Re the letter from Richard Lambert, chair of the British Museum trustees (Trust us to look after the Parthenon marbles, 27 September), I understood that the museum was there for the people as well as the scholars. As an ordinary person, albeit interested in the return of the Parthenon marbles to their original home, I fail to see why both visitors and scholars can continue their pursuits of self-education on the one hand and scholarly study on the other from London only. His reasoning has a patricentric ring to it, which I find dated; both the internet and air travel have enabled things undreamed-of in Lord Elgin’s day.
If, however, he is implying that the Acropolis Museum in Athens cannot possibly provide the encyclopaedic resources of the British Museum, then that is possibly even worse than dated; it might be rather insulting and, perhaps worse, smug. And even were that partially true, it still fails to answer why sharing knowledge and conducting serious research is impossible from Athens.
To see those marbles joined again to their other half in Athens, and within sight of the sun-bathed Parthenon from which they were ripped, would lift my spirits and help me to understand their beauty in full. And what a fine gesture it would be from that paragon of “encyclopaedic” (aka big) institutions to allow the Greeks to have restored unto them what is theirs. On the Athens museum’s 10th anniversary, what a gesture from the grand old lady to the new kid on the museum block that would be.
Chair of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles
• Richard Lambert rightly observes that parliament enacted the act that, in 1753, set up the British Museum as a trust and defined its responsibilities. But parliament is supreme and, just as it set up the museum, so it can by statute amend its responsibilities (as indeed it has done in the past), so permitting the release of the Parthenon sculptures to Athens. It is what the Greek government has persistently called for, particularly now that the New Acropolis Museum is in place and so many people from all over the world visit. In a civilised world today, world-valued artefacts should not be detached from their natural environment unless their safety and public availability cannot be guaranteed.
• “Trust us to look after… ” Really? In the 1930s, the curators decided there was something wrong with the surface of the marbles, and applied a caustic and abrasive chemical, leaving them as we see them today. There may have been damage from the polluted air of London at that time, but they removed any vestiges of the original painting that had been applied to the carvings.
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