New film reopens Parthenon Marbles debate

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The Parthenon Marbles. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
The Parthenon Marbles. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
The Parthenon Marbles. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The promotional tour for the release of new film The Monuments Men brings to mind the age old phrase: “All publicity is good publicity”. The film is based on a true story of a World War II platoon tasked with the rescue and return of artworks stolen by Nazi forces. In this case, however, it may not necessarily be publicity for the movie that its director and leading man, George Clooney, is supporting. In fact it could be described as an example of art imitating life (with fewer Nazis and more archaeological interest).

During a press conference at the Berlin International Film Festival Clooney was asked by a Greek reporter whether or not the British museum should return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. The actor / director responded: “I think you have a very good case to make about your artefacts. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if they were returned. I think that is a good idea. That would be a very fair and very nice thing. I think it is the right thing to do.”

This simple response has sparked fresh intrigue in the international debate regarding the Marbles’ return while also relating well to the material of the film. When asked again about his views regarding the Parthenon Marbles at a London press conference several days later, Clooney seemed hesitant in delivering his response, adding that it was “probably the right thing to do” although admitting that various opinions stating Americans couldn’t fully understand the situation were “probably right” as well. He did, however, draw attention to the fact that both the Getty and Vatican museums had already returned sections of the frieze to its Athenian home.

The Marbles themselves consist of around 50 per cent of the surviving sculpture from the Parthenon, about 70 metres of the frieze collected by Lord Elgin from 1801 to 1805 during his time as ambassador in Istanbul. Returning the Marbles would mean the New Acropolis Museum built at the base of the Acropolis could display the 106-metre long Panathenaic procession as a “narrative whole” in the very heart of the sculptures’ homeland. The campaign to rescue the ‘looted’ marbles has raged since 1981, when another actor, Melina Mercouri, initiated the debate.

Actors Matt Damon and Bill Murray have also shown their support for the campaign and their co-star. A promotional press conference in London allowed Murray to state: “London’s gotten crowded. There’s plenty of room in Greece. England could take the lead on this.”

It would seem the support of a Hollywood actor is also making waves in the home of the Marbles. The Greek culture minister, Panos Panagiotopoulos, was swift to offer Clooney the thanks of the nation while expressing the importance of the return of the piece: “As you said, returning these pillaged masterpieces to where they belong on the Parthenon would be both fair and nice… Not only because they belong to the history of Greek civilisation, but precisely because through our history they illuminate world civilisation.”

The question is: why haven’t the Marbles been returned yet? Following a 30-year campaign, pressure from the Greek government and the backing of multiple international historians and pop culture figures, there is a growing, influential crowd in favour of their restoration to Athens. According to numerous polls, even the British people want to see the sculptures returned. Perhaps, as Greek officials believe, it is a mere matter of time before the Marbles are restored to their rightful owners.

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