It was a front page story in The Times of London last Friday. It was on the front page of the New York Times the next day. But generally, how has the reaction been to the trustees of the British Museum loaning the statue of river god Ilissus to the Hermitage in St Petersburg?
To say the least, it caught everyone off guard. This is the first time in over 200 years that one of the Parthenon Marbles has left the UK.
Predictably, the Greek Prime Minister has voiced opposition to the loan. How dare the British Museum send something over which the Greeks claim ownership to another country. Somewhat surprisingly, Turkey has supported Greece in its position. And the British people are divided.
London Mayor Boris Johnson has come out in favour of the loan. Or at least somewhat in favour. He calls it ‘barmy‘ – that this could happen while the UK government imposes sanctions on Russia – but explains that it reflects the beauty of British democracy: decentralised and moderately chaotic. This, he explains is the reason the Marbles should not go back to the Greeks: the UK is not a dictatorship, London is a great city, and so the Marbles deserve to be kept here. The logic is somewhat strained.
And Johnson’s article concludes with snide words for George Clooney, who had last winter spoken out on the topic, saying the Marbles should be returned to the “Pantheon”. The Mayor jumped on this last slip, explaining that “M Vipsanius Agrippa would have had some trouble with that project, since the Pantheon is the wrong temple, in the wrong city, with the wrong architectural order.”
Yes, Clooney is a movie actor and neither an archeology nor an ancient history expert, and perhaps he should keep his thoughts to himself (although this seems a rather un-democratic thing for Johnson to suggest). But the Pantheon that currently sits at the centre of Rome was built not by ‘M Vipsanius Agrippa’, but by the Emperor Hadrian. At least according to Wikipedia. If you’re going to be pedantic, Boris, it may be advisable to have your cards in order.