CULTURE

Letter from Nelson about Parthenon Marbles

Kathimerini reader Elli Vassilikioti was visiting the small museum of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, when she caught sight of a framed letter signed Nelson V Bronte. When she examined it more closely, she noticed that it resembled the writing of Lord Nelson, the hero of Abukir and vanquisher of Napoleon’s army. What caught her attention was the reference to Lord Elgin and the 28 boxes of ancient sculpture from Athens, which he took when he captured the Arab French corvette. The letter bears the heading «July 13, Off Toulon,» and is addressed to the Rt. Honorable Henry Addington. The ultimate destination of the boxes was England, and the writer advises that the government buy them and keep them in England. «They will sell well in this country,» he wrote. And the 28 boxes aboad the French corvette went to England. Vassilikioti obtained a photocopy of the letter from the director of the museum and a photograph of the original. The literature on the subject records Nelson’s interest in the marbles. The V in his signature refers to the title of Viscount and Bronte to Duke of Bronte, a title conferred on him by King Ferdinand, and refers to an area in Sicily. As the Greek Culture Ministry confirmed when it sent officials to see the letter and get the photocopy, Nelson used to sign his name Nelson and Bronte. Kathimerini was the first to publish the letter in full on June 12, 2005 and it stirred up interest in the unresolved issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles. The letter reads as follows: July 13th 1803, Off Toulon My Dear Sir, There have been taken in the Arab French Corvette 28 cases of statues busts, etc. etc. from Athens for the French government. I have taken it upon me to order them to be sent to England consigned to Sir Joseph Banks as President of the Royal Society, for if our government chooses to buy these articles of antiquity I think it but proper that it should have the offer. They would sell well in this country. Lord Elgin, I am told, offered 6,000 pounds for a part of them. Of course the captors think them of great value, but the more valuable the more desirable for our country to obtain. I am ever My Dear Sir your faithful and obedient servant, Nelson V Bronte Rt. Honorable Henry Addington On June 30, when Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis meets his counterpart Tony Blair in London, it will be an opportunity to raise again the issue of the marbles’ return, from the British Museum, if only in the form of a loan, to the New Acropolis Museum. The Culture Ministry says work on the museum is proceeding according to schedule. From Annapolis via Nelson to Kathimerini, which has been keeping this topic in the public eye for 10 years, we hope the Culture Ministry will act. It’s time the government and the premier, as culture minister, as a new figure, can raise the issue with Blair. And seriously, not over coffee, as his predecessor Costas Simitis did during his visit. «What’s going to happen with the marbles?» he asked, and Blair nearly dropped his coffee cup. The sculptures have stayed long enough in Britain. It’s time for them to come home and make the Parthenon whole again, a monument of unique beauty.