1.27.2006

Elgin's Firman - permission to remove the Marbles

There are no good published translations of the Firman Elgin was granted, so I thought that posting this one might be of use. It is mine, based on the Italian text in St. Clair's 'Lord Elgin and the Marbles' (1998).

Translation of a letter from HE the Kaimecam Pasha to the Judiciary and also to the Governor of Athens _______.

Having greeted you, I wish to notify you that our dear friend, HE Lord Elgin, Ambassador of the English court to the Porte of Happiness,[1] has explained to us that most people in the Frankish[2] courts wish to read and investigate ancient books, images, and other sciences of the Greek philosophers,
and in particular the Ministers,[3] philosophers, leading citizens, and other individuals in England have a penchant for the images that survive from the time of those Greeks, which can be found throughout the Archipelago, as well as in other areas,
we have from time to time allowed men to investigate ancient monuments, and images, and it is in this was that the talented dilettanti from the English Court wish to be given access to the old structures and the curious images of the City of Athens,[4] and of the old walls that remain from the time of the Greeks, and which remain within the interior of that place aforementioned,
he has thus commissioned and order five English painters, already in the City, who are to see, study and draw remains from the ancient past, and he has asked me specifically to put in writing my orders to you that these painters, whilst they will be busy doing this, be allowed to enter and leave, to pass through the gate of the Fortress of this City,
which is the place where they can see what they are to draw, where they can use scaffolding to make moulds of the ancient temple of the Idols, bringing out the forms of these same ornaments, and figures that are visible, through the use of chalk / plaster, as well as measuring the other buildings in ruins, and to be able to undertake excavations when they need to do so, [down to the] foundations to find inscribed pieces, which perchance might be found within the ruins,[5]
they are not to be bothered [whilst they undertake these things] nor is the Keeper of the Fortress to impede them in any way, nor is anyone else, and that their scaffolding should not be interfered with, nor their tools, with which they make moulds,
and when they want to carry away any of the stones with old inscriptions, or figures, you are not to oppose them in any way, as is written here in this letter which NN is delivering to you, [6] so that the decision of our Excellent Empire endowed with great gifts is now clear, which chooses to favour these requests, agreeing to them because of friendship, sincerity, the Alliance, and the benefit that has long been felt by, and which will increase, between the Sublime and long-reigning Ottoman Court, and that of England,
and since there is nothing wrong in these images and structures being seen, studied, and draw, and that these painters should also be shown proper hospitality, as has been specifically requested by the Ambassador mentioned previously, and it is incumbent that no opposition should be raised if they wish to walk around, see, or record the images, and the structures that they wish to draw, nor to their scaffolding, nor instruments, from the time that this letter arrives you are to give your Attention to this matter, conforming to the wishes of this Ambassador whilst the five painters mentioned above, who are already there, can pass through the gate of the Fortress of Athens,
which is the place where they occupied studying; where they can use scaffolding to make moulds of the ancient temple of the Idols; bringing out the forms of these same ornaments, and figures, that are visible, through the use of chalk / plaster;
as well as measuring the other buildings in ruins, and to be able to undertake excavations when they need to do so, [down to the] foundations to find inscribed pieces, which perchance might be found within the ruins,
they are not to be bothered [whilst they undertake these things] nor is the Keeper of the Fortress to impede them in any way, nor is anyone else, not even you to whom this letter is addressed, you are not to interfere with their scaffolding, nor their tools, with which they make moulds, nor are you to oppose them in any way should they wish to take away with them any old pieces of stone with inscriptions, or figures, and this is the manner in which you are to operate, and to behave yourselves,

Signed Sejid Abdullah
Kaimmecam.[7]

[1] Constantinople
[2] Western
[3] ambassadors
[4] Here meaning the Acropolis.
[5] In Italian this is “ghiaja”, which literally means gravel; although sometimes translated as rubbish, it was the word used in Italian translations of Ottoman documents to refer to ancient ruins. In modern Italian it means “grandmother” although I assume that the Voivode did not use this interpretation.
[6] “NN” was often used to indicate where a name would be inserted.
[7] The two uses of this title in the letter have two different spellings, consistency in such things not having been important at the time (a quality we are rediscovering today).

1 comment:

  1. As Italian native speaker, I wish to correct a mistake in the translation above which I find to be quite crucial for a correct understanding of its true content.
    The Italian version reads "e quando volessero portar via qualche pezzi di pietra con vechie inscrizioni, e figure", which translates as "and when they want to carry away some stones with old inscriptions, or figures" and NOT, as mistakenly translated above, "any of the stones". The difference between "qualche" (a few, some) and "any" (which in Italian would be "qualsiasi") is considerable and conveys a completely different meaning. Of course we are talking about an unofficial translation of an original document which has never been found (a fact which, by itself, already raises several doubts about the legality, if not the legitimacy of the "acquisition"), but as the BM uses this document as one of the main argument to legitimize the stripping of the marbles from the Acropolis, it is important at least to get right what it exactly says. While "qualche" indicates a modest amount, the exact entity of which would be at the discretion of the Ottoman authorities, "any" would erroneously indicate that the exact amount of the archeological material to be removed was at the discretion of Mr Elgin and his men, and potentially unlimited, suggesting that they could have taken away the entire Acropolis if they had the means. We know today that the amount of marbles plundered was way beyond a modest amount ("qualche") and that episodes of bribing of Ottoman officials were reported by eye witnesses. Therefore, translating "qualche" with "any" is not only linguistically wrong, but it seems to distort the actual content of this letter to justify ex post facto a removal of archeological materials which went well beyond the amount explicitly allowed.

    On a minor note, I am not aware of the use of the word "ghiaja" as "grandmother". It sounds quite curious and unlikely to me.

    ReplyDelete

I do not moderate comments, but I remove spam, overt self-promotion ("read [link] my much better post on this") and what I consider hate speech (racism, homophobia etc).

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.