Melina’s speech at the Oxford Union.
Melina is telling us the story…
“And the Parthenon Marbles they are. There are no such things as the Elgin Marbles. There is a Michael Angelo David.There is a Da Vinci Venus.There is a Praxitelles Hermes.There is a Turner 'Fishermen at Sea'.There are no Elgin Marbles!”
"Mr. President, Honorable members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
At once let me thank the Oxford Union for introducing this resolution for debate, and thanks for inviting me. I think that it is good, that this evening a Greek voice should be heard. Even a voice with my poor accent. I hear it and I wince. I am reminded of what Brendan Behan once said of a certain broadcaster: 'He speaks as if he had the Elgin Marbles in his mouth.'
There are other thanks I need to make; to the many British citizens who have defended my government's position, to the Honorable Members of both Houses who have manifested interest and sympathy for the return, to the participants in tonight's debate, and of course, for its efforts to bring the truth to the English people, my deepest gratitude to the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles.
And the Parthenon Marbles they are. There are no such things as the Elgin Marbles.
There is a Michael Angelo David.
There is a Da Vinci Venus.
There is a Praxitelles Hermes.
There is a Turner 'Fishermen at Sea'.
There are no Elgin Marbles!
There is Capella Sixtina.
There are no Elgin Marbles!
You know, it is said that we Greeks are a fervent and warm blooded breed. Well, let me tell you something - it is true. And I am not known for being an exception. Knowing what these sculptures mean to the Greek people, it is not easy to address their having been taken from Greece dispassionately, but I shall try. I promise.
I have been advised by one of your eminent professors that I must tell the history of how the Marbles were taken from Athens and brought to British shores. I protested that this was too well known but was told that even if there were a single person in this audience who might be vague about the facts, the story must be told.
So, as briefly as I can, here goes.
We are at the end of the 19th Century. Napoleon is pondering the risk of invading England. He decides that it is not a very good idea. Instead he invades Egypt, wresting it from Turkish authority. The Turks don't appreciate this at all. They break off diplomatic relations with France. They also declare war. Britain decides that this is a dandy time to appoint an Ambassador to Turkey.
Enter Lord Elgin. It is he who gets the job. He has just married pretty Mary Nisbett and is finishing his fine country house. Its architect tells him of the wonders of Greek architecture and sculptures, and suggests it would be a marvellous idea to make plaster casts of the actual objects in Athens. 'Marvellous, indeed,' says Elgin. He sets about organising a group of people who could make architectural drawings, headed by a worthy painter, who turns out to be Giovanni Lusieri, an Italian painter.
I can't resist stealing a moment for an anecdote. Elgin had previously approached Turner. Yes, the Turner. The young painter was interested. Lord Elgin sets down the conditions: every drawing and sketch that Turner made was to become his Lordship's possession. In his spare time he would give Lady Elgin drawing lessons. 'Okay,' says Turner 'but then I would want £400 a year.' No, no says Elgin, too much, much too much. So, no Turner. End of anecdote.
The Chaplain of Elgin's staff was the Reverend Philip Hunt. I shall not speak of him with much reverence. If I had to exclude Lord Elgin, the arch villain in the story, as I see it, was the Reverend Hunt. Of that a little later on. The Elgins are received with pomp in Constantinople. Lavish gifts are exchanged. The winds of war are favourable to the British and the Sultan is delighted.
Now we shift to Greece, this Greece occupied for almost 400 years now by the Ottoman empire. Elgin's staff of artists arrive in Athens. To control Athens the Turks have assigned two governors, one civil, the other military.
Much has been said and continues to be said of what little concern the Turks had for the Acropolis treasures. Yet, it took six months for the Elgin staff to be allowed access. But they worked it out; five pounds a visit into the palm of the military governor. This inaugurated a procedure of bribery and corruption of officials that was not to stop until the marbles were packed and shipped to England.
Yet, when scaffolding was erected and moulds were ready to be made, suddenly came rumours of French preparation for military action. The Turkish governor ordered the Elgin staff down from the Acropolis. Five pounds a visit or not, access to the Acropolis was verboten.
There was only one way to get back up there again; for Lord Elgin to use his influence with the Sultan in Constantinople, to obtain a document, called a firman, ordering the Athens authorities to permit the work to go on.
The Reverend Hunt goes to Constantinople to see Lord Elgin. He asks that the document state that the artists - please, note this, are in the service of the British Ambassador Extraordinary. Elgin goes to see the Sultan. Elgin gets the firman. The text of the firman is rather tortuously composed. Let me read the orders given by the Sultan which are pertinent to our discussion. I quote:
'That the artists meet no opposition in walking, viewing, contemplating the pictures and buildings they may wish to design or copy; or in fixing scaffolding around the ancient temple; or in modelling with chalk or gypsum the said ornaments and visible figures; or in excavating, when they find it necessary, in search of inscriptions among the rubbish. Nor hinder them from taking away any pieces of stone with inscriptions and figures.'
(The Hunt translation later presented to the Select Committee reads - qualche pezzi di pietra - some pieces of stone).
These instructions are given to the governors -- and the point is made in the firman -- because of the excellent relations between the two countries, and I quote again: '...particularly as there is no harm in the said buildings being thus viewed, contemplated and drawn.'
No sooner was the firman delivered to Athens, than a feverish, terrifying assault is made upon an edifice that, until today, many consider the purest, the most beautiful of human creation.
When the Caryatid porch of the Erectheum was attacked, the fever mounted so high that the Reverend Hunt suggested that the entire building could be removed if only a large British Man of War could be dispatched for it. Lord Elgin was thrilled by the idea and asked for a ship to be sent. The request was not considered outrageous but at that moment no ship was available. (Imagine if it had been).
To relate all the horrors needs a great deal of time and a great deal of restraint. The words 'pillage', 'dilapidation', 'wanton devastation', 'lamentable overthrow and ruin' are not mine of the moment. They were spoken by Elgin's contemporaries. Horace Smith referred to Elgin as "the marble stealer". Lord Byron called him a plunderer. Thomas Hardy later on was to write of the marbles as 'captives in exile'.
My government has asked for the return of the Parthenon Marbles. We have been refused. Be it on record that we shall never abandon the request.
Let me list the arguments that are perpetuated against the return and deal with them one by one.
First, the marbles were obtained by proper transaction.
I ask if bribery and corruption of officials can be contradictory to 'proper transaction'.
When the Select Committee appointed was studying the proposition of buying the marbles from his Lordship, Elgin submitted an itemised account of his expenditure for their obtainment. Citing, and I quote him "the obstacles, interruptions and discouragement created by the caprices and prejudices of the Turks", he lists an item of £21,902 for presents to the authorities in Athens. Well at least it's a proper sum. And, of course, it must be asked: is it proper to transact with the Turks for the most reassured of Greek possessions when Greece is under Turkish invasion and subjugation?
A second argument that is maintained despite its being angrily refuted by numerous British travellers in Greece at the time is that:
'...the ignorant, superstitious Greeks were indifferent to their art and their monuments.'
This, of course, implies that they were eyeless, conscienceless, and heartless. Who? These Greeks who, long after Pericles, created the miracles of Byzantine art? These Greeks who even under Turkish occupation created entire schools of arts and techniques? These Greeks who despite 400 years of Turkish rule grimly maintained their language and their religion? These Greeks who in their struggle for independence sent the Turkish soldiers bullets to be used against themselves. Yes, against themselves.
The Turkish soldiers besieged on the Acropolis ran short of ammunition. They began to attack the great columns to extract lead to make bullets. The Greeks sent them ammunition with the message: 'Here are bullets, don't touch the columns.'
After independence was gained, one of the first Acts passed by the Greek government was for the protection and preservation of national monuments. Indifference? We consider this accusation monstrous. You have surely heard, but let me repeat, what a heartsick Greek man said to members of the Elgin staff, and reported by J.C. Hobhouse. "You have taken our treasures. Please give them good care. One day we shall ask for their return". Are we to believe that this man was speaking only for himself?
Of late, a new theory has been proposed, this one is a beauty. Mr Gavin Stamp, I shall have the honour of meeting him tonight, proposes the notion that modern Greeks are not descendants of Pericles. Wow! Our marbles have been taken. Who will lay claim to the bones of our ancestors?
As Minister of Culture, I hereby invite Mr Stamp to come to Athens. I will arrange prime time on television for him to tell Greek demographers and the Greek people who they are.
Argument number 3. If the marbles are returned, it will set a precedent that could lead to the emptying of museums. Forgive me but this is just plain blarney. Who is going to ask and who is going to permit the emptying of museums?
Let me state once more that we think museums everywhere are a vital social and cultural need and must be protected. I have repeated again and again that we are asking for the integral part of a structure that was mutilated. In the world over, the very name of our country is immediately associated with the Parthenon.
We are asking only for something unique, something matchless, something specific to our identity. And dear friends, if there were the shadow of a shadow of danger to museums, why would the International Council of Museums recommend the return, as they have done.
Argument number 4. This one, of more recent vintage. Pollution! Pollution over the Acropolis. How much sense does this make? When London was dealing with the severe problem of pollution, were there cries of alarm for the marbles? Of course not. For the simple reason that they were housed inside the British Museum.
Now we don't make pretence that the sculptures can be reset in the frieze. We think it cannot be done, but my government has gone on record that the day that Athens sees the return of the marbles, there will be, ready to receive them, adjacent to the Acropolis for relevant context, a beautiful museum with the most developed systems of security and preservation.
May I add that we are proud of the ongoing work at the Acropolis. The exposition of this work was unveiled to a congress of the World's leading archaeologists who were invited to Athens. Their praise was unanimous, enthusiastic and gratifying. Since then it has been exhibited in major European cities. It was graciously received by the British Museum in London. The Financial Times wrote a report of the quality of this work and the exemplary skills of Greek restorers. I have asked that copies be made available here to those of you who might be interested.
The argument most perpetuated is that removing the marbles saved them from the barbarous Turks. To deny Turkish vandalism there would put me on weak ground. But the fact is that the Turks gave no permission to Elgin to remove sculptures from the works or the walls of the citadel, and with the blessing of the Reverend Hunt, barbarously they were removed. I quote from a letter from Lusieri to Elgin:
'I have, my Lord, the pleasure of announcing to you the possession of the eighth metope, that one where there is the centaur carrying off the woman. This piece has caused much trouble in all respects and I have been obliged to be a little barbarous.'
In another letter he hoped '...that the barbarisms that I have been obliged to commit in your service may be forgotten.'
Edward Dodwell wrote: 'I had the inexpressible mortification of being present, when the Parthenon was despoiled of its finest sculptures. I saw several metopes at the south east extremity of the temple taken down. They were fixed in between the triglyphs as in a groove; and in order to lift them up, it was necessary to throw to the ground the magnificent cornice by which they were covered. The south east angle of the pediment shared the same fate; and instead of the picturesque beauty and high preservation in which I first saw it, it is now completely reduced to a state of shattered desolation. We cannot but execrate the spirit of barbarism which prompted them to shatter and mutilate, to pillage and overturn the noble works which Pericles had ordered and the unrivalled genius of Pheidias and Iktinos had executed.'
Another witness, Robert Smirke, writes: 'It particularly affected me when I saw the destruction made to get down the basso-relievos on the walls of the frieze. Each stone as it fell shook the ground with its ponderous weight, with a deep hollow noise; it seemed like a convulsive groan of the injured spirit of the temple.'
Edward Daniel Clarke was among those witnessing the devastation. Clarke writes: 'Looking up, we saw with regret the gap that had been made, which all the ambassadors of the earth, with all the sovereigns they represent, aided by every resource that wealth and talent can bestow, will never again repair.'
So much for barbarism.
In the year 1816 a Select Committee is appointed to study a proposal made by Lord Elgin. The marbles had been exhibited in various places and sheds. Lord Elgin has fallen on hard times and offers to sell the marbles to the government. The committee has to decide:
By what authority the collection was acquired.
Under what circumstances the authority was granted.
The merit of the marbles as works of art.
How much should be spent for an eventual purchase.
If you read the report you will see that the bulk of the testimony asked for, was how good were the marbles, and how much should be paid for them. But in order to recommend their purchase a tricky corner had to be turned; that the circumstances of the transaction were proper and that the marbles were obtained by Elgin, the private citizen and not by his influence as the British Ambassador.
I read to you from the Select Committee report:
'The Earl of Aberdeen in answer to an inquiry, whether the authority and influence of a public situation was, in his opinion, necessary for accomplishing the removal of these marbles, answered that he did not think a private individual could have accomplished the removal of the remains that Lord Elgin obtained.'
(The Earl of Aberdeen, no mean treasure seeker himself, was in Greece at the time and in a position to know).
I read from the report:
"Doctor Hunt, who had better opportunities of information upon this point than any other person who had been examined, gave it as his decided opinion that a British subject not in the situation of Ambassador could not have been able to obtain from the Turkish government a firman of such extensive powers."
I read from the report:
'The success of British arms in Egypt and the expected restitution of that province to the Porte wrought a wonderful and instantaneous change in the disposition of all ranks and descriptions of people toward our nation.'
And yet, and yet, hear this from the Select Committee's conclusion:
'It cannot be doubted that Lord Elgin looked upon himself as acting in a character entirely distinct from his official position. But whether the government from whom he obtained permission did, or could, consider him so, is a question which can be solved only by conjecture and reasoning, in the absence and deficiency of all positive testimony.'
(If this is not double speak, what is?)
Absence of positive testimony? Lord Elgin to the Committee:
'I had to transact with the highest personages in the state.'
Could the committee really believe that a simple citizen could get to transact with the highest personages of the Turkish state?
Lord Elgin tells the Committee of his gratitude for having His Majesty's Ship to transport cases of the marbles. Could an ordinary citizen get a royal troopship at his service?
Question of the Committee to Reverend Hunt:
'Do you imagine that the firman gave a direct permission to remove figures and pieces of sculpture from the walls of the temples, or must that have been a matter of private arrangement with the local authorities?'
'That was the interpretation which the governor of Athens was induced to allow it to bear.'
Induced by whom? A private citizen? Absence of positive testimony? A private citizen or to an Ambassador? Well then, to the firman itself. Permission was granted to Lord Elgin '...due to the friendship between the Sublime and Ever Durable Ottoman Court and that of England.'
Mr. President, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen
with all apology, if needed, I submit to you that the Committee's ruling that Lord Elgin acted as a private individual is either the height of ingeniousness or of doubtful faith.
But that was one hundred and seventy years ago. This is a different England. There are different concepts of Empire and conquest. A different ethic prevails. It would be interesting to know what a committee today would conclude if they reviewed the evidence of those called before the committee - and the judgements of those who were not called. I would make a small wager - even a large wager, that there would be a different outcome.
I have taken of your time and I know that the debate is the thing to catch consciences. I would hope that the debate evokes a few questions. I have a little list:
Were the marbles seized wrongly? And if they were wrongly seized, can it be right that they be kept?
If there was right in their being seized, is it wrong that they be returned?
What value should be given to the argument that if Elgin hadn't taken the marbles, other Englishmen or the French would have done so?
Does it matter that 95% of the Greek people might never see the finest of Greek creation?
Is it conceivable that a free Greece would have permitted the removal of the marbles?
England and Greece are friends. English blood was shed on Greek soil in the war against fascism, and Greeks gave their lives to protect English pilots. Read Churchill, he tells you how crucial was the Greek role in your decisive desert victory over Rommel.
Last year there was a celebration of Shakespeare in the Amphitheatre at the foot of the Acropolis. Your Covent Garden brought the Verdi Macbeth. Your National Theatre came with Coriolanus. They were unforgettable nights. Not only for the high standard of performance but also for an extraordinary communion between British artists and the Greek audience. Ian McKellen will forgive me if I speak of his tears of emotion and those of his fellow artists as the audience stood cheering them. Those tears had to do with a rapport between two peoples, with friendship, with Shakespeare played on that sacred spot. It was beautiful, memorable. It is in the spirit of this friendship that we say to you, there was an injustice that can now be corrected.
You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to us. They are our pride. They are our sacrifices. They are our noblest symbol of excellence. They are a tribute to the democratic philosophy. They are our aspirations and our name. They are the essence of Greekness.
We are ready to say that we rule the entire Elgin enterprise as irrelevant to the present. We say to the British government: you have kept those sculptures for almost two centuries. You have cared for them as well as you could, for which we thank you. But now in the name of fairness and morality, please give them back. I sincerely believe that such a gesture from Great Britain would ever honour your name.
The late Melina Mercouri (1923-1994)
Memorandum submitted by Mr Jules Dassin
Eternally faithfull to Melina…
May 2000: “Please give them back in the name of morality”.
“ I am grateful for the invitation to address this Committee. I do so in the name of the Melina Mercouri Foundation of which I am president.
Melina Mercouri served for more than eight years as Minister of Culture of the Greek Government. During that period she worked arduously for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to the country where they were made and for whom they were made. We of the Foundation are committed to that cause.
It is now 184 years that another Select Committee was asked to consider Lord Elgin's proposal to sell the sculptures to the British Government. With equal degrees of timidity and temerity I express my darker purpose; that is to ask of this Committee of the year 2000, how you judge the statements and the decisions made by the Select Committee of 1816 and by the Government. May I review some of it with you.
In the interest of time and knowing that you have been going over this ground, from what I quote I have made abbreviations. It is not in exact order but the context is intact. No word is mine. In the month of February of that year the Chancellor of the Exchequer addressed the House of Commons. He moved that a Select Committee be formed to address the Elgin proposal. He deemed that these sculptures were, I quote, "the most valuable works of art that had ever been brought from the western part of Europe". He had only the highest praise for Lord Elgin for acquiring them.
I find it interesting that he also said that “the circumstances under which the noble Lord had possessed of these matchless productions were so well known that he would not trouble the House at any length on the subject” but “if the present opportunity would be neglected it might never occur again”
I find it interesting because it smacks a bit of railroading. And what the Yankees would call “A done deal”. There was some opposition to the motion to form a Select Committee. Lord Ossulston, quote, “he could not object to procuring the advantage of such an interesting collection”. A question however might arise, “whether an ambassador, residing in the territories of a foreign power, should have the right of appropriating to himself, and deriving benefits from objects belonging to that power”. He thought therefore that the House go no further than to remunerate the noble Lord for the trouble and expenses to which he had in bringing over these marbles.
Mr Preston said “if ambassadors were encouraged to make these speculations, many might return home in the character of merchants and besides he did not see that Lord Elgin was bound by what a committee thought right”.
And Mr Tierney “if the motion meant that the noble Lord availing himself of this official character should now call himself the possessor he would not agree to the motion”. Mr Banks agreed that Lord Elgin had availed himself of his character as an English ambassador to facilitate the acquisition. But that the collection was so unrivalled in its nature and so desirable that the public should possess, that he could not hesitate to agree to the motion.
Mr Abercrombie who did not oppose the motion said “it was a matter of public duty not to hold out a precedent to ambassadors to avail themselves of their situations to obtain such property and then convert it to their own purposes”. Mr Croker would not have voted for the motion if he did not think it essential to ascertain that what had been done was compatible with the noble Lord's honour.
The motion to appoint a committee was carried. The Committee was asked to address three main points: 1. What was the worth of the sculptures, 2. Did Lord Elgin abuse his office of ambassador, 3. Was the transaction honourable. Νot much time was given to fix the price of £35,000. Did he abuse his office of ambassador? I have cited a number of members who so protested. There were others, some with resentment and emotion.
And it was deplored that a British Ambassador had taken advantage of the success over the French in Egypt to plunder the city of Athens. And hear this from Reverend Philip Hunt, Lord Elgin's closest collaborator in Greece, quote, “Such extensive powers would only have been given to an ambassador of a highly favoured ally at such an opportune time”. How then was the question of abuse of office resolved. Well it was an interesting formula. In the Committee report there was agreement that only an ambassador would have such extensive powers but-and here's the formula-I quote, “but undoubtedly Lord Elgin had looked upon himself as acting in a character entirely distinct from his official situation”. And thus it came to be ruled that Lord Elgin in obtaining the Marbles had acted only as a simple private citizen. And that was that.
A question. It was known that much of what Elgin had cut down from the Parthenon was transported to England in British warships. Can it be believed that a private citizen could ask for and obtain warships for his personal purposes? Of course the question of ambassadorial abuse had to be addressed for its ethical aspect. Is it wrong to discern another reason? It was clear from the first words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government wanted to have the Marbles for England. Indeed he had begun negotiations with Elgin back in 1811. But to buy them from the country's own ambassador? Sticky. And it was not absent from mind that France had to return all of Napoleon's plunder. More prudent to have Elgin declared a private citizen. N'est ce pas?
So to the third point. Was the transaction proper and honorable? Appearing before the Committee Lord Elgin testified that when he witnessed the great destruction perpetrated by the barbarous Turks on the Acropolis, it was only then that he asked for and obtained the permission from the Ottaman authorities allowing him, I quote, “to rescue, everything that he could”
Was it only then? The first time that Elgin could have witnessed this “Turkish barbarity” would have been in the spring of 1802 for the simple reason that that was the first time he ever set foot on the Acropolis. Yet months before this some of the treasures had already been taken down. I quote from a letter addressed to Giovanni Lusieri his highest-ranking employee dated 1801, quote, “Each piece should be packed in a separate case in such manner that they not be recognized by the curious”.
Now did he receive the permission to rescue “everything that he could?” Ιt seems to me that indeed that is the question. Because if the answer is no did he have the right to sell them? Another question could then follow. If the answer is no may it not be asked if it was proper for England to buy them from him? Then what was granted by the firman? It was signed by the Kaymacam Pasha and addressed to the Governor of Athens. It is in Italian translation. The original has never been seen.
I refer to the pertinent points:
1. That Elgin's employees meet no opposition in walking, examining or contemplating the pictures and buildings that they may wish to draw or with copying with chalk or plasters and making moulds.
2. To dig according to need to find inscribed stones under the rubbish covering the foundation of the temple. And to take away some pieces of stones with inscriptions or figures.
3. To favour such request in conformity with what is due to the friendship, sincerity, alliance and good will between the sublime and ever durable Ottaman Court and that of England—particularly as there is no harm in the said pictures and buildings being contemplated and drawn.
If you peruse the entire firman word by word you will find nothing that gave permission to take the sculptures from the building. The question was asked-"Did your Lordship for your own satisfaction (sic) keep a copy of these permissions?". His answer-"No. it never occurred to me that the question could arise". The answer seemed to satisfy. Another question then. "Did the Turkish Government know that your Lordship was removing statues under the permission you obtained from them?" Elgin's answer. "No doubt was ever expressed to me". The seemingly normal follow up question "nor to anyone in your employ" was not asked. But when Reverend Hunt testified to the Committee it became clear that both he and the Turkish Governor in Athens and Elgin knew well that the firman had been exceeded.
A question to Hunt-"Do you imagine that the firman gave direct permission to remove figures and pieces of sculptures from the walls of the temple?" Hunt's answer-"That was the interpretation that the Governor was induced to believe". Handsome gifts and an important sum of money greased that inducement. This sum is noted in Elgin's own accounts book, as well as other monies given to the Governor for years to follow. As for provision of no harm being done, there were witnesses to terrible harm. Permit me to quote them because if there was such harm done perhaps whatever the firman granted was violated and rendered invalid.
Edward Dodwell wrote: “I had the inexpressible mortification of being present, when the Parthenon was despoiled of its finest sculptures. I saw several metopes at the south east extremity of the temple taken down. They were fixed in between the triglyphs as in a groove; and in order to lift them up, it was necessary to throw to the ground the magnificent cornice by which they were covered. The south east angle of the pediment shared the same fate; and instead of the picturesque beauty and high preservation in which I first saw it, it is now completely reduced to state of shattered desolation”.
Robert Smirke wrote: “It particularly affected me when I saw the destruction made to get down the basso-relievos on the walls of the frieze. Each stone as it fell shook the ground with its ponderous weight, with a deep hollow noise; it seemed like a convulsive groan of the injured spirit of the temple”.
Edward Daniel Clarke wrote: "Looking up, we saw with regret the gap that had been made, which all the ambassadors of the earth, with all the sovereigns they represent, aided by every resource that wealth and talent can bestow, will never again repair".
Yet hear Mr Croker of the Committee. He insisted that, I quote, "Lord Elgin laid his hand on nothing that could have been preserved in any state of repair" and that, quote, "He touched nothing that was not previously in ruins". He was however in favour of paying £35,000 for the ruins.
Sergeant Best of the Committee. He said that he could not consent to this purchase lest by doing so he should render himself a partaker in the guilt of spoliation and that the firman could do nothing without bribery and could the words in which it was written admit the construction that was put upon them. It merely gave a power to view, to contemplate and draw. Did this mean that those works were to be viewed and contemplated with the design of being pulled down and removed? He did not object to the purchase on the grounds of economy but of justice.
We know what was perceived as justice. That the marbles be purchased from citizen Elgin to be placed in the British Museum. And that from then on (Alas, poor Phidias) they were to be known as the Elgin Marbles. It was he who saved them from the barbarous Turks.
I think it just to address scrutiny to the conduct of the savior. Lusieri on having sawed away the eighth metope, yes they were torn away with giant saws, writes to Elgin: "This piece has caused much trouble. I have been obliged to be a little barbarous". In another letter to Elgin he protested: "But Sir to touch the pediment of the side west and to also take away a Caryatid. After that I would have to hide myself from the whole world".
Thomas Lacey a captain in the Royal Engineers was unhappy to be quartered in Egypt for more than two years. He wrote this to Reverend Hunt: "Congratulate me. I have found a way to escape from the mission. In two days I embark for Athens to plunder temples and commit sacrilege. Aproperfinishtomycareer".
One of the glories on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion building-also known as the Caryatid Porch. Lord Elgin actually sought to remove the entire building, Lusieri fearful, warned him it would be better to try to obtain a firman, quote, "because the Turkish and Greeks are extremely attached to it". Elgin dismissed Lusieri's fears but now he needed a bigger ship. I quote from a letter to Lord Keith the naval Commander-in-Chief: "If you could allow a ship of war of size to stop a couple of days in Athens to get away a most valuable piece of architecture at my disposal (sic) you would confer upon me the greatest obligation I could have. Bonaparte has not received any such thing from all his thefts in Italy".
At that time Lord Keith could not spare such a ship. So the porch was put to the saw and one of the Caryatides was torn away. As were a column, 17 pediment statues and 56 slabs from the frieze.
Please understand. I think it was good that the Marbles were placed in the museum. I dread to think how Elgin might have disposed of them. But let me return just one more time to the Select Committee. And a voice heard that was derided and mocked. I refer to Mr Hammersly.
He strongly denounced the Elgin transaction with words of "bribery, spoliation and disgrace". He deplored that a British Ambassador had taken advantage of the success over the French in Egypt to plunder the city of Athens.
He proposed that a communication should be immediately made stating that Great Britain holds these Marbles only in trust until they are demanded by the present or of any future possessors of the city of Athens. And upon such demand engages without question or negotiation to restore them to the place from where they had been taken and that they shall in the meantime be carefully preserved in the British Museum.
Mr Croker, among others, declared this a farcical and absurd resolution. Mr Banks asked should the Marbles be shipped back to those who set no value upon them. Perpetuated by some even until today is the insult to injury; that to the dismantling of the monument the Greeks were indifferent. As soon as Greece won its independence, the Government made demands for the return of the Marbles.
George Seferis the Nobel prize poet (in the 1960s ambassador to London) wrote of a beloved leader of the revolution, General Makriyannis, who had no education and in his old age taught himself to read, had been able to preserve two ancient statues until the liberation. At that time he found that some soldiers were thinking of selling them.
Seferis quotes Makriyannis: "I took these soldiers aside and told them this: You must not give away these things, not even for ten thousand talers; you must not let them leave the country; it was for them we fought". And Seferis wrote: "You see it is not a great scholar, nor an archaeologist speaking. It is a shepherd's son from Roumelia, his body covered with wounds "It was for them we fought". And another Greek Nobel Prize poet Odysseus Elytis made plea for the return as did Konstantinos Kavafy and Nikos Kazantzakis.
During the struggle in 1821 the Greeks were besieging the Turks who were on the Acropolis. The Greeks learned that the Turks, low on ammunition, were melting down the clamps of the columns to remove the lead, in order to make them into bullets. The Greeks sent them a message "don't touch these columns. We will send you bullets". And they did.
In 1890 Fredrick Harrison in an article in the London Magazine "The Nineteenth Century" wrote, 1 quote, "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". I quote to you from the conclusion of the Select Committee Report. "If it is true, as we learn from history and experience that free governments afford a soil most suitable to the growth of every species of excellence no country than ours can be better adapted to afford honorable asylum to these monuments of the school of Phidias and the administration of Pericles".
These words were preceded by the tribute to, I quote. "The importance and splendor to which so small a republic of Athens rose by the genius and energy of her citizens that immortalized its name". I think it is bitter and wounding to the Greek spirit to be offered soothing calm and fulsome praise at a time when true respect and gratitude could have been rendered to Greek achievements.
This was 1816. The decisive blow struck for Greek independence was but five years away. England and all of Europe knew that the liberation winds were gathering force and provisional plans were being made in European capitals. Back when the Elgin crews were busily tearing down sculptures from the temple, Elgin's architects urged more speed. He wrote to Elgin, I quote, "It appears uncertain for how long Greece will remain under its present master". Indeed the Anglo Turkish alliance came to a hostile end in 1806. It was in 1808 when John Cam Hobhouse travelling with Lord Byron in northern Greece was told by the man in Ioannina "You English are carrying off the works of our forefathers. Preserve them well. Greeks will come and redemand them". So in 1816 the Hammersly proposal, to hold them in trust for a free Greece, was made with clarity of vision and good sense. He was ridiculed and insulted and no one considered that the free government that took over the Marbles from Citizen Elgin, whose warships carried away the booty, could be accomplice to Ambassador Elgin.
The vote to acquire the Marbles was 82 to 30. Yet I take comfort that in 1816 more than one third of Parliament opposed the motion. I take such comfort because it was only in 1832 that the reform bill was passed.
The bill that was necessitated by glaring inequalities in representation. Such large industrial centres as Birmingham and Manchester were unrepresented while parliamentary members were continuously returned from numerous so-called "rotten boroughs" which were virtually uninhabited rural districts, and from "pocket boroughs" where a single powerful landowner or peer could control the voting. The sparsely populated country of Cornwall returned 44 members while the city of London returned only four members.
Such was the composition and character of the Parliament that voted that Greece could no longer have claim to its most sacred treasures. Today you are an enlightened nation. It is my dearest hope and the hope of the Greek people that today's Select Committee proposes to its Parliament that the vote be reconsidered and that when the New Acropolis Museum now being prepared is ready to receive them that they be returned to the country by whom and for whom they were made.
Your Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Chris Smith on refusing the return said that the Marbles were part of the British culture for 200 years. Need we say that they are the cherished Greek heritage for 2,500 years.
I close by quoting from what Melina Mercouri said in a debate at Oxford. "You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to us. They are our pride. They are our noblest symbol of excellence. They are our thankful tribute to democracy. England and Greece are friends. English blood was shed on Greek soil in the war against fascism, and Greeks gave their lives to protect English pilots. Read Churchill; he tells you how crucial was the Greek role in your decisive desert victory over Rommel. We say to the British Government. You have kept these Sculptures for almost two centuries. You have cared for them as well as you could, for which we thank you. But now in the name of fairness and morality, please give them back. Such a gesture from Great Britain would ever honor your name".
The Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis’s salutation at the Inauguration Ceremony for the New Acropolis Museum.
“The integrity of the monuments and the symbolisms of the Parthenon does not consist only a Greek petition. It consists as well an assertion of all Humanity because the Parthenon and its symbolisms belong to it”.
“Our lovely guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to Greece of Culture and History. We will inaugurate together the Museum for the top monument of the Ancient Classical Civilization, the Acropolis Museum. We are celebrating together an international cultural event. We want to give special thanks to all of you for your participation. Today, Greece obtains one of the big Museums of the Humanity and the World Civilization obtains a bright mark.
We want to honor all those who dreamed its creation and worked for it..
The remarkable Konstantinos Karamanlis, who inspired and put forward the initial proceedings, since 1976.
The unforgettable Melina Merkouri, who pushed on the common efforts.
The scientists, architects, engineers, archaeologists, and workers who laid here their inspiration, their passion and work.
All Greek Governments, all Ministers of Culture of the post-war period have contributed to the promotion and completion of this work. The Acropolis Museum is a work of all Greeks for the world. It belongs to the World Culture!
ΕΓΚΑΙΝΙΑ ΝΕΟΥ ΜΟΥΣΕΙΟΥ ΑΚΡΟΠΟΛΗΣ - προσέλευση -ομιλίες
greekbox | MySpace Video
For this work, it was necessary to overpass many challenges. The New Museum should be located near the Acropolis but it shouldn’t harm the cultural treasures that are hidden underneath. We should protect and promote the monument of the Sacred Rock, without destroying the findings of Civilization that the excavations for the construction of the new building would bring into light. The New Museum should express the majesty of the eternal monument. It should highlight the civilization of the Ancient Years and at the same time meet the standards of the modern times. It should address to all generations, to all ages. These aims were accomplished. The idea turned into action. During the last years, the procedures were accelerated and the vision came true.
The Acropolis Museum is a fact for all Greeks, for all citizens of the world. It is a modern monument, open, bright, in harmonic relation with the Parthenon itself. It allows the Attic Light to run through the ancient works of art and let the visitor enjoy every single detail of them. This modern monument narrates the History of Democracy, Art, worship and everyday life as well. It attains the harmonic conjunction of antiquity with modern times, the times of image and technology. This is why it is innovative. It is a hub of a course in time, place, Art, Culture and History. A station in a course leading to Acropolis, where the Architecture and Sculpture distinguished but also to the ancient Agora, where the Democracy was born. In addition, it consists a place that expresses the World Community’s cry for the marbles, the monuments of Civilization that the Parthenon is still in lack of.
If the Acropolis of Pericles was an anthem to the Beauty, the Harmony and Freedom, the modern Acropolis Museum becomes today the ark of the ideas that the Parthenon has been symbolizing since the ancient times. It is the proof of the power of the Global Civilization, which is able and intends to claim even for the reunification of its marbles. Because the Parthenon Marbles need to be in totality in order to distinguish. That’s how the integrity of what they represent will be elevated. The integrity of the monuments and symbolisms of the Parthenon is not an exclusively Greek petition. It is an assertion of Humanity, in which they belong, the Parthenon and its symbolisms.
ΕΓΚΑΙΝΙΑ ΝΕΟΥ ΜΟΥΣΕΙΟΥ ΑΚΡΟΠΟΛΗΣ - ΞΕΝΑΓΗΣΗ
greekbox | MySpace Video
On the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis, everyone watches the form that human and eternal ideals take. In the Acropolis Museum, all People can now discover that these ideas and ideals can reunify and regain their fame.
The Acropolis Museum is the result of joined efforts. It is a symbol of self-confidence. It is one more proof that Civilization and History bring the Greek society together, as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the future. The Civilization is the power of peace and creation. The power that can bring Nations and People closer, through times when this approach is more valuable than ever. This is the message that we want to send today to the World.
Ladies and Gentlemen, our lovely guests , welcome to the Acropolis Museum. Welcome to a creation of all Greeks, for all the Humanity”.