March 17 15:28 2015 Print This Article

“You, Englishmen, who take away the artifacts of our ancestors, should take good care of them because there will come a time when we, Greeks, will ask them back.”

These are the words that scholar Athanassios Psalidas from Yiannena  used to warn John Hobhouse that, once free and with their own independent and sovereign state, the Greeks would claim the treasures of their national heritage which were barbarously removed from the monuments of the Acropolis by Lord Elgin.

Now that the new Acropolis Museum is almost ready to open its doors and since it is considered to be most suitable to preserve and display these cultural artifacts, the most important argument of the British Museum officials is about to collapse. Greece now has a museum to house the Acropolis Sculptures and it is high time for the proposal put forward by Hugh Hammersley, MP, in the House of Commons on June 7, 1816, to be implemented: “…a communication should be immediately made, stating, that Great Britain holds these Marbles only in trust till they are demanded by the present, or any future, possessors of the city of Athens; and upon such demand, engages without question or negotiation, to restore them…”

Once again, it is about time we heard the voice of Frederick Harrison, an English historian, who wrote an article entitled “Give back the Elgin Marbles” in 1890, stating that all the British Museum arguments are quibbles and that “…the Parthenon Marbles are to the Greek nation a thousand times more dear and more important than they can ever be to the English nation…” We should now do what was proposed by Roger Casement in the poem he wrote in 1891: “Give back the Elgin marbles, let them lie // Unsullied, pure beneath the Attic sky… let them vigil keep // Where art still lies, over Pheidias’ tomb, asleep.”

There is a strong alibi for the British Museum officials, who undoubtedly believe that, if they return the Parthenon sculptures, they will carry the burden of a historic responsibility. They should simply go back two centuries and read the reactions, the proposals, and the protests of countless British scholars and artists.

In his foreword to “The Elgin Marbles”, Christopher Hitchens points out: “…I have been impressed… by the number of British people who, all down the generations since the marbles were removed, have looked at the matter in a sober and phlegmatic way and concluded that a wrong has been done. In a mostly dispassionate manner they have sought for nearly two centuries to put it right…”

The British must know that, as long as they refuse us the return of the artifacts of our ancestors, we will persist. What is more, we are not alone in our efforts. Apart from the majority of the British who are in favor of returning the marbles, the number of committees around the world struggling for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures is growing by the day. Resolutions and protests supported by institutions, organizations, and common citizens are often made public.

Justice and reason should prevail and, as Christopher Hitchens notes in the foreword to his book: “The prompting of justice, like the voice of reason, is quiet but very persistent.”

Today, the skills, knowledge, and experience of Greek restoration experts and the Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments are universally acknowledged and warrant the pristine preservation of the sculptures, so they may be handed down to the generations to come in best condition possible.

The only thing left to do is a good-will gesture on the part of the British Museum, which will certainly go down in the annals of history as a courageous decision.



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