Parthenon Marbles

Hellenic Electronic Center (HEC) For the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles

JOAN BRETON CONNELLY: “The Parthenon sculptures were not made as stand-alone objects. They were made as part of a building, a building that still stands in the middle of Athens today.

They reflect a people. They reflect a very ancient history. They reflect a religion that can only be understood when put together as a coherent whole. There is a narrative there. It is a story. The story, to be understood deeply and completely, must be brought together again.”
(Partial Transcript from PBS Newshour interview with JOAN BRETON CONNELLY, author of the new book “The Parthenon Enigma.”)

See the 6 minutes video.


GWEN IFILL: Taking a fresh look at a timeless treasure.

Jeffrey Brown has our book conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s perhaps the most famous building in the world, the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Built in the fifth century B.C., it’s become a symbol of the very idea of democracy in Western civilization, as well as an architectural model for other important structures, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

A new book, “The Parthenon Enigma,” tells the story of the people who built it and how it’s been understood, rightly and wrongly, to our own day.

Author Joan Breton Connelly is a classical archaeologist and professor at New York University.

And welcome to you.

JOAN BRETON CONNELLY, “The Parthenon Enigma”: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Your subtitle refers to the Parthenon as the world’s most iconic building. Ionic in what sense?  How do you define what it’s come to mean?

JOAN BRETON CONNELLY: It stands for so much to so many generations of people.

It is a building that is instantly recognizable. It is a building that is endowed with meeting, the birthplace of democracy in particular over the ages, especially the Enlightenment onwards.

It sets the stage for everything that we regard as our highest ideals, perfection in proportion and aesthetics.

JEFFREY BROWN: But your — but your — then your argument is that, in taking all that in, from the enlightenment on, we have somehow missed something. We have missed the Greeks themselves

JOAN BRETON CONNELLY: We got it wrong.

When you’re confronted with an object of beauty, we like to see ourselves in it, reflected glory. But when we try to look at it through ancient eyes, we see a very different reality, a spiritual reality, one with a deep, dark myth behind it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, explain that. I mean, first of all, we think of it as a temple of democracy, but what we’re missing is the temple — it was really a religious temple, right?

JOAN BRETON CONNELLY: It involves the foundation myth of Athens itself, the first king and queen of Athens and how, when the first barbarian hordes came and surrounded the Acropolis, they went to the Delphic oracle and they said, how can we save our army?

And the oracle demands that their virgin daughter be sacrificed. And so they give the ultimate sacrifice for the saving of the city. This is extraordinary against the backdrop of their own times. That is the notion that the most elite people in the city, the royal family itself, would make the sacrifice, so that their people could survive.

JEFFREY BROWN: So human sacrifice, of course, doesn’t go very well with contemporary values.


And it’s disarming to see that what we look to as the icon of democracy might have above its door a scene of human sacrifice. But this is a metaphor for what the Athenians valued most. And what is important here is that their notion of democracy had at its core the idea of the common good.

Individual interests were fine. We talk about them a lot today, but the building blocks, the spiritual core of Athenian democracy was this notion of a common good.

JEFFREY BROWN: Scholars like yourself have been looking at this for a long, long time, right?  What’s interesting in reading here is that it’s always interpreted through our own time, anybody’s contemporary time.

JOAN BRETON CONNELLY: This is very understandable. It’s completely human to see yourselves in the past.

The most basic human question is, where do I come from?  And you want to find yourself the past. So I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just that we have got new data. And when new data emerges, this data changes our old ideas and assumptions.

JEFFREY BROWN: What has changed in the last decades that we know more now?

JOAN BRETON CONNELLY: Well, for starters, for the past 30 years, the Acropolis restoration program has undertaken this complete renewal of the Acropolis, taking down the building block by block, cleaning, laser-scanning, looking at every angle of the blocks, and then putting them back up together.

So this has given us an enormous amount of new information about how the building was built. Secondly, we have the new papyrus that I set forth this book that is a lost play by Euripides, which was known, but for which we had very few lines, until the 1960s, when a mummy in Paris that had been excavated in Egypt in 1901 finally…

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s quite a detective story, actually, isn’t it?

JOAN BRETON CONNELLY: It is a real detective story…


JOAN BRETON CONNELLY: … building on one discovery, the discovery of a French archaeologist in 1901, and then the breakthrough of a French papyrologist in the 1960s of how to peel the layers of papyrus off of the mummy, cartonnage, that is the hard papier-mache casing around the mummy itself.

This yielded new texts. This text tells us the story of the first king of Athens and his family.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s an ongoing debate, of course, about whether the friezes, the sculptures that are in the British museum and elsewhere should be returned to Athens, where there’s been a new museum built for them. You think they should be. Why is that important?

JOAN BRETON CONNELLY: The Parthenon sculptures were not made as stand-alone objects. They were made as part of a building, a building that still stands in the middle of Athens today.

They reflect a people. They reflect a very ancient history. They reflect a religion that can only be understood when put together as a coherent whole. There is a narrative there. It is a story. The story, to be understood deeply and completely, must be brought together again.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK. The new book is “The Parthenon Enigma.”

Joan Connelly, thanks so much.


(source: PBS Newshour 06February 2014)

Stephen Fry offers Britain graceful solution for return of the Parthenon Marbles during the Intelligence Squared conference debate “The Parthenon Marbles Should be Returned to Athens” on Monday June 11, 2012 at Cadogan Hall.
He concludes by saying “We will never ever be able to repay the debt we owe Greece.”

A must watch 46 minutes video:

You can also watch the debate here: Intelligence Squared debate at Cadogan Hall.

Stephen’s analogy to the argument below was “If your house is on fire and you as a neighbor store the neighbor’s paintings in your garage for some time does it make them yours? Will you return them when the neighbor asks you for them?

Speakers against the motion: “What’s all this nonsense about sending the Parthenon Marbles back to Greece? If Lord Elgin hadn’t rescued them from the Parthenon in Athens and presented them to the British Museum almost 200 years ago, these exquisite sculptures – the finest embodiment of the classical ideal of beauty and harmony – would have been lost to the ravages of pollution and time. So we have every right to keep them: indeed, returning them would set a dangerous precedent, setting off a clamour for every Egyptian mummy and Grecian urn to be wrenched from the world’s museums and sent back to its country of origin. It is great institutions like the British Museum that have established such artefacts as items of world significance: more people see the Marbles in the BM than visit Athens every year. Why send them back to relative obscurity?”

“But aren’t such arguments a little too imperialistic? All this talk of visitor numbers and dangerous precedents – doesn’t it just sound like an excuse for Britain to hold on to dubiously acquired treasures that were removed without the consent of the Greek people to whom they culturally and historically belong? That’s what Lord Byron thought, and now Stephen Fry is taking up the cause. We should return the Marbles as a gesture of solidarity with Greece in its financial distress, says Fry, and as a mark of respect for the cradle of democracy and the birthplace of rational thought.”


Chair: Zeinab Badawi BBC World News presenter
Speakers for the motion: Andrew George Chair of Marbles Reunite, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives
Stephen Fry Actor, writer, comedian, and broadcaster
Speakers against the motion: Felipe Fernández-Armesto William P Reynolds Professor of History, the University of Notre Dame
Tristram Hunt Broadcaster, historian and newspaper columnist; Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central

The rider with the restless horse at the center of the west frieze

Acropolis Museum fourth birthday

Thursday, 20 June, 2013
On Thursday 20 June 2013, the Acropolis Museum celebrates its fourth birthday. The exhibition areas will remain open from 8 a.m. until 12 midnight. The restaurant will be open during the same hours. On this occasion, admission will be reduced (3 euros) for all visitors.
Visitors will have the opportunity to discover, together with Museum Archaeologist-Hosts, untold stories of the surviving blocks of the frieze, with the aid of 3D presentations on special screens installed in the Parthenon Gallery.
Participation is limited to 20 visitors per session on a first-in first-served basis. For registration details, please refer to the Information Desk at the Museum entrance.
Gallery Talks in Greek: 11 a.m., 12 noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m., 9 p.m.
Gallery Talks in English: 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m.
Gallery Talks in French: 12:30 p.m.
At 9 p.m., the Athens Municipality Philharmonic Orchestra will present a musical concert in the Museum’s entrance courtyard with famous melodies of the world band repertoire. See the music program
In addition, the Museum will commence the exclusive production of copies of two exhibits, the head of Poseidon and the head of Artemis from the east frieze of the Parthenon, available in the Museum Shops.

For more information, visit the Acropolis Museum

Parthenon Marbles and Koh-i-Noor: Cameron opposes ‘returnism’

BBC News – by Trevor Timpson
“The prime minister has been criticised after he opposed calls to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece and the Koh-i-Noor diamond to India…”
Full article and several links at BBC

Related responses:

A talk in London about whether the British Museum should return the sculptures was screened live to an audience in Athens.
They came in their Athenian finery, filing patiently into the low-lit auditorium and waiting to hear a message of hope. Its deliverer: a man who until recently was unknown to them but who is now regarded as something of a hero; a saviour of the Greek people in the face of foreign meddling and arrogance; a man who has come to their rescue in troubled times to fight for Hellenic pride…

The Guardian – Read Full Article

Stephen Fry’s Parthenon Marbles plea backed in debate vote
By Trevor Timpson BBC News

“A call backed by actor Stephen Fry for the return to Greece of the British Museum’s Parthenon Marbles has come out on top in a debate held in London. Fry said it would be a “classy” move to restore the sculptures brought to the UK by Lord Elgin in the 19th Century.

The debate, hosted by Intelligence Squared, ended with a majority for the motion of 384 to 125.

Opposing the motion, Tristram Hunt MP said the British Museum played a key role in cosmopolitan culture.

The Greeks were a proud people suffering terribly, Stephen Fry told the audience in London’s Cadogan Hall, but “no matter how much the sovereign debt crisis means they owe us, we will never repay the debt that we owe Greece.”…

Read Full Article at BBC

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