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Elgin Marbles

The Elgin marbles are a collection of marble sculptures brought to Britain in 1803 by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, who had removed them from the Parthenon in Athens. They are currently housed in the British Museum, London. The Marbles include some of the statuary from the pediments, the Metope panels depicting battles between the Lapiths and the Centaurs as well as the Parthenon Frieze which went all around the inside set of columns of the temple.

When the marbles were shipped back to Britain, there was much criticism of Elgin (who had spent his entire fortune on the project) but also much admiration of the sculptures. John Keats was one of those who saw them privately exhibited, hence his two sonnets about the marbles. However Lord Byron strongly objected to their removal from Greece. Some scholars, notably Richard Payne Knight, insisted that the marbles dated from the period of the Roman Empire, but most accepted that they were authentic works from the studio of Phidias, the most famous ancient Greek sculptor. They were eventually purchased for the nation in 1816, for a much lower sum than Lord Elgin had been asking.

There has been considerable debate over what should now be done with the marbles. Although Elgin's motives in removing them from a hazardous environment may have been of the best, it is now felt, especially by the Greek government, that they should be returned to their proper place. Although many British people agree that this should be done, no agreement has yet been reached for the British Museum to relinquish them.

At present, approximately two thirds of the frieze is in London and a third remains in Athens. Considerable debate surrounds the meaning of the frieze but all agree that it depicts the Panathenaic procession that paraded through Athens every four years. The procession on the frieze culminates at the East end of the Parthenon in a depiction of the Greek Gods who are seated mainly on stools, either side of temple servants in their midst. This section of the frieze is currently under-appreciated as it is split between London and Athens, a doorway in the British Museum masking the absence of the relevant section of Frieze. An almost complete copy of this section of the Frieze is displayed and open to the public at Hammerwood Park near East Grinstead in Sussex.

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