Michael Quintero

13 February 2000

independent study proposal

Aims of the study

My research project for spring term 2000 is the culmination of my study of the Classics at North Central College. In it, I plan to bring a multidisciplinary approach to a topic usually associated with the Classics: the Parthenon sculptures held by the British Museum, also known as the Elgin Marbles. While many topics in the Classics are significant primarily in their original historical context, the Marbles have continued to provoke thought and controversy up until the current day. They provide the inquisitive scholar with the opportunity to study many aspects of both human history and human nature in the circumstances of their creation, survival, and final removal from the Acropolis.

Statement of the problem or subject area background on the Parthenon Marbles

The marbles, widely considered to be among the finest works of sculpture produced by classical Greek society, are part of a larger work: the temple on the Acropolis known as the Parthenon. Erected to honor the patron goddess of Athens, the virginal Athena, the Parthenon was commissioned by the great statesman Pericles, and executed under the guidance of famed sculptor Phidias, between 447 and 437 BC. It stood untouched and pristine for eight hundred years, at which point changing tastes in religion saw its conversion to a Christian house of worship. It continued in this role, altered yet substantially intact, until around 1458, when, after the capture of the Acropolis by Turkish forces, the Parthenon was transformed into a mosque. The Acropolis, including the Parthenon, continued to be firmly in Turkish control until 1821, the year which saw the beginning of the Greek War of Independence.

However, irreparable damage to the Parthenon had occurred during Turkish rule. In 1687, while Turkish forces were under siege on the Acropolis, a powder magazine located within the Parthenon was ignited by Venetian cannon fire, blowing a giant hole in the side of the building. Most damaging of all, beginning in 1801 and continuing for nine years, the Turks had allowed a British nobleman, Lord Elgin, to remove a large part (approximately fifty percent) of the sculpture which remained.

It is this removal of the sculpture that has sparked controversy. Even in 1804, when Elgin returned to Great Britain with the marbles, he was denounced by many, including members of Parliament and well-known poets such as Keats and Byron. Since its inception, the Greek government has called for the British Museum, which has possessed the Marbles since 1816, to return them.


In my independent study, I plan to investigate the Parthenon marbles in three different contexts: in terms of their history (the facts of their creation, survival, and removal), art (both of the marbles themselves and their impact on other artists from the time of their creation to the current day), and as cultural myth.

I'd like to explain this last aspect more fully. The continuing furor over these objects makes it evident that they act as powerful symbols ("signs" in semiotic parlance) for both the Greek and the British peoples. I plan to explore how both groups relate to the objects, how the objects fit into and are elemental to larger "cultural myths," and how these cultural myths have been shaped. The raw material for these investigations will be the prose, poetry, and other media created in response to the Marbles throughout their history, but focusing on the period after their removal from the Acropolis. To guide my investigation of this, I plan to use ideas, concepts, and frameworks from the twentieth century discipline of semiotics.

Semiotics, described in 1915 by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussere as "a science which studies the life of signs within society," is conceived as a superset of more recognized disciplines such as linguistics, and has strong ties to cultural anthropology and social psychology. Notable modern semiotic theorists include figures such as Umberto Eco and Roland Barthes. While I don't pretend to be an expert (or even well-versed) in semiotics, it seems to offer exciting and useful methods and frameworks for the analysis of the meanings of objects and how these meanings operate within systems.

Chronological outline

Over spring break, I will be visiting London to do research at the British Library and British Film Institute, as well as view the Elgin Marbles and other Greek antiquities in the British Museum. I have already contacted the appropriate archivists at these institutions to arrange appointments for viewing the materials, which include items such as television documentaries and newspaper editorials regarding the Marbles.

The first five weeks of spring term I intend to spend solely doing research on the topic and exploring interesting subtopics which I may discover in the pursuit of my studies. I plan to keep a journal chronicling my reactions to various texts and my thoughts regarding the shape of my paper.

The second five weeks will be spent actively writing. The rough draft will be written during Weeks 6 and 7. During Week 8, I plan to collect reader reactions and begin revisions. Weeks 9 and 10 will be spent revising and working with Dr. Adams to polish my final draft. I plan to deliver my final product during Finals week, if not before.

Supervisory arrangements

I plan to discuss my progress with Dr. Adams at least every two weeks, if not more frequently. There will probably significant use of email communication in between formal meetings.

I also plan to have drafts of my paper read by a handful of other faculty members for their comments, criticisms, and suggestions.

Products of research

The product of the study is intended to be a paper. I also plan to make the paper available for reading on the World Wide Web (either as the original text or as an enhanced multimedia-type presentation).

Evaluation process

The paper will be evaluated and graded by Dr. Adams.


Tentative annotated bibliography

Bracken, C.P. Antiquities Acquired: the Spoliation of Greece. London: David and Charles. 1975.

Elgin was not the only traveller to try to take a little bit of Greece home with him. This book details some of the many expeditions and explorers who have done so, including Clarke, Cockerell, and Marcellus, and some of the sites that were so plundered, including the Parthenon, the temples at Aegina and Bassae, and the island of Melos.

Eisner, Robert. Travelers To An Antique Land: The History and Literature of Travel to Greece. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1991.

A wide-ranging survey of travel literature regarding Greece from the 1500s to the present day. The book focuses especially on English travellers, and terms the period around 1800 the "great age of travel to Greece to paint it, loot it, write about it."

Hitchens, Christopher. The Elgin Marbles: Should they be returned to Greece? Verso: London. 1997.

A slim volume intended to offer a definitive answer to the question of its title. While the bulk of the book is written by Hitchens, it also features essays by Robert Browning (professor emeritus in Classics at the University of London) and Graham Binns (chairman of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles). While having a distinct agenda, the book offers a carefully researched body of evidence and a useful appendix detailing the current location of all known Parthenon sculpture fragments.

Rothenberg, Jacob. The Acquisition of the Elgin Marbles. New York: Garland Publishing. 1977.

Described by the author as not "a study of the Parthenon sculptures as such but of the role they played as the Elgin Marbles," this dissertation focuses specifically on the way in which the Marbles were received in England in the early 1800s, and how the Marbles served as a locus of conflict between neo-classicists and romanticists, who both claimed the Marbles as their own.

St. Clair, William. Lord Elgin and the Marbles. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1998.

The third edition of a comprehensive and well-regarded text concerning the removal of the Elgin Marbles. The volume also features an extensive history of the Parthenon, including new research on the original significance of the frieze, new details on the activities of Elgin's agents on the Acropolis, and, most controversially of all, newly revealed evidence of significant damage having been done to the Marbles while in the care of the British Museum in the 1930s and subsequent efforts to conceal the damage from the public.

Tsigakou, Fani-Maria. The Rediscovery of Greece: Travellers and Painters of the Romantic Era. New York: Caratzas Brothers. 1981.

This lavishly illustrated book offers the story of how, after years of studying Greece from afar, European authors, poets, and artists began to visit Greece in the nineteenth century to experience both its classical antiquities and the natural beauty of its rugged terrain. Half of the book's length consists of excerpts from prose and poetry from the years 1790 to 1890, accompanied by contemporary watercolors, oils, and pencil sketches.

Vrettos, Theodore. A Shadow of Magnitude: The Acquisition of the Elgin Marbles. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1974.

A narrative detailing the acquisition of the Elgin Marbles in a breezy, unscholarly way. The author, better known as a novelist, uses excerpts and background information from the diaries and journals of some of the principals (Lord and Lady Elgin, among others) to add detail and precision to his account.


Trip Budget

I. Transportation

Roundtrip airfare to London $483.30

American Airlines

depart 18 March 2000

return 25 March 2000

Seven day travelcard (rail pass) $61.00

II. Lodging

Thanet Hotel 6 nights x 40.00 = approximately $384.00

Bedford Place, Russell Square

(near the British Museum)

a shared twin room (total cost 80, my share of it is 40)

III. Meals

Standard per-diem 7 x $20.00 = $140.00

IV. Other Expenses

Screening fees at the British Film Institute 10/hour x 3 hours = approx. $48.00

Total Amount $1116.30