A Lost Civilization?
By Christos Yiannaras
November 19, 2002
That is the logic behind the demand that the Parthenon Marbles, currently on display at the British Museum, be returned to Greece?
The spontaneous answer of most Greeks would be: “Those sculptures belong to us. They are the work of our ancestors, they are the expression of our history, the British stole them from our country.” And I imagine the automatic response from the British side (not the studied, polite version) would be: “Civilizations do not have natural heirs, heirs are those who prove themselves capable of developing this legacy.”
The Parthenon Marbles belong to those peoples sufficiently cultivated to appreciate their timeless value and significance for the whole of humanity — they belong to the peoples who proved themselves as heirs of classical civilization. According to the British, this has been Western European civilizations. It was they who cultivated the classics, who studied ancient Greek art, who interpreted ancient Greek literary texts, who used neoclassicism to transfer the rhythm and aesthetics of ancient Greece to the far corners of the earth. I could even imagine the British using the arguments of our own great thinker Adamantios Korais, who conceded that we modern Greeks have nothing in common with our ancient predecessors, and who maintained that only through “Westernization” could we become Greeks once again...