Christopher Hitchens has long been one of the leading advocates of returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece. He takes the opportunity in the New York Times to describe the new Acropolis museum and the obvious and logical outcome of this story: the sculptures should return to their rightful place.
The crucial floor is the top one. Here, all the available treasures of the Parthenon have been lovingly and logically arranged in a gallery that is layered differently from other levels so as to replicate and mirror the layout of the temple, up at which it directs the visitor’s gaze. Given all the hazards of time and chance and weather, and all the vicissitudes that the Parthenon has suffered down the milennia, this is the nearest that one can currently come to a full enjoyment of the aesthetic whole.
But that’s where the rub lies. A huge portion of “the available treasures” of the Parthenon have been segregated from the main body and cannot be seen in harmony with it. I am referring to the so-called “Elgin marbles”: the huge chunks of the frieze, the pediment and the metopes (panels) that were quite literally “ripped off” from the Parthenon in the early 19th century, and carried off to Britain, where they were supposed to decorate Lord Elgin’s private home in Scotland. Only his bankruptcy saved them from this fate, and he contrived to sell them to the British government, which holds them to this day in the British Museum in London.
The “Elgin line,” of sculptural partition and annexation, runs through a poem in stone that was carved as a unity and that tells a single story. It even cuts through figures and characters in that story. The body of the goddess Iris is now in London, while her head is in Athens. The front part of the torso of Poseidon is in London and the rear part is in Athens. This is grotesque.
Why the British Museum cannot recognize the endgame is anyone’s guess.
A Home for the Marbles (New York Times)