By Professor A.M. Snodgrass, Cambridge University

(This article was published as Appendix B in the British Committee's submission to the House of Commons Select Committee).

This argument is less often used than it might be because all parties have come to think of the Parthenon marbles as detached works of art, whose possession is at issue -- in the same way as if they were statues. In fact, every one of the sculptures was, to a greater or lesser degree, built into the monument. In the majority of cases - those of the ninety-two metopes and 111 slabs of the frieze - the marbles played a measurable part in actually holding up the ceilings and roof of the Parthenon. Only the thirty-seven pedimental figures in some degree resembled freestanding sculpture, and even they were firmly attached to the building.

Furthermore, this building, as any visitor to Athens can witness, is even today in a fair state of preservation. Until the explosion in the Turco-Venetian war of 1687, the Parthenon was, as well as being the finest, also the best preserved of all Greek temples. After this and other episodes of destruction, some 160 years of tireless and fairly continuous work by the Greek authorities, beginning in the 1830s, have achieved a substantial restoration of the beauty that the architecture of the Parthenon once possessed and that, even without most of its sculptural decoration, it again displays to a high degree.

Greek architecture has had a role fully comparable with that of Greek sculpture in the depth of its influence on modern design. Indeed, inasmuch as public architecture is automatically visible and, at least externally, accessible to the population as a whole, this influence could be regarded as the greater of the two: beginning from a later date, and undergoing many transformations, it is detectable to this day in a sense that is hardly any longer true of sculpture.

Lord Elgin's attitude to the architecture was, even by the lights of his time, exceptionally vandalistic. Half-a-century before him, his British predecessors, Stuart and Revett, had seen Greek architecture as something to be minutely studied and lovingly cherished. Yet Elgin was prepared to sacrifice architectural components, with no apparent hesitation, to sculptural ones. The detachment of the frieze-blocks and, especially of the metopes, was impossible without at least the temporary removal of the cornices and other architectural members, in many cases elaborately carved, which overlay them. Elgin's agents, from late in 1801, resorted to the widespread use of saws (with which Elgin himself had supplied them), mainly it seems to reduce the weight of the sculptured blocks, but also to ease the access to them. By good fortune, drawings of the south-east corner of the building survive from 1801 and from 1810: these express, better than any words, the magnitude of the damage done to this part of the Parthenon in Elgin's time, mainly in the cause of acquiring the last seven metopes on the south side.

Two of the implications of this destruction may be singled out for mention here. First, as is well known, even Lord Elgin was not able to carry through the removal of the sculptures in their entirety. Forty of the metopes on the northern, eastern, and western sides (those most exposed to the wind) were already so weathered by his time that they were not thought worth the trouble of removing. Much more notably, the frieze at the relatively well-preserved western end was too difficult of access to be removable with the means at his disposal. The removal of the architectural setting of these pieces, while they remained on the building, greatly increased their exposure to the elements over the next two centuries - a fact entirely ignored in the familiar retaliatory arguments, used by the British Museum and its allies, to decry the fate of the sculptures in Greek hands.

The second implication has a wider significance, and can best be expressed in the form of a rhetorical question: what other possessions, of the British Museum or any other major collection, were torn from a living building which, after more than twenty-four centuries, is still partially standing today? The answer is, of course, very few. Their number falls even lower when one introduces the factor of the place of that building in the consciousness of the modern nation-state. This surely offers the key to a solution of the problem that, perhaps more than any other, exercises governmental and museum authorities: what may be called the fear of 'opening the floodgates'. No decision about the Parthenon marbles need have implications for more than a tiny range of museum acquisitions which have the same history of having been 'bought' at the price of architectural destruction.

No one now proposes that the sculptures can be restored to their place on the building, as the Greeks illustrated by their recent removal of the West Frieze to the Acropolis Museum for better preservation. In the ethical issue of the treatment of architecture, no direct restitution is now possible except in the minimal case. of the few architectural pieces that Elgin also abstracted: but this issue has an immediate bearing, seldom acknowledged, on the parallel ethical case of the sculptures.

Athens and London, between them, now possess more than 98 per cent of what survives of the Parthenon sculptures, in two roughly equal halves. It is true that other European countries are marginally involved in the ownership of those components of the building that are outside Greece: but among these pieces, the British Museum possesses fifty-five of the fifty-six frieze slabs, all twenty of, the pediment figures, 'and. fifteen of the sixteen metopes: again, nearly 98 per cent in total.

To re-unite the London and Athens marbles would thus achieve a multiple effect, First, it is the study of its original conception that has always been the main scholarly approach, for art historians and archaeologists alike. For this approach, factors such as the differential preservation of the sculptures are an irrelevance, and their differing

locations a major obstacle. If the aim is to investigate the meaning attached to the original design as a whole, it would be a huge gain to have virtually all the surviving material in one location. Secondly, there is the unity of the architecture and sculpture which we have been stressing. To have the marbles located in sight of the building to which they belong would be to give them back that which they have lacked for the past two centuries: a sense of their true purpose, which the ordinary viewer could instantly appreciate, instead of having to fall back on the two-dimensional reconstructions of scholars. The issue is a bigger one than that of scholarship, and at the same time more lasting than that of politics: it is one that lies at the heart of culture itself.

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