Friday, September 18, 2009

The "Elginism" Movement.

I recently came across the website for a rather interesting internet movement, which operates under the banner - "Elginism".

I'm sure the name "Elgin" will be familiar to anyone who reads this, but in short, Lord Elgin, a British aristocrat, took the Parthenon marbles (often called the Elgin Marbles - a label I dislike) from Greece at the dawn of the 19th century and transported them to London, where they remain. That the British Government has not given the marbles back to Greece is a subject of much debate.

The website (here) defines Elginism as:

Elginism (ĕl’gĭnĭz’əm) n. 1801. An Act of cultural vandalism.

The aim of the movement and it's general ideals can be garnered here.

In short, it's a movement that wants the Parthenon marbles given back to Greece. It hosts a phenomenal amount of material, from all over the globe, regarding the marbles and the notion that they should be given back to Greece. Personally, I tend to agree.

For quite some time the British Museum has maintained the defence that Greece, and specifically Athens, has no place to properly display the marbles. While this may or may not have been true, earlier this year The New Acropolis Museum opened, and seemed to finally dismiss the British arguments for keeping the marbles, as now there was a suitable place for them to be housed.

Still, though, the British Museum has persisted. On their website they outline the idea that the marbles are part of "everyone’s shared heritage and transcend cultural boundaries", which while certainly a moot point, seems rather like a stubborn "bugger off Greece, you're not getting them, new museum or not". It betrays a thinly veiled arrogance that the marbles belong in London, which I think is mistaken.

There is no doubt in my mind that, as the Elginism movement states, Lord Elgin essentially stole the marbles for his own benefit (he sold them to the British museum in 1817) and it makes the very idea of them being in London a rather soiled and unfortunate one. The argument that in London the marbles are displayed in an "international cultural context" is a pretty poor one in my opinion. Strictly, of course, it's true, but it's still, not to put too fine a point on it, utter tosh.

The idea that London owns the cultural legacy of the marbles makes little sense to me. They are part of Greece's most important monument, and a religious one at that - they should be there.

There is an interesting philosophical question at the heart of this - if something is of global cultural significance, should anyone actually claim to own it? Perhaps not, but this applies to the British as much as the Greeks.

It will be debated for years to come, I have no doubt, but I just happen to feel that they should be given back to Greece simply because the Parthenon is there and they belong to the Parthenon.

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