How We Lose Our Marbles

George Clooney has reignited a longstanding debate after inadvertently suggesting, in response to a Greek journalist's question, that the Parthenon Marbles might one day be removed from London’s British Museum and returned to their ancient home in Athens. But the outcome is unlikely to be decided by facts alone.

ATHENS – George Clooney has reignited a longstanding debate after suggesting, in response to a Greek journalist’s question, that removing the Parthenon Marbles, known in Britain as the Elgin Marbles, from London’s British Museum and returning them to their ancient home in Athens would be “the right thing to do.”

In the early nineteenth century, the friezes and sculptures were removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin, Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803. Elgin sold them to the British government, which put them in the British Museum. Greece wants them back.

The occasion for this latest round of historical jousting is the release of Clooney’s new film The Monuments Men, which details Allied efforts to rescue art works from the Nazis during World War II. His comments infuriated London’s provocative mayor, Boris Johnson, himself a classics scholar and author, who shot back that Clooney’s position on the issue was similar to that of the Nazis portrayed in his film.

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