Following its extraordinary successes with the Trials of Socrates, Orestes and Antigone, the National Hellenic Museum presents nationally renowned judges and attorneys taking on another case with ancient roots and modern consequences: The Trial of the Parthenon Marbles. The case of the Parthenon Marbles presents heated contemporary debate on the concepts of restitution of historical artifacts and cultural appropriation.
The Trial of the Parthenon Marbles: The Case
Throughout its long history, the Parthenon has been a temple, a treasury, a church, a mosque, and an armory. And today, the Parthenon and its “lost marbles” serve as a visible lightening rod for a host of complicated debates about antiquities, imperialism, and heritage. The case of the Parthenon Marbles forces us to ask: to whom does history belong and why?
There are two separate but related questions that leave plenty of room for debate. The first question, whether the marbles were illegally removed, is embedded in the confusing maze of medieval Ottoman court protocol and the dynamic field of modern cultural heritage law. If the Marbles were legally obtained this would bolster the British Museum’s claim that they should remain in place, but that is not the whole story. There is a growing debate in both cultural heritage and legal circles as to whether any cultural patrimony should be allowed to remain outside its country of origin. In fact, the Parthenon Marbles represent many debates that continue to simmer in the minds of citizens the world over.
The specific circumstances of the Parthenon Marbles acquisition and treatment are only a piece of the story. In part because of the iconic status of the Parthenon, the debate over whether the sculptures taken by Lord Elgin should be returned has become a symbol for a larger debate. The fate of cultural patrimony in a globalized, post-colonial world regards the why, if and how cultural heritage objects from formerly-occupied and/or presently marginalized countries should be displayed in western museums. Tonight we consider these issues together.
Should the Parthenon Marbles Return to Greece or Remain at the British Museum?