Saturday, 15 October 2011

Cultural Issues of the Elgin Marbles

“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, which simply bought them”
-Frederic Harrison, “Giving Back the Elgin Marbles”

Without the financial means and economic support for recovering the Parthenon marbles, Greece is forced to miss essential pieces of its history and culture. The Parthenon marbles consist of one-hundred and fifteen panels of frieze, only ninety-four of which are extant. Of the surviving panels of frieze, the British Museum holds fifty-six, and of the surviving metopes (of the original ninety-two), it holds fifteen. The building and sculptures of the Parthenon were conceived and executed together for a specific purpose. They are better understood and appreciated if they can be seen together as a united image of Greek culture and identity. The negative effects of looting pushed Elgin to remove the marbles from their original historical and cultural context and to split them up, destroying their most effective display. Greece’s cultural identity would be better preserved if its archaeological cultures could be displayed altogether. Looting has split up cultural material from its country of origin which has caused negative effects on the presentation of the modern archaeology.

Looting has further created a negative image of the British Museum which currently holds the majority of the Parthenon marbles taken by Elgin. The British Museum has consistently attempted to present itself as a capable home for the Parthenon marbles. The Museum states that the marbles are seen by five million visitors a year and are actively studied and researched in order to promote a worldwide understanding of Greek culture. This seems like a valid argument, but Greece and its advocates continuously counteracts it by stating that the marbles cannot be considered completely part of the Greek culture unless they are displayed within (or at least closer to) their original context. The British Museum has also received criticism for harming the cultural identity of the Greeks due to the presentation of the Parthenon marbles in the museum. The Parthenon marbles were made to be on the outside wall of the Parthenon, but at the British Museum, they are displayed on the inside of the wall.
           The British Museum and its capability of presenting the Parthenon marbles have been negatively affected by looting. The modern archaeology of Greece and its representation to the wider populace has been damaged due to looting removing the archaeological evidence from its original and therefore most effective context.

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