The Elgin Marbles
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Morosini wished to take down the sculptures of Phidias from the eastern pediment, but his workmen attempted it so clumsily that the figures fell from their place and were dashed to pieces on the ground.
An observing traveler was present when a far more determined and systematic attack was made upon the remaining ruins of the Parthenon. While he was traveling in the interior, Lord Elgin had obtained his famous firman from the Sultan, to take down and remove any antiquities or sculptured stones he might require, and the infuriated Dodwell saw a set of ignorant work-men, under equally ignorant overseers, let loose upon the splendid ruins of the age of Pericles. He speaks with much good sense and feeling of this proceeding. He is fully aware that the world would derive inestimable benefit from the transplanting of these splendid fragments to a more accessible place, but he can not find language strong enough to express his disgust at the way in which the thing was done.
Incredible as it may appear, Lord Elgin himself seems not to have superintended the work, but to have left it to paid contractors, who undertook the job for a fixt sum. Little as either Turks or Greeks cared for the ruins, he says that a pang of grief was felt through all Athens at the desecration, and that the contractors were obliged to bribe workmen with additional wages to undertake the ungrateful task. Dodwell will not even mention Lord Elgin by name, but speaks of him with disgust as "the person" who de-faced the Parthenon. He believes that had this person been at Athens himself, his underlings could hardly have behaved in the reckless way they did, pulling down more than they wanted, and taking no care to prop up and save the work from which they had taken the support.
He especially notices their scandalous proceeding upon taking. up one of the great white marble blocks which form the floor or stylobate of the temple. They wanted to see what was underneath, and Dodwell, who was there, saw the foundation—a substructure of Peiraeic sandstone. But when they had finished their inspection they actually left the block they had removed, with-out putting it back into its place. So this beautiful pavement, made merely of closely fitting blocks, without any artificial or foreign joinings, was ripped up, and the work of its destruction began. I am happy to add that, tho a consider-able rent was then made, most of it is still in-tact, and the traveler of today may still walk on the very stones which bore the tread of every great Athenian.
The question has often been discust, whether Lord Elgin was justified in carrying off this pediment, the metopes, and the friezes, from their place; and the Greeks of to-day hope confidently that the day will come when England will restore these treasures to their place. This is, of course, absurd, and it may fairly be argued that people who would bombard their antiquities in a revolution are not fit custodians of them in the intervals of domestic quiet. This was my reply to an old Greek gentleman who assailed the memory of Lord Elgin with reproaches.
I confess I approved of this removal until I came home from Greece, and went again to see the spoil in its place in our great museum. Tho there treated with every care—tho shown to the best advantage, and explained by excellent models of the whole building, and clear descriptions of their place on it—notwithstanding all this, it was plain that these wonderful fragments lost so terribly by being separated from their place—they looked so unmeaning in an English room, away from their temple, their country and their lovely atmosphere—that one earnestly wished they had never been taken from their place, even at the risk of being made a target by the Greeks or the Turks. I am convinced, too, that the few who would have seen them, as intelligent travelers, on their famous rock, would have gained in quality the advantage now diffused among many, but weakened and almost destroyed by the wrench in associations, when the ornament is severed from its surface, and the decoration of a temple exhibited apart from the temple itself. We may admit, then, that it had been better if Lord Elgin had never taken away these marbles. Nevertheless, it would be absurd to send them back. But I do think that the museum on the Acropolis should be provided with a better set of casts of the figures than those which are now to be seen there. They look very wretched, and carelessly prepared.