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Lord Elgin and the Marbles [Hardcover]

William St. Clair

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Book Description

Jun 1967
Lord Elgin and the Marbles is an account of the circumstances in which the Elgin Marbles were acquired, of the impact which they made on modern appreciation of Greek art, and of the reaction of Napoleon, Byron, and many others to their appropriation.

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`The British say they have saved the Marbles. Well, thank you very much. Now give them back.'

Melina Mercouri, actress and politician

Ever since the sculptures from the Parthenon arrived in England at the beginning of the last century, they have caused controversy. Based on a detailed study of both original records and recent discoveries, Lord Elgin and the Marbles is the authoritative historical account of the extraordinary circumstances in which the Elgin Marbles were acquired, of the tremendous impact which they made on modern appreciation of Greek art, and of the bitter reaction of Napoleon, Byron, and many others to their appropriation.

In the last chapters of this book, William St. Clair now adds further fuel to the controversy by revealing for the first time some disturbing details about the treatment of the Marbles while in the British Museum's care, and of the British Museum's response to public concerns about this important cultural artefact. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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a measured, well-founded, wise, witty, and intensely interesting vindication. (TLS) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most comprehensive study 14 Dec 2008
By M. G. SFAELLOU - Published on Amazon.com
In Greece there is an unusual idiomatic expression: to hold a memorial service with someone else's 'kollyva'. Kollyva is special boiled wheat with nuts and pomegranate seeds which is served at memorials and it is invariably provided by the family who hold the memorial service. Therefore the hypothetical disgrace and anomaly of a family so mean as to use someone else's kollyva is used merely as an idiom for someone who makes a gift of that which does not belong to them. This was what the Ottomans did when they gave Elgin the marbles from the Parthenon.Despite the misnomer 'Elgin Marbles', the marbles were not his possession but belonged to one of the most historic monuments in the world, the Acropolis, from which they were stolen. His theft is partially understandable only if one uses the dubious argument that he wanted to share these marbles. By bringing them to Britain he would be making them accessible to others who would not normally have had the opportunity to see them. Thus he was not a vandal in the same degree as those thieves who (acting completely unchecked by the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq) looted the treasures of the Baghdad Museum. Now amidst the genocide of over 1.5 million innocent Iraqi dead, some evil profiteers have been selling these priceless pieces of Assyrian/Babylonian art to private collectors/fences.
I remember watching a documentary a couple of years ago in which some academics and pseudo-intellectuals expressed their views about the proposed return of these marbles. One rather ignorant woman (without any substantial evidence) tried to argue that the marbles should remain in the British Museum since if they returned to Greece the Greek state would not look after them properly. Her spiteful remarks were a slight on Greece and not just on the practical problem of the 'nephos' or pollution that enshrouds Athens.
I was impressed to read that St. Clair does not try to hide the real evidence. He is prepared to uncover every detail. We learn that far from protecting the marbles, the caretakers in the British Museum also damaged them irreparably by applying caustic bleaches to clean them - the greatest act of vandalism which the marble friezes suffered since they were chipped off carelessly by the vandal Elgin himself.
Perhaps there is ONLY one positive argument that could be recognised for the initial transportation of the marbles to Btitain. Inadvertantly, when these beautiful pieces were exhibited, they did serve to inspire an interest in and love for Greece. By extension, their exhibition in London brought attention to the contemporary problems of Greece; and this indirectly also served to muster support for Lord Byron and other philhellenes who joined the Greek struggle against the Turks.
Were the British government to honour 'promises' to have the marbles returned, then without doubt the marbles would be once again safe and protected. It is unlikely that they would be replaced in their pristine position, exposed to the elements and pollution - but housed in the museum located within the Acropolis. However, the question of their return does not depend on whether Greece can prove whether she can look after them. This question should not arise since they belong to Greece and the British Museum is thus holding property that has been stolen from the Greek state. Perhaps the British Museum is really worried that their return might be a precedent for other countries like Egypt etc. to demand what is rightfully theirs.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book 21 Nov 2011
By Jennifer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I wrote my senior thesis on the legality of Lord Elgins acquisition of the marbles and this book gave me great insight into the entire story behind it. The author is a fantastic writer and gives no opinions on the matter but clearly tells the story behind the Parthenon and Lord Elgin. If anyone wants to know more about the marbles this is where they should start! A great, entertaining read full of fun facts and great history. Not a challenging read but a very pleasant one where you will come out a more informed and knowledgable person!
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