The Parthenon Marbles belong to Athens and they should now return, The Times of London, Britain’s leading newspaper, says in its main editorial on Wednesday.
It is a spectacular u-turn for the Times which admits that for decades it had resisted the repatriation of the antiquities from the British Museum.
“But times and circumstances change. The sculptures belong in Athens. They should now return,” the Times editorial reads.
The paper notes the recent precedent set by Italy which returned a fragment of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. The “Fagan fragment” was taken, like the Parthenon sculptures, from Ottoman-controlled Athens in the early 19th century, and later sold to the University of Palermo.
The fragment, which belongs to the eastern frieze of the Parthenon, shows the seated gods of Olympus watching the annual Panathenaic Procession in honor of the city’s patron, the goddess Athena. The procession included the carrying of a golden veil to Athena’s statue in the Parthenon.
Depicted in the “Fagan fragment” are the lower legs of Artemis, the goddess of forests and hunting, whose body is depicted in a side view.
Past arguments against the return of the Marbles no longer valid
“The deal [of the Fagan fragment] is similar to one proposed to the British Museum several years ago. In exchange for the return of the sculptures, Greece would send London a rotating exhibition of some of its finest classical artifacts not on permanent display,” the Times editorial says.
The paper notes that other arguments advanced in the past by British authorities, such as the rising air pollution in Athens, are simply no longer valid.
“Not only have the Elgin Marbles already been damaged by inappropriate cleaning but Greece has built a magnificent museum next to the Acropolis, safe and accessible, where the original sculptures are now kept, and where the marbles would complete the frieze.”
Parthenon Marbles are “sui generis”
The Parthenon sculptures are sui generis, or completely unique, states The Times.
“They stand in the way of what should be a warm relationship with Greece: Lord Byron is seen as a hero of Greek independence; Hellenism reached its zenith in Victorian Britain.
“Separating components of an artistic whole is like tearing Hamlet out of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works and saying the two can still exist apart. Giving back the Elgin Marbles would be a magnanimous gesture when Britain needs to rekindle European friendships,” the editorial states.
Pressure piling on Britain to return Parthenon sculptures
The return of the Fagan fragment to Athens piles even more pressure on the British government and the British Museum to follow suit.
Greek PM Mitsotakis said that the return of the fragment “is a very important step because this is the first artifact returned from a foreign museum.”
“It paves the way for the British Museum to enter into serious discussions with the Greek authorities in order to find a solution that would be mutually acceptable. I did raise the issue when I visited the Prime Minister [Boris Johnson] and I was encouraged by the statement of the PM that the British government will not oppose an agreement between the Greek authorities and the British Museum,” Mitsotakis added.
In December, former UK culture minister Ed Vaizey gave his support to restoring the Marbles to their rightful home.