Editorial

1961 Antiquity  
Editorial WO very controversial archaeological issues have been much discussed in the British Press in the last few months. The first is the suggestion-not made now T for the first time-that the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece; the second that Stonehenge should be prevented from becoming a centre of neo-Druidism and hooliganism at Midsummer. The controversy about the return of the Elgin Marbles was started on this occasion by Mr Francis Noel Baker, M.P., who asked the Prime Minister
more » ... the Prime Minister if the Government would return the marbles to Greece. Mr Macmillan's refusal was backed up by a leader in The Times. A heated discussion followed. On one side it was said that as we had rescued the marbles we had a right to keep them, and that they are better preserved in a museum than being left on the Acropolis at Athens. (Those left on the Parthenon have badly weathered, true, but does it have to be a museum in London?) On the other side it was argued that the marbles were an integral part of the Parthenon and that our title to them was uncertain since they were removed with Turkish, not Greek, permission. The facts about the removal of the marbles from Athens to Bloomsbury are not in dispute. The Earl of Elgin was Ambassador to Constantinople from 1799 to 1803. He very wisely used his mission for archaeological research and from 1800 onwards had a band of artists drawing, measuring, recording, and taking casts of the antiquities of Greece. In his Greek Studies in England, 1700-1830, M. L. Clarke writes, 'At first Elgin's intention was only to make drawings and casts, not to take away any of the sculpture, but as he learnt more of conditions in Athens and saw the constant destruction and defacement to which the antiquities were subject, he changed his plan, and determined to remove as much of the sculpture as he could.' In 1801 the Porte gave him a firman which included permission to take away 'any pieces of stone with inscriptions or figures'. The Elgin collection included, in addition to the great majority of the sculptures from the Parthenon, four reliefs from the temple of Nike, and one of the Caryatids from the Erechtheum. It might have contained much more. His chaplain, Dr Hunt, when supervising the work of clearing the Caryatid porch of the Erechtheum, wrote to Elgin, 'If your Lordship would come here in a large Man of War, that beautiful little model of ancient art might be transported wholly to England'. Elgin's collection was shipped to England, and in 1807 was displayed in a room at the back of his house in Park Lane; it was bought for the British Museum for ,(35,000 in 1816. Elgin himself was quite sure of what he was doing and why; it was to rescue ancient Greek art for posterity. 'The Turks have been continually defacing the heads', he wrote,
doi:10.1017/s0003598x00036140 fatcat:iwu5pwk6jrd6znjcip2wc5r3ke