Greek treasures and global treasures
I only wish that many of those who exploded at my post on the Greek fires had read it in English. That’s not meant as a criticism. I can read modern Greek just about well enough when I need to, but given the chance to read an English translation I’d always take it. So I can hardly object to others relying on the account of my views on the Ethnos website.
The trouble is that it was a bit of a travesty of what I actually wrote. For the record, I’m NOT advocating that the Greek heritage should be distributed wholesale abroad for “safe-keeping”. I am simply arguing – as I’ll explain a bit more after the jump – that there is something to be said for some dispersal and replication. Part of the reason is an entirely practical one: its the ‘Wills-and-Harry-never-in-the-same-plane’ sort of principle.
And for those of you who thought that I was being decidedly insensitive - to say the least - in even raising these issues at a time like this (“to make such ill comments/suggestions at the time of national crisis in Greece, it just shows the type of person that you are”), please note that I did start the post with an explicit apology for just that - and, for good measure, with a sombre reflection on the hundreds of Ottoman women and children killed when the Parthenon went up in smoke in the seventeenth century.
Now that I have the link, let me say that you can find details of how to give to the disaster fund by clicking here (in Greek), or consult Spyros Iakovidis’s most recent comment on the earlier post.
All the same, the intensity of the responses took me aback a bit. It wasn’t just the abuse: “fuck!! of!!!!” as George put it, or “UP YOURS MY DEAR..”, in the (slightly) friendlier words of another George. It was more the bigger debate about the role and preservation of cultural heritage revealed by many of these hard-hitting reactions.
Several of the comments raised the issue of the English Crown Jewels. How would I feel if some of them were sent to New York (as John M wondered)? Well, the true answer is that I would feel perfectly OK about it – and I half suspect that even now they’re not all in the Tower anyway (on the same ‘Wills-and-Harry' principle). To put it more positively, I actually feel pleased when I go (for example) to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and see those English country-house rooms, once in Oxfordshire or wherever, now reconstructed transatlantically. I like the idea that visitors, who come in from the extraordinarily different world of Fifth Avenue, should find themselves reminded of “my” culture.
The other side of this coin is that I cannot agree with the idea that works of art have some necessary and natural "home". Nor do I think that those who now live in the place where ancient masterpieces were created (whether they are the direct ethnic descendants of the creators or not) are the only people in the world who could possibly be qualified to care for them or to speak on their behalf. So I find it hard to respond to Anon’s question: WHO GAVE YOU THE RIGHT TO HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT OUR HERITAGE? (whatever ‘right’ means in this context). And I could not agree that only modern Greeks can properly look after ancient Greek antiquities. That's a claim which would not be be true for the antiquities of any country in the planet - Greece, the UK, the Sudan, India, you name it.
I can think of few worse strategies of cultural planning – particularly for a globalized world - than one which demands that all works of art stay in the geographical area in which they were made. That's partly for reasons of safety, but partly too for the worthy aim of cultural interaction.
Now hang on before you reach for the ‘send’ button. I know that there are crucial issues of power and politics here. While I fully support Neil MacGregor’s view of a Universal Museum, it hasn’t escaped my notice that so-called “Universal Museums” tend to exist in Western Europe and the US – not in Ghana or Burkina Faso. Which is to say that the Universal Museum and imperialism have been, historically, at some level connected. It is also clear that it is easier for a country that has been a net ‘gainer’ rather than a net ‘loser’ out of these processes to feel culturally 'generous'. It's clear too that some objects are more singular and symbolically important than others (sending the Eiffel Tower to Australia would be quite different from sending, say, Monet's Waterlilies). All the same, the basic principle of sharing seems a good one.
It still is tricky with material monuments though. And that's partly the problem of their materiality itself. We can all “own” Shakespeare or Mozart or Seferis. The claims of Stratford upon Avon do not affect the possibility of sharing the bard's plays as widely as you like. Plays and poems and operas are infinitely extendable, unlike marble -- which really is destroyed by fire, despite the optimistic assurances of Alex (in the comments) to the contrary. How we can share physically monuments which are ideologically shared by the whole world is a problem we haven’t yet begun to resolve. (I talk about this whole question in a bit more detail in my book on the Parthenon.)
But meanwhile, my earlier post was mostly about wondering what had happened to the other monuments in the Peloponnese. Fred Bullock's comment gave a bit more information But if anyone has any more, please let us know.