Returning the Elgin Marbles


Sir, – There is a flaw in Finn McRedmond’s argument on who history belongs to, as exemplified by the Elgin Marbles debate, and how Ireland is not immune from this issue (Opinion, November 25th).

When listing the arguments against the repatriation of the marbles, she missed the strongest one: repatriation is a Pandora’s Box and will have unforeseen and unpleasant consequences, due to the complexities of a murky past.

She claims, “It would be ludicrous to suggest every tiny pot and statuette across the continent needs to be re-litigated” – but that is precisely the issue; if someone else has a claim to it, the precedent of the Elgin Marbles, if returned, strengthens the case for repatriation at the request of the claimant, not diminishes it.

The past is messy, confused and how we have arrived at today is neither simple, nor black and white. There is much grey. Some objects were plundered, but some traded for, some given as gifts. Many were discovered by foreign-led excavation teams (or looters), without whom the item would never have been found in the first place.

Some items have conflicting claims: in 2006 the New York Met returned the Euphronios Krater to Italy (where it was looted from in the 1970s), but the Krater itself is Ancient Greek in origin. What should be done if the Greeks where to claim that also? Would the Italians not also have a claim?

This is a complex issue, and we must be wary of precedent setting, especially if we get carried away with virtue signalling our “anti-imperialist positions” and allowing modern politics to influence this topic, as your columnist does. – Yours, etc,