Why we should keep the Elgin marbles
The Elgin marbles should not be sent back to Greece, said Kevin Childs. The sculptures and frieze reliefs were removed from the pediment of the Parthenon in Athens and shipped to the U.K. more than 200 years ago by the Earl of Elgin, a British diplomat and amateur antiquarian. The marbles became a star attraction at London’s British Museum and are now a source of contention with the Greek government, which has lobbied furiously for their return. The plundering of Greek antiquity has a long and sorry history, but in this case there was a happy ending. Carefully preserved by the British Museum, the marbles were seen by millions of people—including great artists such as Auguste Rodin, who used them as inspiration and whose works are displayed alongside the marbles in a new exhibition at the museum. Rodin “copied and distilled and recast them,” but ultimately admitted that, in his words, “no artist will ever surpass Phidias.” Had the marbles remained in Athens to be broken up or scattered by looters, Rodin would likely never have laid eyes on them. The Elgin marbles now belong not to Greek heritage alone but to Western culture. Since they couldn’t, in any case, be returned to the Parthenon, only to a museum nearby, why not keep them in London “where they can be seen by considerably more visitors”?