Thomas Andronas finds the British Museum engaged in an overt propaganda campaign. But was Lord Elgin a rescuer, or a 'rapist'?
12 Apr 2011 | neoskosmos.com
It's funny, how history can be reinterpreted as a means to an end.
On a recent trip to the British Museum I was astounded to find this iconic educational institution engaged in an overt propaganda campaign aimed at justifying the museum's ongoing refusal to repatriate the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. In doing so the museum is actively seeking to paint history in a manner favourable to its position. Recently in Australia to promote his new book, the Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor reiterated the museum's position on the marbles. "In Athens they can be part of a Greek story and in London they can be part of a world story," MacGregor told The Australian.
Putting personal opinions on the actual debate aside, I was appalled that the British Museum had engaged in this campaign through the information it provides to the general public. Information that ought to be objective, factual and free from political rhetoric was in fact, the exact opposite. The British Museum goes to great lengths to paint Lord Elgin as a conservationist, a protector of antiquity and history, who truly had the interests of historical documentation and education at heart when he removed the marbles from the Parthenon in 1802.
"Elgin's removal of the sculptures from the ruins of the building has always been a matter for discussion, but one thing is certain - his actions spared them further damage by vandalism, weathering and pollution," says one information board in the gallery.
The truth of this position is hotly contested. "Rubbish. Absolute rubbish," says Greek Australian Emanuel Comino, Founder and Chairman of the International Organising Committee - Australia - for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. "[Elgin's] original thought was to decorate his mansion in Scotland, not to save [the marbles] from barbarism or from pollution - there was no pollution in those days," Comino says. Another information board makes a brazen attempt to lift the historical cloud over Lord Elgin's actions by branding him a rescuer. "The second film concentrates on South Metope IV with its scene of a human Lapith fighting a Centaur, a creature that is part-man part-horse," the board says. "It tells the story of the metope and the damage that it suffered before it was rescued by Lord Elgin."