Amal Alamuddin (Clooney), George Clooney, and the Elgin Marbles

This article has NOTHING to do with George Clooney, but let’s be honest, in the news recently we can’t see Amal Alamuddin’s name without being mentioned along side George Clooney and that’s a shame! Alamuddin has an extraordinary reputation on her own as a human rights lawyer and activist who specializes in international and criminal law. Now Ms. Clooney (she took her husband’s name) is on a crusade to rescue the Elgin marbles and have them returned to Greece.

In October of 2014, Ms. Clooney began the process of repatriating the Elgin marbles for the Greek government. If you are unfamiliar about the history of these ancient Greek marble sculptures from Greece, here is your history lesson. The Elgin marbles, also called the Parthenon marbles, once were part of the Parthenon and other buildings that make up the Acropolis in Athens. These classical Greek works of art were mostly made by Phidias and his assistants and are made up of sculptures, inscriptions, and other features of the original architecture of the buildings at this historic site. More specifically, the collection includes 247 feet of the once existing 524-foot frieze, 15 of 92 metopes, 17 figures from the pediments, and an assortment of additional pieces of architecture. This by no means is the only remaining collection of the sculptures that still exist from the Acropolis and Parthenon. Long before Lord Elgin took possession of his portion of the sculptures, many other sculptures were pillaged from this historic site prior to the Ottoman occupation of Greece in the 1800s and are held in other museum collections in the US like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Europe such as The Louvre. Athens also removed all the art from this historic location and relocated it to the museum build especially for it, the Acropolis Museum, in 2007.

These British possessed sculptures received their name from Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, better known as Lord Elgin. He “acquired” these works of art during his time as an ambassador to the Ottoman court of the Sultan in Istanbul between 1799-1803. Lord Elgin later sold them to the British Parliament in 1816 and after, they were gifted to the British Museum. They were put on display in the Elgin Room of the British Museum after its completion in 1832.

File:Elgin Marbles British Museum.jpg

The room containing the Elgin marbles at the British Museum. From Wikipedia Commons © Andrew Dunn, 3 December 2005.

Repatriation talk began approximately 40 year ago spearheaded by the late Melina Mercouri, then the Minster of Culture of Greece in the 1980s, but the British government argued that Athens did not have the space or the means to present or maintain the marbles. Many have taken up the fight for the return on the marbles since Mercouri such as Queen’s Counsel Geoffrey Robertson and Norman Palmer, Clooney, and current Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Once Greece completed the Acropolis Museum however, it was apparent that this was merely an excuse for the British government to keep the Greek treasures. They claimed the possession of the marbles in the museum “allows different complementary stories to be told about them.” (Guardian, 2014)

There are others that don’t feel the marbles should be returned to Greece, specifically of course, the British government. They have made the case that the British Museum attracts a wider audience and therefore more people will be able to experience these sculptures. The are also quick to point out that the existence of the marbles in London for over 200 years is itself a part of history influencing architecture and design in Britain during that period. The New York Times put it best when it said “imperialism isn’t an endearing argument.”(New York Times, 2009)

For more info check out these additional sources:

“What are the ‘Elgin Marbles’?.” British Museum – What are the ‘Elgin Marbles’?. The British Museum, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/w/what_are_the_elgin_marbles.aspx&gt;.

Smith, Helena. “Parthenon marbles meet Hollywood as Amal Alamuddin Clooney advises Greece | Art and design.” The Guardian. Guardian News, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/13/parthenon-marbles-hollywood-amal-alamuddin-george-clooney-greece&gt;.

Michael, Kimmelman. “Abroad – Athens Museum Opening Reprises Debate on Elgin Marbles – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Art & Design. The New York Times, 23 June 2009. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/arts/design/24abroad.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0&gt;.

http://www.marblesreunited.org.uk/

http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en

http://www.parthenoninternational.org/

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Construction Workers Uncover Important Ancient Greek Wine Cup (Hyperallergic)

by Laura C. Mallonee on August 5, 2014 original article here.

Pericles’ alleged wine cup (photo via Ta Nea)

Traditionally known as the “first citizen of Athens,” Pericles was a lover of art and literature, and a driving force behind the Parthenon’s construction. Now, archeologists in the modern Greek capital claim to have discovered the statesman’s wine cup, according to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea.

Twelve fragments of the two-handled, black-glazed, 5th-century skyphos were uncovered six-and-a-half feet beneath the soil by construction workers digging the foundation of a building located — ironically — on Sparta Avenue. If real, Ta Nea notes that it would be “the first tangible evidence of the daily life of one of the most famous personalities of history.” (Aside from a few statues of the bearded Athenian, the main reason we know about Pericles’s life is because the historian Thucydides detailed his conquests during the Peloponnesian War.)

Bust of Pericles (image via Wikipedia)

So what makes archeologists think the cup is real? One of its fragments is engraved with six names, including Arrifron — the moniker of Pericles’s grandfather and brother. “The name Arrifron is very rare,” said A. P. Matthaiou, secretary of the Greek Epigraphic Society. “The mention of [Arrifron] over that of Pericles on the surface of the vase makes us 99% confident that they are the two brothers.” That would make the vase the first object on which Pericles’s name has been discovered in full, as previous references have only appeared in part.

The inscription of the name Aristides also points favorably to Pericles having used the cup. Aristides was a politician who acted in Athens between 488 and 478 BCE, while Pericles led the city-state from 460 BCE to his death from the plague in 429 BCE. The cup dates between 480 and 465 BCE, when the two might have interacted in a social setting such as a symposium or tavern. As men commonly drank from the same skyphos, it’s possible they would have carved their names onto the cup as a token of their meeting.  “[He] certainly was dizzy from the wine as it is clear that whoever wrote the name of Pericles made a mistake initially … and then corrected it,” Matthaiou said.

Inscriptions on Pericles’ alleged wine cup (photo via Ta Nea)

It’s always a little magical when archeologists turn up objects that place such mythic figures in real time and space, breathing the same air and walking the same ground we do today. In some ways, though, the Pericles cup sounds too good to be true. It seems miraculous that 2,500 years after the orator’s death, one out of 12 fragments of an ancient cup just happens to contain six complete names evidencing a life that has evaded archeologists for centuries. You can make up your own hypothesis as to whether the cup is a historical artifact by seeing it in person, when it goes on display at Athen’s Epigraphical Museum this fall.