George Clooney has dropped a bit of a booboo over the Elgin Marbles. His reproach that the UK should return the Marbles to Greece showed a rather sketchy knowledge of history and aroused the ire of a well known Classics scholar, the redoubtable Mayor of London.Boris wittily remarked that George should have his own marbles restored. Clooney has just completed a movie about how the US helped return art treasures looted by the Nazis to their rightful owners. As Boris pointed out, it was the plan of Hermann Goering to loot the British Museum, oh the irony! Goering was fond of remarking “When I hear the word “culture”, I reach for my revolver.George therefore is making a film criticising the looting of the Nazis, while advocating their plans for the Elgin Marbles.
First of all, Mr. Clooney, the Paris Louvre, the Vatican, Copenhagen, Vienna and Munich also have some parts of the Marbles, not just the British Museum.
Secondly, the removal of the Marbles by Lord Elgin in 1801-5, was with the full permission of the Ottoman authorities. It was entirely legal. a fact that seems to have escaped the Hollywood actor and his cast, all of whom are calling for the Elgin Marbles to be returned to Greece. It’s not like Lord Elgin smuggled them out in pieces under his overcoat.
The Elgin Marbles have been on permanent public display in the British Museum since 1817, free of charge. Here they are seen by a world audience and are actively studied and researched to promote worldwide understanding of ancient Greek culture.
On the programme London Tonight last night, historian Bendor Grosvenor said he didn’t always agree with Boris Johnson, but he does on this occasion. How far back do you go? said Bendor. The Marbles have been in the British Museum for 200 years. And, as I found out today, entirely legally. Full details of the history of the Elgin Marbles are here.