Greeks "don't look after treasures"-UK author
Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:43 PM GMT
By Paul Majendie
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain should not return the Elgin Marbles to Athens
because Greece has a lamentable record of caring for its Parthenon
treasures, a leading archaeologist says in a new book.
"I think they have to start looking after what they have," said Dorothy
King. "Most of the Parthenon sculpture in Athens isn't on display and hasn't
been cared for."
Britain's refusal to give back the treasures, known in Greece as the
Parthenon marbles, has been a contentious issue in Anglo-Greek relations for
nearly 200 years.
The series of statues and fragments were taken from the Parthenon temple in
the early 19th century by British ambassador Lord Elgin who sold them to the
British Museum in London.
Greeks see Elgin as a sinister figure, who bribed the then Ottoman
authorities to raid the Acropolis and whisk away part of Greece's identity.
Archaeologists restoring the Parthenon say his rushed operation caused great
damage to the marble temple.
Since its independence in 1832, Greece has repeatedly requested the return
of the marbles.
Recent attempts to get the marbles back, initially revived by Greek actress
turned culture minister Melina Mercouri in 1982, have gathered support with
such vociferous backers as Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave.
King, interviewed by Reuters in the run-up to publication of her book "The
Elgin Marbles," said of Mercouri: "She believed in a cause and fought for it
and you have to respect someone who believes in something."
In her book, King says Mercouri once turned up at the British Museum with a
camera crew in tow.
Flinging herself to the floor in one sculpture gallery, Mercouri proclaimed
her love for the Parthenon.
The dramatic impact was somewhat diluted when a museum curator whispered to
her: "These are beautiful sculptures, Mrs Mercouri, but the Elgin Marbles
are in the next room."
OPPOSED TO LOAN
King is firmly opposed even to loaning the marbles exhibit to Greece. "It is
not an option. What are we going to do -- send in the SAS to bring it back.
If we loan it, it is not going to come back."
King, who studied classics at King's College, London where she did her PhD
on Greek architectural sculpture, rejects the argument that Britain's
refusal to return the marbles is an arrogant echo of its imperial past.
She says the marbles are well preserved, well cared for and accessible to
all free of charge in the British Museum.
In contrast, she says the Parthenon sculptures in Athens are mostly in poor
condition, continuing to disintegrate and accessible only to specialists.
The Greeks refute such charges, saying they are well capable of caring for
their own antiquities.
King is also implacably opposed to the building of the new Acropolis Museum
in Athens on the site of an early Christian site. The museum, long delayed
and expected to finish in 2008, is being especially built to house the
"I am not being rude about the Greeks," she insisted. "But I think various
Greek governments have made it into a political issue which they shouldn't
"I have objections to the way the Greeks are very nationalistic about it. I
don't like the way they have become this symbol of Greek superiority. The
world has become multi-cultural."
(Additional reporting by Dina Kyriakidou in Athens)