Aeschines, an ancient Athenian politician, stated back in the 4th century BC that the defining characteristic of democracy is that it is rule by the Law! Not rule by a person, a group of chosen ones, not even rule by the people. In a democracy it’s a set of principles as expressed by a number of laws that govern a city. In a monarchy, an aristocracy or an oligarchy, in contrast, rule is by individuals and through intimidation.
“It is acknowledged, namely, that there are in the world three forms of government, autocracy, oligarchy, and democracy: autocracies and oligarchies are administered according to the tempers of their lords, but democratic states according to established laws. And be assured, fellow citizens, that in a democracy it is the laws that guard the person of the citizen and the constitution of the state, whereas the despot and the oligarch find their protection in suspicion and in armed guards. Men, therefore, who administer an oligarchy, or any government based on inequality, must be on their guard against those who attempt revolution by the law of force; but you, who have a government based upon equality and law, must guard against those whose words violate the laws or whose lives have defied them; for then only will you be strong, when you cherish the laws, and when the revolutionary attempts of lawless men shall have ceased.”
-Aeschines Against Timarchus
Or, as a US President repeated centuries later:
“Democracy is not so much a form of government as a set of principles.”
Euripides. The last of ‘The Marvelous three’ Athenian theatre play writers. The most rebellious one. His criticism on religion -and the Olympian Gods in particular- and his attacks on traditional, social and moral values were infamous, earning the dislike of many of his fellow citizens. Even one of the most open minded audiences of the ancient world, the Athenians, had trouble understanding him.
Later he became immensely popular. Theatre goers and play writers alike since then, bow before his talent and unprecedented boldness.
As Oscar Wilde explains:
“For though Euripides has not the Titan strength of Aeschylus, that Michael-Angelo of the Athenian stage, nor the self-restraint and artistic reserve of Sophocles, yet he has the qualities that are absolutely and entirely his own. His broad acceptance of the actual facts of life, his extraordinary insight into the workings of the human mind, his keen dramatic instinct for scene and situation, and his freedom from theological prejudice, make him the most interesting of studies. He was a poet, a philosopher and a playwright……..
…….He saw indeed that men and women as they are, are more interesting than men and women as they ought to be. He never tried to make humanity real by exaggerating its proportions. He cared little for giants or for gods. the sorrows of mortals touched him more than all the gladness of Olympus”
Some Brits ask: “How can you own something that was made back in the 5th century BC?”
Some Greeks say: “Greek people want them back!”
Is it that hard to comprehend that they’re all missing the point? It is not the Greek State that owns them. It’s the Parthenon and the city of Athens that ‘want them back’. Both sides have to see this in a cultured, classy and sophisticated way.
The Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor has stated that it is the British Museum’s duty to “preserve the universality of the marbles, and to protect them from being appropriated as a nationalistic political symbol”
He is right! The British museum should speak directly with the director of the New Acropolis Museum; maybe the mayor of the city of Athens too.
“OH, WAIT… SO THIS MEANS THAT ALL MUSEUMS AROUND THE WORLD SHOULD BE EMPTIED!”
Most of the ‘Elgin marbles’ are pieces of a larger structure. The Parthenon! It’s that simple.
Claiming that all antiquities from all museums should be returned to Greece, Italy (plus a whole list of other countries) is, for anyone that uses common sense, laughable.
The vast majority of statues and other artefacts stand and are being displayed as units. They are not part of something else.
Greek statues were exported & sold outside their place of creation.
They’re way too many. What’s the number of exhibits that are going to be returned? A few? A lot? Why not all of them? Where do we stop?
But really: the main and most important reason is that they are ambassadors, tangible examples (and not abstract ideas) of the Graeco-Roman world & civilization. The one that shaped the Western World as we know it today.
The main problematic issue is this: both sides see a different frame of the dispute.
Many British officials claim that “legally the matter is on the side of the British Museum. So, the matter is of morality and function”.
I agree 100%! Morality and function. Reuniting the pieces of the Parthenon that are in London is a moral act; and this act serves a function too!
“AND WHO’S TO BLAME FOR ALL THE DAMAGE & DESTRUCTION?”
I know! let’s blame ‘Zee Germans’… There’s no point in going into the details of who and when did what damage on the Parthenon and its sculptured decoration. Unfortunately, the truth is that contemporary nations (modern Greeks, Venetians, British etc.) and not barbarians or the all-conquering Time, inflicted the most serious damage on the Acropolis.
Today things have changed considerably. I’m certain we can all agree that there are knowledgeable specialists both in Britain and in Greece that can take good care of pieces of art and ancient artefacts.
IN BRITAIN’S DEFENCE
There’s a sad fact: many Greeks that are actively involved in the campaign are clearly involved for reasons of private interest. It is a well-known fact that some people have and are being engaged in this controversy (pity that there is one) for irrelevant reasons. Money, fame, personal gains. From the level of legal advisors all the way up to ministers of tourism, they’re more interested (or only interested some of them) in promoting themselves than the cause itself. It is imperative that the directors of the two museums leave corrupt politicians and soldiers of fortune out of the ‘game’.
On the other hand we should keep in mind that Elgin’s act is causing controversy in Britain since the 19th century. Lord Byron himself wrote his poem “The Curse of Minerva” cursing lord Elgin for what he did. Today, many famous Britons (academics, actors etc.) have repeatedly stated that are in favour of the Reunification.
Paul Cartledge, Anthony Snodgrass, Sean Connery, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench just to name a few. Stephen Fry believes that now is the time for the reunification. What is more, using legal pressure is not the gentleman’s way. It’s not the civilized way to proceed. Call him romantic but he’s right!
“Britain, should say: yes for 200 years we kept them safe. Perfidious Albion was an untrustworthy country with colonial ambitions. Let’s not be like this anymore. Let’s be a classy country.”