The Current

The British Museum's loan of Parthenon Marbles to Russia ignites repatriation debate

The Parthenon Marbles have sat for centuries in the British Museum. You may even know them, as the Elgin Marbles. Calls to return them to their homeland of Greece have grown louder each year and have reached fever pitch now that the marbles have been loaned to Russia for a museum display....
Listen27:28
The Parthenon Marbles have sat for centuries in the British Museum. You may even know them, as the Elgin Marbles. Calls to return them to their homeland of Greece have grown louder each year and have reached fever pitch now that the marbles have been loaned to Russia for a museum display.

ParthenonMarbles-insert.jpg

Five girls walk in a single file, part of a collection of stone objects, inscriptions and sculptures, known as the Elgin Marbles displayed at the Parthenon Marbles' hall at the British Museum. (Reuters/Dylan Martinez)


There's a controversy brewing and all of civilization has a stake in the case of the ancient Greek sculptures and where they should live.

Geoffrey Robertson has been advising the government of Greece on its legal claim over the Parthenon Marbles which are also known as the Elgin Marbles. They're a collection of Classical Greek sculptures that once made up part of the Parthenon, but were carted back to England by the Earl of Elgin in the early 1800s.They've sat since then in the British Museum, but Greece has long insisted that the marbles should be returned.

Greece even has a space waiting for them--- in the Acropolis Museum, alongside the rest of the Marbles that once adorned the Parthenon. The debate over bringing the marbles back has gone on for years.... in fact just last month the U.N.'s cultural body, UNESCO, called on both sides to negotiate.

But there's a new urgency to the question now that the British Museum has loaned one of the marbles to the Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg Russia. As British lawyer Geoffrey Robertson argues... if the artifacts can be sent away on loan to Russia, then surely they could be given back to Greece?

To help us understand what this latest move by the British Museum means for the future of the marbles, we were joined by Evangelos Kyriakidis. He is a Senior Lecturer in Classical and Archaeological Studies at University of Kent.

Elena Korka is the with the Greek Ministry of Culture and has been involved in restitution efforts since 1986. She was in Athens.

Jim Cuno believes that not everything should return to its place of origin. He is an art historian and curator as well as the President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. He recently wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs called "The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts."


We'd like to hear what you think of this story. Should works of art like the Elgin marbles be returned to their original home? Or is having them in encyclopedic museums for the world to see a better option?

Tweet us @thecurrentcbc. Or e-mail us through our website. Find us on Facebook. Call us toll-free at 1 877 287 7366. And as always if you missed anything on The Current, grab a podcast.

This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.