In who – which The curse of MinervaHis attack on Lord Elgin’s seizure of the Parthenon Marbles, Lord Byron depicted the divine vengeance of the goddess whose temple he had conquered Elgin—not only on the Vandals himself, but on Britain, the country that received the “stolen booty.”
Elgin would suffer, and Britain—perhaps so far-fetched in 1811—will one day find itself isolated, thirsty and powerless, “hated and lonely,” with its politics mired in disgrace. “Then in the Senate in your sunken state / Show me the man whose advice can carry weight.”
Have you heard of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay? It wasn’t until I found out last week that Vote Leave organizer Stephen Parkinson is accused of speaking with a fellow whistleblower. The young anti-EU theorist and former activist against democratic reform of the electoral system (“no to vocal vehicles”) also worked with Theresa May and was awarded an honorary degree for unspecified talent.
These meager qualifications for public office might not have mattered much by the standards of the prevailing lords had it not been for renewed Greek attempts to bring the Parthenon Marbles home. Parkinson is now responsible for the government’s response, possibly in future talks. As Secretary of State for the Arts at DCMS, he was already, as shown in a recent debate, agreeing with age-old arguments to preserve the sculptures regardless of the opinion of the British majority, and supporting the museum’s notorious claim even while Elgin acted legally. It reads: “The Parthenon sculptures were legally acquired by the late nobleman Lord Elgin, with the approval of the then Ottoman Empire.”
Like his like-minded colleague “Keep and Explain” Oliver Dowden, Parkinson is reluctant to admit to other Europeans the near-holy reverence for the locally made statues now protecting Britain’s most miserable monuments from the likes of Lord Elgin or the very law-abiding. Rulers of what was then known as the Ottoman Empire. As foreigners demand the return of 2,450-year-old sculptures that spent 200 years in Britain, the Greeks must instead accept that Parkinson’s remembrance Keats, Wordsworth, and Rodin enjoyed so much the tutelage of BM recently, with sculptures other than Athena, “the sweep of great human civilization.” “. It is a version of the “Universal Museum” defense of marble preservation, which waned after the Greeks completed a museum where statues could be safely displayed, and is now in decline, along with the local belief that BM orders, which are always exemplary, are an international relief.
What seemed plausible in 2000, when DCMS claimed the sculptures were “part of this country’s heritage,” became absurd even for Boris Johnson. His unreasonable argument as mayor was that the compensation was “Hitler’s Program for London’s Cultural Treasures”. Last year, after being attacked by the Greek prime minister, he claimed that the fate of the glass globes was entirely up to the trustees of the British Museum. Which, as you might expect, is a mistake. The British Museum Act 1963, which bans most exits, puts the responsibility back on the government.
However frail Parkinson’s may be, he should perhaps be congratulated for not attempting anything so desperate as the excuse for continuing tenure made at the recent UNESCO 2022 meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee to Promote the Return of Cultural Property. The assistant director of the museum, Dr. Jonathan Williams, delegates. “Not all of these things were hacked out of the building as it has been suggested.”
Even if William’s argument is not challenged by, among other evidence, the simultaneous seizure of marble saws, it must have been one of the most outlandish arguments against redemption ever offered by an academic institution. “Lord Elgin used illegal and unfair means to confiscate and export the Parthenon sculptures without genuine legal permission in a blatant act of chain theft,” Greek Culture Minister Lina Mindoni said. It didn’t even mention that Elgin originally planned to use it for his interior design outside of Dunfermline. But given the cultural significance of the marble, the degree of Elgin’s meanness in overriding his Ottoman permits is arguably as irrelevant as the colonial papers used to legalize Koh-i-Noor, or the process by which Broken Hill’s skull was removed from it. Used by the British Zambia traveled to the Museum of Natural History in America.
For the Greeks, as their supporters have repeatedly argued, the Parthenon marbles are symbols of democracy and civilisation, the British have agreed for years that precisely this Athenian identity makes them a perfect fit for a London Museum steeped in the same values. In 2014, when Neil MacGregor loaned one of the Parthenon marbles to Russia (an act lamented in Greece as a “provocation”), he called it “the marble ambassador of a European ideal”.
In future dialogue with his Greek counterpart, it will be up to Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, an undemocraticly appointed person who has successfully attacked European ideals, to continue MacGregor’s constructive understanding of cultural property. When Parkinson, like Johnson, insists that it is a matter of the British Museum alone, he is only confirming that we are witnessing the emergence of the Medusa curse, albeit more clearly than what Byron conjured: the head of BM is George Osborne, a Lebedev alumnus. Aside from his fatal neglect of Britain’s membership of the European Union, Osborne’s cuts of 30% in arts budgets and 15% in museums in 2010 were seen at the time as an attack on cultural life. Visiting hours have been reduced at the British Museum, courtesy of Osborne.
The recognition of the United Kingdom, after years of Tory leadership, internationally as a xenophobic, legally untrustworthy, averse to the humanities, and a narrow-minded laughter, led by a brutish Hitler, is perhaps not a convincing argument for sending the looted balls to a European destination worthy of restore. But it is certainly no more absurd than to say that discoverers are always guards as a reason to keep.