in Greece trying to stop a civil war when they should have been in Normandy.

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The 3D printing of the Parthenon Marbles in London has already been done, although against the wishes of the British Museum.
The Greek Left will apologize for killing British soldiers in 1944 as soon as Britain apologizes for the 451 civilians killed by British military forces during the same period. (source: aoav.org.uk).

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Simple solution. Use laser tomography to copy Elgin Marbles and then use 3 d printing to recreate them using material which can endure air pollution. I believe statutes used to be painted so could recreate original colours. British Museum could allow Greeks to copy Elgin Marbles at night. All costs to be paid for by Greece.
While we are discussing the past can we have an apology from the Left Wing Greeks who were responsible for killing 210 British soldiers and an unknown number of British civilians in 1944/5.

Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
1 year ago

We have to decide that the Elgin marbles are a special case or, alternatively, that all artefacts should be returned to their place of origin. I don’t buy the utilitarian argument that they are best seen by a worldwide audience in a single place.
If the Elgin marbles are a special case, what is the basis of this case? I don’t see it made here. The only obvious difference between the marbles and other cultural artefacts is that the Greek government has made an issue of them.

Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
1 year ago

We have to decide that the Elgin marbles are a special case or, alternatively, that all artefacts should be returned to their place of origin. I don’t buy the utilitarian argument that they are best seen by a worldwide audience in a single place.
If the Elgin marbles are a special case, what is the basis of this case? I don’t see it made here. The only obvious difference between the marbles and other cultural artefacts is that the Greek government has made an issue of them.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
1 year ago

I can only see one case for their return and that is if they are displayed in their original location on the Parthenon.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

That should be possible when we have stopped burning fossil fuels, or burning anything come to think of it!

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Exactly. And that will never happen. Firstly because Greek archaeologists are stupid pseudo purists and don’t interfere with anything and secondly because Athens has the 5th worse polluted air on the planet.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

That should be possible when we have stopped burning fossil fuels, or burning anything come to think of it!

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Exactly. And that will never happen. Firstly because Greek archaeologists are stupid pseudo purists and don’t interfere with anything and secondly because Athens has the 5th worse polluted air on the planet.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
1 year ago

I can only see one case for their return and that is if they are displayed in their original location on the Parthenon.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

Comparing a permit granted by the Ottoman Empire to a hypothetical one granted by the Third Reich or by Putin in Ukraine is pretty disingenuous. The Ottomans were the largest empire in the world for over 4 centuries. They were a center of political, cultural, and scientific learning. Of course they had a right to grant a permit to remove pieces of the Acropolis. Considering they were Muslim rulers, we’re lucky they allowed the pieces to be removed instead of destroying them like the Taliban did with those Buddha statues.
I concur that the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece, as Greece is now a stable enough nation to protect them, and in light of the iconoclasm convulsing the Western world today, Britain may well not be anymore. But make the case without denigrating one of the great Medieval civilizations.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

Comparing a permit granted by the Ottoman Empire to a hypothetical one granted by the Third Reich or by Putin in Ukraine is pretty disingenuous. The Ottomans were the largest empire in the world for over 4 centuries. They were a center of political, cultural, and scientific learning. Of course they had a right to grant a permit to remove pieces of the Acropolis. Considering they were Muslim rulers, we’re lucky they allowed the pieces to be removed instead of destroying them like the Taliban did with those Buddha statues.
I concur that the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece, as Greece is now a stable enough nation to protect them, and in light of the iconoclasm convulsing the Western world today, Britain may well not be anymore. But make the case without denigrating one of the great Medieval civilizations.

Ben Dhonau
Ben Dhonau
1 year ago

I find the arguments about ownership, whether by Britain, the Ottoman empire or the modern Greek State utterly sterile. I have seen them in the BM and was most is disappointed. They completely lack context, and that Is why I favor their return. As Varoukis says when he drops the nationalist ranting, they belong to the Parthenon

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Dhonau

Well bad news for you, even if returned they would simply go “out of context” to another museum. There is no plan to ever “reunite” them

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Dhonau

Well bad news for you, even if returned they would simply go “out of context” to another museum. There is no plan to ever “reunite” them

Ben Dhonau
Ben Dhonau
1 year ago

I find the arguments about ownership, whether by Britain, the Ottoman empire or the modern Greek State utterly sterile. I have seen them in the BM and was most is disappointed. They completely lack context, and that Is why I favor their return. As Varoukis says when he drops the nationalist ranting, they belong to the Parthenon

J. Hale
J. Hale
1 year ago

First of all, modern “Greeks” are not really Greek, they are descendants of Slavs who migrated south in the Middle Ages. Modern Greeks have as little in common with ancient Greeks as the modern English have in common with ancient Celts. The UK needs to show some backbone. The British Museum is a highlight of western civilization. Don’t give any of it away.

Last edited 1 year ago by J. Hale
Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago
Reply to  J. Hale

First of all the modern “English” are not really English, they are the descendants of Normans, Pakistanis, Danes, French, Irish, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Jews, Carribeans and others who migrated north in the Middle Ages, the days of the British Empire, WWII and the 1960s.
The modern English have as little in common with the medieval English as the modern French have in common with the ancient Celts.
P.S. There’s more than one scientific paper establishing the connection between modern Greeks and ancient Greek populations.

Last edited 1 year ago by Leo Macedonian
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Leo Macedonian

I suggest you undertake some research; the shires are Anglo Saxon and the coronation ceremony dates from this period.

J. Hale
J. Hale
1 year ago
Reply to  Leo Macedonian

On the contrary, the English are just as much an ethnic group as any other. Arabs, Indians, and Pakistanis may be UK citizens, but they are in no way English.

Last edited 1 year ago by J. Hale
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Leo Macedonian

I suggest you undertake some research; the shires are Anglo Saxon and the coronation ceremony dates from this period.

J. Hale
J. Hale
1 year ago
Reply to  Leo Macedonian

On the contrary, the English are just as much an ethnic group as any other. Arabs, Indians, and Pakistanis may be UK citizens, but they are in no way English.

Last edited 1 year ago by J. Hale
Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago
Reply to  J. Hale

First of all the modern “English” are not really English, they are the descendants of Normans, Pakistanis, Danes, French, Irish, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Jews, Carribeans and others who migrated north in the Middle Ages, the days of the British Empire, WWII and the 1960s.
The modern English have as little in common with the medieval English as the modern French have in common with the ancient Celts.
P.S. There’s more than one scientific paper establishing the connection between modern Greeks and ancient Greek populations.

Last edited 1 year ago by Leo Macedonian
J. Hale
J. Hale
1 year ago

First of all, modern “Greeks” are not really Greek, they are descendants of Slavs who migrated south in the Middle Ages. Modern Greeks have as little in common with ancient Greeks as the modern English have in common with ancient Celts. The UK needs to show some backbone. The British Museum is a highlight of western civilization. Don’t give any of it away.

Last edited 1 year ago by J. Hale
Andrew Holmes
Andrew Holmes
1 year ago

Given the miracles of modern computer driven machines, can’t the marbles be reproduced to milimetric accuracy, allowing both London and Athens to marvel up close. Better yet, make two and reinstall a copy on the Parthenon.

Andrew Holmes
Andrew Holmes
1 year ago

Given the miracles of modern computer driven machines, can’t the marbles be reproduced to milimetric accuracy, allowing both London and Athens to marvel up close. Better yet, make two and reinstall a copy on the Parthenon.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

Although I agree with the general view that these artifacts ought really to return to Greece (or never having been taken in the first place), I don’t think George Osborne’s attempt at a deal is “grubby”. What he’s doing is operating on the correct assumption that since Greece is in dispute with the British Museum on this, it is quite obvious that if the Marbles are sent to Greece they will simply never be returned.

An assurance from the Greek government otherwise that this would not happen is surely worthless, but equally well Osborne can hardly just say this, it’d be a diplomatic mistake. So he’s just acting in the British Museum’s interests, that’s all. I do take Varoukafis’ point above that the British Museum’s argument about property rights is indeed baseless, I just say that Osborne’s role here is not to administer cosmic justice but merely to act in the narrow interests of the museum.

I possess no interest in defending Osborne in general either, by the way. He wasn’t a very good Chancellor, having messed up a golden opportunity to start undoing the colossal damage to the public finances carried out by Gordon Brown, but instead he simply carried on with a Tory version of Brownian economics. The mess we’re in now is the result of 25 years of soft-left fiscal incontinence. Don’t bother talking about austerity, we never had anything of the sort. Austerity was just a term of abuse directed at the Tories who had the cheek to kick Labour out of office in 2010.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

Although I agree with the general view that these artifacts ought really to return to Greece (or never having been taken in the first place), I don’t think George Osborne’s attempt at a deal is “grubby”. What he’s doing is operating on the correct assumption that since Greece is in dispute with the British Museum on this, it is quite obvious that if the Marbles are sent to Greece they will simply never be returned.

An assurance from the Greek government otherwise that this would not happen is surely worthless, but equally well Osborne can hardly just say this, it’d be a diplomatic mistake. So he’s just acting in the British Museum’s interests, that’s all. I do take Varoukafis’ point above that the British Museum’s argument about property rights is indeed baseless, I just say that Osborne’s role here is not to administer cosmic justice but merely to act in the narrow interests of the museum.

I possess no interest in defending Osborne in general either, by the way. He wasn’t a very good Chancellor, having messed up a golden opportunity to start undoing the colossal damage to the public finances carried out by Gordon Brown, but instead he simply carried on with a Tory version of Brownian economics. The mess we’re in now is the result of 25 years of soft-left fiscal incontinence. Don’t bother talking about austerity, we never had anything of the sort. Austerity was just a term of abuse directed at the Tories who had the cheek to kick Labour out of office in 2010.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
Rob C
Rob C
1 year ago

I’m surprised no one has suggested that the British Museum make exact replicas and send the originals to Greece.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob C

I have! Modern technology means that we could copy the ones we have plus all of the other bits wherever they are ion the world, then fill in the gaps where it’s obvious what should be there, to re-create it better even than the museum in Athens! And since once copied they could easily be replaced there could be open days where children (and adults) were allowed to clamber all over them etc and have some fun.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob C

Or Greece could make replicas and put them in their museum.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Actually they do! And if they ever got the Elgin marbles back they would simply replace the replicas!!! ie almost nobody would even tell the difference! There is no plan to ever put the frieze back on the Parthenon of course due to air pollution (Athens is the 5th worse air on the planet)

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Actually they do! And if they ever got the Elgin marbles back they would simply replace the replicas!!! ie almost nobody would even tell the difference! There is no plan to ever put the frieze back on the Parthenon of course due to air pollution (Athens is the 5th worse air on the planet)

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob C
Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob C

I have! Modern technology means that we could copy the ones we have plus all of the other bits wherever they are ion the world, then fill in the gaps where it’s obvious what should be there, to re-create it better even than the museum in Athens! And since once copied they could easily be replaced there could be open days where children (and adults) were allowed to clamber all over them etc and have some fun.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob C

Or Greece could make replicas and put them in their museum.

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob C
Rob C
Rob C
1 year ago

I’m surprised no one has suggested that the British Museum make exact replicas and send the originals to Greece.

Diane Tasker
Diane Tasker
1 year ago

Go to it Yanis! Never a man to back down in a fight! A very neat resolve too in an attempt to pacify the ‘empiricists’ who still support such cultural vandalism. ‘Doing the right thing’ and returning sculptural art is no different to hunting down and returning the artworks looted in the wars of recent times to their rightful owners – which we all agree is morally and legally right. No matter how much money was exchanged at the time, why should the Elgin Marbles be an exception? I can’t think of a more immoral and wrongful act than defacing and stealing a Peoples’ heritage.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Diane Tasker

Do you suggest that those of African descent ask to be paid by those descendents in Africa who sold them into slavery? What about the fate of large numbers of Europeans and Indians taken by arab slavers? There used to charities in Cornwall and Devon to pay arab slavers for the return of fishermen. Perhaps we ought to charge the arabs of North Africa for payment including interest. The Vikings were well known slavers and Dublin was a major market. Should Britain ask for payment from Dublin and the former Viking Countries?
Slavery in the Ottoman Empire carried on until end of 19th century after Elgin bought the Marbles. The Turkish genocide of the Armenians in 1915 tends to be forgotten.
The Greeks were expelled from Turkey after they lost the war with Turkey in 1922 why do they not ask for compensation and return of land.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I think that you have confused this trail on ‘artworks’ with some other article and thread, perhaps on slavery.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The idea of reparations for historical “crimes” is endless and absurd. It’s crimes all the way down.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I think that you have confused this trail on ‘artworks’ with some other article and thread, perhaps on slavery.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The idea of reparations for historical “crimes” is endless and absurd. It’s crimes all the way down.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Diane Tasker

Do you suggest that those of African descent ask to be paid by those descendents in Africa who sold them into slavery? What about the fate of large numbers of Europeans and Indians taken by arab slavers? There used to charities in Cornwall and Devon to pay arab slavers for the return of fishermen. Perhaps we ought to charge the arabs of North Africa for payment including interest. The Vikings were well known slavers and Dublin was a major market. Should Britain ask for payment from Dublin and the former Viking Countries?
Slavery in the Ottoman Empire carried on until end of 19th century after Elgin bought the Marbles. The Turkish genocide of the Armenians in 1915 tends to be forgotten.
The Greeks were expelled from Turkey after they lost the war with Turkey in 1922 why do they not ask for compensation and return of land.

Diane Tasker
Diane Tasker
1 year ago

Go to it Yanis! Never a man to back down in a fight! A very neat resolve too in an attempt to pacify the ‘empiricists’ who still support such cultural vandalism. ‘Doing the right thing’ and returning sculptural art is no different to hunting down and returning the artworks looted in the wars of recent times to their rightful owners – which we all agree is morally and legally right. No matter how much money was exchanged at the time, why should the Elgin Marbles be an exception? I can’t think of a more immoral and wrongful act than defacing and stealing a Peoples’ heritage.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

When that spastic John Major Esq returned the ‘Stone of Scone’ to Scotland more than twenty years ago it was inevitable that the Elgin Marbles must untimely return to the Parthenon.

Ironically they currently rest in a gallery in the British Museum that was paid for by one the greatest art swindlers in history, the late, odious, Lord Duveen.

In any event they would look far better under the Athenian sun than languishing in the seedy gloom of Bloomsbury, as Mr Varoufakis so cogently explains.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

Hey, I used to live in Bloomsbury! It’s nice there! Blimey, I used to waft around thinking I was Virginia Woolf.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Gone downhill since they banned the chap selling roast chestnuts outside the BM, plus the draconian Congestion Charge and general street filth, I’m afraid.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Did you move to a lighthouse?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I suspect only after she lost her own room.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I suspect only after she lost her own room.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I suspect Virginia Woolf used to waft around thinking she was Virginia Woolf.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Gone downhill since they banned the chap selling roast chestnuts outside the BM, plus the draconian Congestion Charge and general street filth, I’m afraid.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Did you move to a lighthouse?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I suspect Virginia Woolf used to waft around thinking she was Virginia Woolf.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago

Except that they will NEVER “look far better under the Athenian sun” because there is no plan to ever put them out in the Athenian air (5th most polluted in the world). They will simply go to the Athens museum and replace the existing replicas there.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

Hey, I used to live in Bloomsbury! It’s nice there! Blimey, I used to waft around thinking I was Virginia Woolf.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago

Except that they will NEVER “look far better under the Athenian sun” because there is no plan to ever put them out in the Athenian air (5th most polluted in the world). They will simply go to the Athens museum and replace the existing replicas there.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

When that spastic John Major Esq returned the ‘Stone of Scone’ to Scotland more than twenty years ago it was inevitable that the Elgin Marbles must untimely return to the Parthenon.

Ironically they currently rest in a gallery in the British Museum that was paid for by one the greatest art swindlers in history, the late, odious, Lord Duveen.

In any event they would look far better under the Athenian sun than languishing in the seedy gloom of Bloomsbury, as Mr Varoufakis so cogently explains.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago

This case is surely correct, and here beautifully argued. They should be returned, and preferably unconditionally, to show that the British are a generous people at heart.
I cant help wishing though that the British Museum was chaired by somebody other than G. Osborne. He is too much a wheeler dealer to be involved with such a matter.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Exactly, the sort of person we used to call a “spiv” years ago.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Yes, he represents to those he deals with in these matters the very worst of us rather than the best.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

He’s certainly something beginning with a ‘w’!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Exactly, the sort of person we used to call a “spiv” years ago.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Yes, he represents to those he deals with in these matters the very worst of us rather than the best.

Tony Price
Tony Price
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

He’s certainly something beginning with a ‘w’!

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago

This case is surely correct, and here beautifully argued. They should be returned, and preferably unconditionally, to show that the British are a generous people at heart.
I cant help wishing though that the British Museum was chaired by somebody other than G. Osborne. He is too much a wheeler dealer to be involved with such a matter.

Dr Ed HMD
Dr Ed HMD
1 year ago

Just make flawless copies of them. No one could tell the difference. Then give ‘em back. We are after all ‘friends’.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Dr Ed HMD

There are already copies of them in the new museum in athens. If returned the originals would simply replace the copies in the museum. The futility of all this fuss is epic!

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Dr Ed HMD

There are already copies of them in the new museum in athens. If returned the originals would simply replace the copies in the museum. The futility of all this fuss is epic!

Dr Ed HMD
Dr Ed HMD
1 year ago

Just make flawless copies of them. No one could tell the difference. Then give ‘em back. We are after all ‘friends’.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

One could probably make the case that had they not been removed to England they long ago would have been sold into private collections or destroyed during periods of instability. That isnt to say they should not be returned now.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

One could probably make the case that had they not been removed to England they long ago would have been sold into private collections or destroyed during periods of instability. That isnt to say they should not be returned now.

Frederick Dixon
Frederick Dixon
1 year ago

At last I have read an explanation for Osborne’s apparently illogical desire to deprive the BM of its greatest treasure.I thought it was just him trying to be “nice” but now I learn that it’s all about money. Of course. Tell him to get st@ffed.

Frederick Dixon
Frederick Dixon
1 year ago

At last I have read an explanation for Osborne’s apparently illogical desire to deprive the BM of its greatest treasure.I thought it was just him trying to be “nice” but now I learn that it’s all about money. Of course. Tell him to get st@ffed.

Julian Hartley
Julian Hartley
1 year ago

Greece doesn’t have enough money to maintain the artefacts it already has. All over the country, irreplaceable archaeological sites are being choked in weeds; all the sleek facilities built in the heady years before the Eurozone debt crisis are now unstaffed and rusting away. The ancient city of Dion, at the foot of Olympus, where Alexander sacrificed to Zeus before taking his army to Asia Minor, has a toilet whose flush has not worked since 2012.

Greece is uniquely fortunate in its heritage. When it shows it can care for that heritage in its entirety, it will have a leg to stand on regarding the Parthenon Marbles.

Julian Hartley
Julian Hartley
1 year ago

Greece doesn’t have enough money to maintain the artefacts it already has. All over the country, irreplaceable archaeological sites are being choked in weeds; all the sleek facilities built in the heady years before the Eurozone debt crisis are now unstaffed and rusting away. The ancient city of Dion, at the foot of Olympus, where Alexander sacrificed to Zeus before taking his army to Asia Minor, has a toilet whose flush has not worked since 2012.

Greece is uniquely fortunate in its heritage. When it shows it can care for that heritage in its entirety, it will have a leg to stand on regarding the Parthenon Marbles.

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
1 year ago

Only the Greeks really care where they are and the Greeks want them in Greece. So they should be in Greece. Or is that too simplistic?

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Amies

Too simplistic. I would say that only Greek politician care about making a fuss about this topic for political reasons (their other favourite is the Turks) and now they have made all Greeks care about it for no good reason and – in my opinion – with no valid arguments. Greece is a country without resources to take care of its existing antiquities or even excavate THOUSANDS of promising new sites yet here they are saying they want to spend gazzillions on returning these to another museum!

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago

Nobody will spent “gazzillions” on returning the marbles to the Acropolis museum. The museum is already there and waiting.
Claiming that the return of the Parthenon Marbles is just a recent ploy by populist politicians who have whipped up the Greeks into a meaningless frenzy disregards the fact that the Greeks have been demanding their return since the 1830s.

Leo Macedonian
Leo Macedonian
1 year ago

Nobody will spent “gazzillions” on returning the marbles to the Acropolis museum. The museum is already there and waiting.
Claiming that the return of the Parthenon Marbles is just a recent ploy by populist politicians who have whipped up the Greeks into a meaningless frenzy disregards the fact that the Greeks have been demanding their return since the 1830s.

Alexander Chalkidis
Alexander Chalkidis
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Amies

Too simplistic. I would say that only Greek politician care about making a fuss about this topic for political reasons (their other favourite is the Turks) and now they have made all Greeks care about it for no good reason and – in my opinion – with no valid arguments. Greece is a country without resources to take care of its existing antiquities or even excavate THOUSANDS of promising new sites yet here they are saying they want to spend gazzillions on returning these to another museum!

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
1 year ago

Only the Greeks really care where they are and the Greeks want them in Greece. So they should be in Greece. Or is that too simplistic?

Richard Irons
Richard Irons
1 year ago

“They belong neither to the Greeks nor to the Britons. They belong to the Parthenon, with which they can be best re-united if they are displayed in the perfectly-designed room on top of the New Acropolis Museum”

Good point.

Richard Irons
Richard Irons
1 year ago

“They belong neither to the Greeks nor to the Britons. They belong to the Parthenon, with which they can be best re-united if they are displayed in the perfectly-designed room on top of the New Acropolis Museum”

Good point.

Keppel Cassidy
Keppel Cassidy
1 year ago

A beautifully written article that I fully agree with. Insisting that the British Museum has a right to continued ownership of stolen goods it purchased is pure chauvinism, and a crime against culture that diminishes us all. Also great to see Yanis Varoufakis writing for Unherd, and again kudos to Unherd for being one of the few media to publish intelligent, thoughtful commentators from both the right and the left.

Frederick Dixon
Frederick Dixon
1 year ago
Reply to  Keppel Cassidy

If the British Museum has no right to the Elgin Marbles because they are “stolen goods”, does not the same apply to everything taken from countries which were under Ottoman occupation at the time of their acquisition? If so, then all of their Egyptian treasures, all their great Asyrian sculptures, and so much else, must go back. Mustn’t it? Won’t be much left.

Frederick Dixon
Frederick Dixon
1 year ago
Reply to  Keppel Cassidy

If the British Museum has no right to the Elgin Marbles because they are “stolen goods”, does not the same apply to everything taken from countries which were under Ottoman occupation at the time of their acquisition? If so, then all of their Egyptian treasures, all their great Asyrian sculptures, and so much else, must go back. Mustn’t it? Won’t be much left.

Keppel Cassidy
Keppel Cassidy
1 year ago

A beautifully written article that I fully agree with. Insisting that the British Museum has a right to continued ownership of stolen goods it purchased is pure chauvinism, and a crime against culture that diminishes us all. Also great to see Yanis Varoufakis writing for Unherd, and again kudos to Unherd for being one of the few media to publish intelligent, thoughtful commentators from both the right and the left.