Frieze Frame: Part IV
Bullets, Again. In 1832, only 16 years after the Select Committee, the possessors of the city of Athens would be the new nation of Greece. In 1834, Greece’s teenaged philhellene King Otton (the Hellenized name for Otto of Bavaria) would choose the modest town of Athens as the new capital. In the same year, the Greek parliament passed an innovative law declaring that “all antiquities within Greece, as works of the ancestors of the Hellenic people, shall be regarded as national property of all Hellenes in general.” A movement to protect antiquities had begun earlier, however, even before the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1821. Dodwell (1819) writes that “The Constantinopolitan patriarch has been induced by the Greeks, who are fondly anticipating the regeneration of their country, to issue circular orders to all the Greeks not to disturb any ancient remains; and neither to assist nor connive at their destruction nor removal, under pain of excommunication.” The first Ephor of Antiquities in the new Greek state was none other than Kyriakos Pittakis, the Greek fighter who is the subject of Melina Mercouri’s “here are bullets, don’t touch the columns” anecdote.
The bullets story—which may well be a political fable à la George Washington and the cherry tree—first appears in 1859 (nearly forty years after the supposed events) in a letter from the writer and politician Aristotelis Valaoritis to the poet Andreas Laskatos, in which anecdote the Greeks are under the command of the leader Odysseus Adroutsos. (Adroutsos, however, was not yet in Athens at that time.)
The anecdote is popularized in 1863 by Alexandros Rangavis, a poet, politician, and professor of archaeology, in the funeral oration for his frenemy and colleague, Kyriakos Pittakis, and in which Pittakis is the hero of the story. A crucial difference, though, is that Pittakis was indeed present at the historical siege.
If the story is apocryphal, let us say it is an allegory; that even if it is not literally true, it conveys a truth. That Pittakis was a veteran of the siege is true; that he was anxious for the columns is also. He oversaw the first reconstruction of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis (the Porch of the Maidens had been badly damaged in the second siege of 1826–1827) and the reconstruction of Mycenae’s famed Lion Gate, a monument, like the Parthenon, of grandeur and weighty antiquity.
Richard Monckton Milnes’s account in 1834 of an Athens after the revolution, of a free Athens in the nascent nation state, seems to support elements of the bullet anecdote:
[O]ne can scarcely judge what the effect will be when the layers of stone, which have been thrown down for the sake of the lead which attacht them together, are again erected into columns and the miserable mosque in the middle swept away.
Milnes also bemoans the insults to the Caryatids and Erechtheion made by foreign travellers—especially British midshipmen (“they come actually armed with chisels for the purpose”), taking souvenirs, he claims, of an ear or a nose, or parts of the Erechtheion frieze. (No one would appreciate the susceptibility of noses to insult and ruination more than Elgin.) “Now that Athens is once more Greek, let us hope that these things will be put a stop to.”
He speaks with some hope of “Signor Pettachi [Pittakis], to whose intelligence the government has intrusted [sic] the antiquities of Athens” and who “has discovered, and concealed from the barbarian occupants, many important specimens [of fallen statuary] in his daily walks on the acropolis, and which will now see the sun.”
As for the learned man of Ioannina, surely there were cultured and educated Greeks who cared for the antiquities, but what about illiterate peasants?
As it happens, we do have a story about an illiterate peasant and ancient statues, and in his own voice. Yannis Makriyannis—John Longjohn, as it were—(1797–1864), was born into a poor family; at seven, he was sent to a rich man as a foster child, who put him to work and beat him. He joined the fight for Greek independence in 1821, eventually becoming one of its leading generals and suffering lifelong injuries when he was in charge of defending the besieged Acropolis in 1826. But he is known as much for his contribution to Greek literature as for his military exploits. In 1829, he began to write his famous memoirs, a project he would continue working on until 1850. He taught himself to write, producing a “pure Demotic,” unspoiled by the fussy artificial Greek taught in schools, in crude phonetic Greek without capitals, diacritical marks, word spaces or punctuation—in fact, something like early Greek inscriptions (His Memoirs begin, “For I am illiterate and cannot keep order in my writings”). Yet the Nobel laureate George Seferis (1900–1971) reckoned Makriyannis Greek’s greatest prose stylist and one of the two foundational prose writers of modern Greek. Seferis relates one of Makriyannis’ anecdotes of the war:
“I had two wonderful statues,” he also notes, “a woman and a young prince, intact—you could see their veins they were so perfect. When they sacked Poros, some soldiers had taken them and were to sell them in Argos to some Europeans; they were asking for one thousand talara . . . I took the soldiers aside and spoke to them: ‘Even if they give you ten thousand talara, don’t allow for these statues to leave our homeland. These are what we fought for.’” (II 303)
“You understand,” Seferis points out. “This isn’t Lord Byron, or a scholar or an archaeologist talking; this is the son of Roumeli shepherds, his body covered in wounds.”
Perhaps Elgin’s exploits are one of the many catalysts for the valuing of antiquities in Greece, by locals and foreigners alike—Makriyannis was only four years old when the sculptures started to come down. But it is clear that this memoir, not finished in Makriyannis’ lifetime and published only in 1907 (the second volume in 1983), is not a performance for Westerners.
Seferis himself, as many modern Greek writers, can feel an ambivalence about, even an animus towards, the Classical past, how it can overshadow and suffocate the present. In Seferis’ posthumously published novel, Six Nights on the Acropolis, the protagonist Stratis “had the impression that the Acropolis was new until that night and that two thousand years of compacted time had suddenly exploded and had turned it to rubble.” Again, to the Greek imagination, the catastrophe is not Elgin—who is a late addition to the Parthenon’s insults, a minor villain—but the Venetian cannonball. It is the explosion and not the dismantling that resonates. (The blowing up of the Parthenon, and therefore the crushing weight of the Classical past, is a recurrent fantasy in the literature of Greek Modernism. The avant-garde writer Nicholas Calas, who declared “art is a gun powder keg, and the proof is the Parthenon,” asks the reader, “Do you prefer Pheidias or Morosini? The car or the accident?”).
The Acropolis as Western tourist attraction also hangs over modern Greek literature like a cloud of smog. Seferis in one of his late essays recalls a nightmare he had in which the state is selling off its monuments to the highest bidder; an American toothpaste company has bought the Parthenon and is polishing its columns to look like giant toothpaste tubes.
At the same time, Seferis is associated with marble and fragments and statues: these images haunt his Mythistorema (the standard Greek word for “novel,” but also literally Myth-history), a poem engaged with the Odyssey in 24 brief sections, nodding to the Odyssey’s 24 books and perhaps the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet. Published in 1935, it comes after his diplomatic stint at the Greek consulate in London from 1931–1934. Early on in his post, Seferis lived in Hampstead and referred in his diaries to “Keats, my neighbor.” He notes that he spends his time trying to learn the language, and that “I often had to rush out of my house to see again a fragment of the Greek marbles, especially—for reasons I won’t dwell on—the one of the Ilissus.” Is Mythistorema haunted by these urgent visits to the “sunless museum” in Bloomsbury? It is hard not to think so. Here (in the translation of Edmund Keeley), we find such phrases as “carved reliefs of a humble art” and “the other life, / beyond the statues,” “the smiles, so static, of the statues,” “mutilated” hands, and, perhaps most famously:
I woke with this marble head in my hands;
it exhausts my elbows and I don’t know where to put it down.
The homecoming stanza, 23, though on one level evoking Ithaka and on another perhaps Seferis’ home near Smyrna doubly lost to him, first when his family fled to Athens when he was a teenager, and then the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922, in which cosmopolitan Smyrna was effectively destroyed. It could also be describing the Acropolis, renewed:
A little farther
we will see the almond trees blossoming
the marble gleaming in the sun
the sea breaking into waves
Greek light and the sea—the billowy main, the sun.
An Intellectual Clockwork. What did Elgin leave behind for the people of Athens, besides the diminished Parthenon? What did he want his name on?
A town clock.
In 1806, Elgin had promised the authorities at Athens a town clock, as a token of his gratitude for the Marbles. In 1813, around the time Elgin’s agents were having difficulties obtaining a firman to excavate at Olympia, the clock arrived. This clock was one of the only such clocks in all of the Ottoman Empire (a clock at Thebes might be the only other); Ottoman cities told the time by the muezzin calls to prayer of the mosques. Christian churches were not permitted bells, for instance. (“Turkey contains no bells, and yet men dine,” as Byron notes in Don Juan.)
Hugh William “Grecian” Williams, a Scottish landscape painter famous for his Greek landscapes picturesque with ruins, published his Travels in Italy, Greece, and the Ionian Islands. In a Series of Letters, Descriptive of Manners, Scenery, and the Fine Arts in 1820. In it, he deplores Elgin’s actions on the Acropolis as detrimental to future travellers, including artists:
In 1812, the Turks allowed Lord Elgin to put up a clock with a Latin inscription, purporting it to be a present from his Lordship to the people of Athens; but they had to build a tower for it, an expence at which they murmured considerably. A clock in a town, under subjection to Turkish government, was said to be a circumstance before unknown . . .
Engraved on a marble slab taken from the Parthenon itself, the Latin inscription, in which Lord Elgin dedicates the clock to the “Senate and People of Athens,” has something of the Roman emperor about it:
ATHENIEN. HOROL. D.D.
S.P.Q.A. EREX. COLLOC.
Latin, as William St. Clair points out, was “the one language that the multilingual inhabitants of a multicultural empire could not read.”
Milnes goes further than Williams:
The bitterest part perhaps of the whole Elgin affair was the insulting compensation attempted to be offered; it was in the shape of a huge town-clock, to contain which the inhabitants themselves were put to the expense of an ungainly wooden tower. Does the inscription, recording so pompously the gift of Lord Elgin, owe its existence to the fine irony of the citizens, or the blind vanity of the donor?
Elgin’s clock tower was burned down in the War of Independence and the clock destroyed; the tower was rebuilt in stone with a new Bavarian clock. (In the interregnum, a cannon was fired every day at noon from the Acropolis to tell citizens the time.) At various points the tower served as a barracks, a storehouse, or a prison, and, as one of the tallest structures in the lower town, a landmark.
A Greek poem from 1884, by the (once) popular romantic and nationalistic poet Achilleas Paraschos, predicts the clock tower’s fate:
On the Clock of the Agora
Set fire to it, burn it, to the four winds,
Scatter its dust. Let no sign of it remain.
It is a shame it has stood for so many years . . .
Tear it down. You don’t know what it is worth to the nation.
To the nation? To all people, to art, to wisdom,
Every diamond stone, what diamond it cost us:
A starry cloudless thought of Ictinus, of Pheidias! . . .
The clock tower and neighboring church burned to the ground in a market fire a few months later, on August 9; the last chimes were heard at two in the morning. The leaping flames were spectacularly visible all over Athens. Almost immediately, the area was opened up as an archaeological site; eventually four iron clock hands and Elgin’s marble inscription, broken into pieces, were discovered and handed over to the appropriate authorities. They now lie stored in lockers of the basement of the Greek National Historical Museum.
Meanwhile Milnes concludes his excursus in words that speak as much to our time and the depredations of the natural world as to early nineteenth-century Athens:
I have often thought how like the situation of all the world, now-a-days, is to that of these Athenians; they are losing all things of beauty and grandeur that they possess, and receiving in return some worthless intellectual clock-work.
Polarizing Celebrities. It has occurred to me that Byron and Mercouri—though one might not want them at the same dinner party (or, actually, might one?)—share certain qualities and roles in the adventures and discourse of the Marbles. Charismatic artists-cum-celebrities who gave their all for political causes, they lacked in their passion a certain “sophrosyne”; both regularly are treated with a degree of condescension by the anglophone world, while being appreciated in Greece for many of the same reasons. (Even the redoubtable Mary Beard cannot resist some digs at Byron—for his unheroic death in Messolonghi for instance, and she dismisses his slight, macaronic, wildly popular lyric “Maid of Athens, ere we part” as “ghastly doggerel.”)
And both had I think, for all their intentions, a polarizing effect on the controversy around the Marbles. Byron’s intemperate and sometimes outright libelous assertions about Elgin had a way of inflaming the discourse. And Mercouri’s efforts, ironically, seemed to have hardened the UK’s and British Museum’s status quo position.
Keats too had his effect; he is the first poet to set them firmly in a museum, to claim them in a way not only for Britain, but specifically for the British Museum. He also forever attaches Elgin’s name to them, in a way the museum itself has not.
One thinks of Keats’s earlier (and better) sonnet, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.” It ends on a thrilling note of discovery—even with the historical error (of Cortez for Balboa)—but we might consider that in this case discovery is also the beginning of conquest and empire:
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Ringing the Changes. As the question of the Marbles’ return is back in the news, a flurry of op-eds, pro and con, has inundated British papers. When against, these articles ring the changes on Knowles’s “The Joke About the Elgin Marbles” of 1891: that it is a slippery slope that will result in the loss of all the holdings of the British Museum, or of all British museums; that Elgin got them fair and square and spent a lot of money doing so; that he rescued them from Greeks or Turks or the French; that Greece cannot look after them; that the Greeks aren’t even really Greek anyway; that the Marbles are so convenient around the block on Great Russell Street, and so inconvenient in far-off Athens. The ever-expanding stretch of decades that has passed in the interim has also tended to harden the sense that the Marbles are permanent fixtures of the British Museum. (In 1986, Sir David Wilson, then the Director of the Museum, declared on the BBC that “To rip the Elgin Marbles from the walls of the British Museum is a much greater disaster than the threat of blowing up the Parthenon.”) An addition to Knowles’s catalogue includes the rather cynical twist that as they cannot be returned to the Parthenon building itself, there is no point in simply moving them from one museum to another.
The slippery slope fallacy makes the least sense (Mercouri rightly dismissed it as “blarney”)—museums regularly decide on returns and even loans on a case-by-case basis. The British Museum will still be packed to the gills with ancient Greek art—it has more than it can even display. (As Cavafy says in 1891, “the Elgin Marbles serve no other purpose than that of beautifying the British Museum, which even without them is full of objects of the greatest beauty and value.”) By now, the case for returns and reparations has outstripped the fate of the Marbles themselves: the fear that museums will have to return, say, the Benin Bronzes (as many museums, if not the British Museum, are starting to do), or that Egypt will ask for the Rosetta stone, has come to fruition even as the Marbles have stayed put. The original Act of Parliament in 1816 whereby the Marbles were purchased required that they remain together as a collection in the Museum, be known as “The Elgin Collection,” and stay in the Museum in perpetuity, and that an Elgin always be seated among the Trustees; but this centuries-old act has been subject to modifications over the years, such as the British Museum Act 1963, which changed the makeup of the Trustees. The new UK Charities Act, going into force now, may have further repercussions, potentially allowing museums to return objects when there is a “moral obligation.”
The thought experiment, whereby if Elgin had not rescued them, they would have been destroyed by the Turks or, more likely, stolen by the French, is impossible to prove or disprove. Arguably Elgin’s interference in the Parthenon heats up the market for antiquities and souvenirs (and the desire to chip off the odd nose), but it is clear that it was already at a fever pitch when he began, English and other European travellers trying to take anything that was not (or even that was) nailed down. And these experiments can go both ways: suppose he had left the Marbles at the bottom of the sea, after the shipwreck of the Mentor, to be ravaged by sea worms? (I remain struck by the irony that the character of Mentor in the Odyssey represents one of the guises in which the goddess Athena herself manifests.)
Had Elgin’s agents not been stopped in their tracks by the firman of 1805, based on the concerns of the French Ambassador, they would have proceeded to dismantle the western porch of the Temple to get at the western frieze. As the French archaeologist and painter (and a collector himself) Louis-François-Sébastien Fauvel writes, “Elgin would have taken everything if Marshal Brune [the French Ambassador in Constantinople], whom I told about the vandalism, had not obtained an order that stopped him. That one can still see any sculptures [on the building] is due to that ambassador.”
And as it happens, we do know what became of the Marbles left on the Temple. The Parthenon survived the two sieges of the Acropolis during the Greek War of Independence. Not only did Greek rebels and philhellenes try to avoid inflicting major damage on the Parthenon (human collateral was another matter), so did the Ottomans. In the case of the Greeks, the Parthenon was already a nascent national symbol and attracted classically educated philhellenes to the cause. In the case of the Ottomans, there was a sensitivity to the Parthenon’s stature in “Europe.”
Once again, an Englishman asks for an Ottoman firman regarding the Marbles, but this time, for the Temple’s protection. Lord Strangford, the then British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, sends a letter to a high Ottoman official as Turkish troops prepare to battle for Athens, recommending the securing of such a firman. The copy he sends to the British Foreign Secretary for ex post facto approval reads so (translated from the French):
The English Ambassador . . . ventures to recommend to the benevolence and protection of the Ottoman Government the famous monuments of antiquity and Masterpieces of art that have for so many centuries made this town the object of Europe’s universal admiration . . . as the Ambassador . . . he has the honour to ask His Excellency . . . to arrange for the issue of Firmans, addressed to the Commander of the Ottoman Troops, and to the Voivode of Athens, for the preservation of the Town and the beautiful monuments of its ancient glory.
As Reverend Robert Walsh (the Irish chaplain to Lord Strangford’s ambassadorship—as Philip Hunt had been to Elgin’s) puts it, in 1836, “It is to the credit of the Turks that they have strictly complied with these orders [for the protection of the monuments], and to the Greeks that they have followed their example: these venerable remains have been preserved, though the combatants have had alternate possession of them.”
The Temple and remaining ornaments had not only survived, but had come through relatively unscathed. In May of 1840, Irish poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere (1814–1902) observes of the Parthenon:
Its western front . . . is almost wholly uninjured. The pillars are perfect, the architrave and cornice equally so . . . The pediment has sustained but little damage, and still retains possession of the two colossal statues which resisted all Lord Elgin’s efforts to remove them.
Further, de Vere gives a delightful sketch of the remaining western frieze, infused with tropes of the “guest/host” relationship, of strangers and hospitality:
Though we possess in the British Museum so large a part of it [the frieze], another portion still holds its ground where it has a better right to be, and the western end of the cella, at least, continues undefrauded and inviolate. The members of the frieze which remain are exactly the same in spirit as those on which your eye rests . . . at home; and the hospitality which you had afforded to those strangers “from a far countree” made me feel, when I saw their companions, as if I were meeting old friends.
He goes on to list “priests,” “venerable elders,” “beautiful matrons,” “warriors holding horses by the head, or balanced on them with a pliant grace,” and, in a nod to Keats, “youths dragging forward bulls that plant their feet resolutely before them, as if they smelt their own blood on the ground, and low against the skies.”
He has effortlessly conflated—or reunited—the frieze in London with the one in Athens.
A Tale of Two Cities, Two Museums. Athens is hardly far-flung now—cruise ships and cheap flights bussing in tourists from the UK and all over the world have resulted in, if anything, hyper-tourism. For many people, including the Greeks themselves, London is not more convenient. (Brexit, perhaps, makes it less so.)
Told that they had nowhere appropriate to house the Marbles (a variation on “the Greeks cannot take care of them”), the Greeks adopted a “build it and they will come” approach, constructing a state-of-the-art new museum (designed by the Swiss-French architect Bernard Tschumi in collaboration with Michael Photiadis) at the southeastern base of the Acropolis (so facing, as it happens, the side of the Parthenon where Elgin’s agents shattered the cornice to extract metopes). It opened to the public in June of 2009; within the year, Greece would be enmeshed in an economic and debt crisis in which the imagery of broken columns, and the rhetoric of selling off monuments, would become commonplace in German and UK publications.
Numbers of visitors to the new Acropolis Museum do not yet rival numbers to the British Museum, but they are growing. (The British Museum receives a little over 6 million visitors per year, the new Acropolis Museum, around 2 million.) Not every visitor to the British Museum even enters the Duveen Gallery, there is so much else to see; every visitor to the Acropolis Museum, however, goes to see the Parthenon Gallery at the top of the Museum, following a journey through chronologically arranged finds from the Acropolis.
As the Acropolis Museum’s website states, “The Museum’s exhibition culminates in the third-floor gallery, which has been specially designed to accommodate the sculptures of the Parthenon.” The Parthenon Gallery looks out at the Acropolis, with floor-to-ceiling windows of the Attic sky, bright blue, or slate grey, or marbled with huge brilliances, with direct sightlines to the Acropolis and its Temples, so that the mind can hold both together. The frieze is displayed as it was in the Parthenon, facing outward rather than facing in (as it is currently in the Duveen Gallery), and without the exits that interrupt the somewhat randomly positioned and abridged version of the frieze in London. The British Museum’s fragments of the rectangular frieze are presented divided between two parallel walls, with the eastern section along the wall opposite the entrance, northern and southern elements divided between the walls, and elements of the western frieze next to the entrance; they can be taken in as a sort of “whole” by a seated viewer in the middle of the room. Originally, though, the Ionic (that is to say, continuous) frieze could have only been experienced in flashes between columns by observers in motion, walking around the building, perhaps not unlike the flickering cells or cabinet cards in early animation; in the Acropolis’ Parthenon Gallery, the viewer is likewise encouraged to experience the frieze by moving along and around it, taking part in the procession.
Perhaps most importantly, this floor of the Acropolis Museum is exactly aligned with the Parthenon. The eastern pediment, which depicted Athena’s birth from the head of Zeus, faces and is touched by the light of dawn. The western pediment, which Pausanias tells us depicted Athena’s battle with Poseidon for possession of the city, looks out towards the molten sunset, Salamis, and the sea. Both these positions and the light would have been planned for by the architects and sculptors of the pediments. It is thought, for instance, that on the western pediment Poseidon’s trident and Athena’s spear—maybe even her olive tree—would have been made of bronze; light bouncing off them would have dazzled at sunset. (We know, for instance, that the spear tip and the crest of the helmet of Phidias’ colossal bronze statue of Athena Promachos—“first in the fight”—on the Acropolis could be seen by sailors rounding the cape at Sounion.)
The Marbles that are currently in the Duveen Gallery and several other countries too, as well as some fragments lost or destroyed even since Elgin’s time, are supplied, where possible, with plaster casts (made in the 1830s and later purchased by Greece); their whiteness differentiates them from the original stones. Here, the color white indicates not purity or chastity, but absence and, in a surprising inversion, inauthenticity.
A Creative Act? One of the most recent justifications is the strangest of all. In 2019, Hartwig Fischer, the then Director of the British Museum, when asked by a Greek newspaper, Ta Nea, about the potential return, or reuniting, of the Marbles, said, “We don’t return, we don’t lend the Parthenon Marbles, Greece is not the legitimate owner,” adding a new twist. “When you move a cultural heritage to a museum . . . this shifting is also a creative act.”
One might add that it takes another step—a Keats, for instance—to complete such a creative act. In Fischer’s sense, though, too, Morosini’s destruction of the building was also a creative act (one of which Greek avant-garde writers would approve!), turning a functional structure, in a flash, into a picturesque ruin, the stuff of Byronic backdrops. Also, if Fischer is right, then this creative act of Elgin and the British Museum is over 200 years old—its creative energy is entirely depleted, as is clear even from E. R. Dodds’s 1951 anecdote of the blasé young man in the British Museum. But should the Marbles return to Athens and be placed in the Acropolis Museum, this is also a creative act and a fresh, exciting one; one that shows them in a new light; in this way, though, the new light is just like the old light, the Attic light.
Milnes seems to have foreseen much of this debate in 1834 as the Greek nation emerges from its chrysalis. While he feels that, for the present, the Marbles could not be in a safer place (the British Museum) and that Elgin’s actions had unwittingly protected them from the Acropolis sieges during the War of Independence:
It would indeed be highly honourable to the English nation, if they should consummate the good work, of which they have been the unconscious instruments, by the restoration to the Greeks of these, their proudest ancestral trophies, as soon as a settled state of affairs ensures to them due care and reverence. Unless things turn out strangely for the worse, Greece, in the lapse of a few years, will be no longer the remote corner of Europe, living a merely historic life in the memories of other nations, and visited by rare and adventurous travellers, but as common a resort of the wise and the frivolous . . . as Rome or Parthenope [Naples]. Under these circumstances, to retain in the chambers of a museum those archetypes of art, to which we have not even the plausible title of conquest, would be a petty and selfish nationality. If they cannot again adorn the front of their antient [sic] home, let them at any rate display their wonders under a native heaven, be surrounded with the forms and associations of their native nature, and let the words spoken round them be in their native tongue.
The idea that the statues long for the light is of long standing, even if, as a British friend points out, the frieze, as opposed to the metopes and pedimental figures, under its roof of Parian marble slabs, was never intended to be seen in direct sun. And it’s a curious personification, the idea that the statues care what language is spoken round them—presumably the Marbles in the British Museum have got as used to English and every other world language as they had been to Greek, Turkish, and Albanian, also spoken through the centuries in Athens. Now, there is also the babel of tourists. But it is a persistent one: Mercouri was said to “give a voice” to the Marbles, unable to speak for themselves.
Divided Narratives. The relatively new talking point of the British Museum is that having the frieze in two museums allows for the telling of two stories, multiplying its meaning: one, a universal tale about art and the progress of mankind (in London), and another, a local and nationalistic one (in Athens).
Their website asserts that there is a positive benefit to the Marbles’ being kept disunited:
The Trustees of the British Museum believe that there’s a great public benefit to seeing the sculptures within the context of the world collection of the British Museum, in order to deepen our understanding of their significance within world cultural history. . . . Both museums together allow the fullest appreciation of the meaning and importance of the Parthenon sculptures and maximise the number of people that can appreciate them.
This is a “world cultural history” that is strangely outside of time. Cultural history somehow exists apart from human history —the history of the museum itself, of the struggle between the British Museum and the Louvre for imperial conquest, how Nelson’s victory over Napoleon’s fleet in the Battle of the Nile triggered events that brought the Rosetta stone to English shores, and arguably the Younger Memnon of Shelley’s Ozymandias fame, and Elgin’s collection of Marbles. And how the Marbles were wrenched from their centuries as children of “slow time” back into the tides of politics and history of human generations with Elgin’s removal.
How is it the best thing is to keep the two groups of Marbles from the monument forever asunder, even Athena’s torso and her right breast? This would certainly seem to go against the perception of the original Select Committee that understood their value was in the collection’s being kept whole—one presumes that had Elgin removed all the surviving sculpture, this would have simply strengthened their belief that
this Collection, if divided, [would be] but little adapted to serve for the decoration of private houses. It should therefore be considered as forming a Whole, and should unquestionably be kept entire as a School of Art, and a Study for the formation of Artists.
The Marbles in the Duveen Gallery do tell a story, a very human story about “world cultural history,” but perhaps it is not the story the Museum thinks that they do.
Begging the Question. I have had the opportunity, since beginning this essay in Greece’s pandemic lockdown, to visit the Marbles both in Athens and in London several times. When the Duveen Gallery was open (it was closed for “refurbishment” at least once when I went by, due to a persistently leaking roof), I was again able to wander up and down this elegant grey hall, admiring its perfect Periclean proportions.
Next to the Duveen Gallery (Room 18) is a sort of side gallery, 18a and 18b, which displayed a timeline of the Athenian Acropolis throughout its history. There hung the painting of the Temporary Elgin Room, and along a wall ran plaster casts of elements of the missing western frieze, which you could touch. At one end hulked an enormous Doric column capital coming up to eye level. It was with a shock I realized that this is original to the Parthenon, the very column capital removed by Lusieri, a thing so large it had to be sawn in half to get it through the garrison gates of the Acropolis.
Elgin’s removals of the Marbles featured as a little blip on the Acropolis timeline, at 1801, where, somewhat to my astonishment, I read,
1801 Lord Elgin acquires sculptures from the Parthenon. The Ottoman Sultan grants permission for Elgin to remove sculptures from the Parthenon and other ancient buildings.
There are good and persuasive points to be made about the legality of Elgin’s actions—the firman to ship the Marbles argues for at least ex post facto legitimacy. But not even Lord Elgin would thus beg the question.
In 1811, Elgin, who ran into bureaucratic trouble selling the Marbles, approached Robert Adair, who had been head of the British delegation at the Sublime Porte in 1808–1810.
Adair writes to Elgin, on July 31, 1811:
In answer to your Lordship’s enquiry . . . I was directed by the Sec(retary) of State for foreign affairs to apply to the Turkish government, I have to inform your Lordship that Mr Pisani more than once assured me that the Porte absolutely denied your having any property in those marbles. By this expression I understood the Porte to mean that the persons who had sold the marbles to your Lordship had no right so to dispose of them.
(Pisani, you might remember, is the interpreter at the British Embassy in Constantinople who negotiated the original firman in 1801.)
Paradoxically, Elgin will use this argument—that the Sublime Porte denied that Athenian authorities had the right to dispose of the Marbles—in a letter to then Prime Minister Perceval on the very same day, in order to clear himself of the charge of having received undue favors from Constantinople. (Having become Ambassador to the Sublime Porte in the wake of the 1798 Battle of the Nile, Elgin was open to charges of having leveraged his official position in light of warming British-Ottoman relations.)
I had no advantage from the Turkish government beyond the Firman given equally to other English travellers. My successors in the Embassy could not obtain permission for the removal of what I had not myself taken away. And on Mr Adair’s being officially instructed to apply in my favour, he understood, “The Porte denied that the persons who had sold those marbles to me had any right to dispose of them.”
In his own defense, Elgin baldly states in this letter that the firman his agents handed to the Voivode and Disdar in Athens did not give them permissions further than other English travellers; that is, the standard permission to draw and model the Marbles.
A Breakthrough? There was a period when Greece was not overly exercised about official “ownership” of the Marbles. (This has returned to “red line” status for a Greek government facing elections.) In 2001, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos suggested that the Marbles—or even some of them (“qualche”?)—could be returned as a short-term loan for the 2004 Olympics: “We are not interested in the legal form of an agreement. The form of ownership is not important to us. In principle, we would not exclude anything from the discussion.” In return, Greece would fill the Duveen Gallery for that period with newly discovered objects and statues uncovered during the Athens Metro construction. When this was rebuffed, Venizelos proposed in 2002 to Sir John Boyd, then Chairman of the British Museum’s Board of Trustees, that the Marbles might be returned on a long loan, to a new museum, and that the gallery could be considered an “annex of the British Museum.” The Duveen Gallery would again be filled with treasures. Having long been told, also, that the Marbles in the British Museum cannot be separately loaned out, Greece was startled to learn of a short-term loan of the river god Ilissos to the Hermitage in 2014. (The statue—the one Seferis used to rush out of Hampstead flat to visit—was spirited away in secret.)
It is easy to forget that several times such a breakthrough has almost happened. At first, when Greece became a free nation, British authorities sent back many pieces of assorted ancient buildings of Athens taken by Lord Elgin’s agents “to secure, at the foundation of the new nation state, the goodwill built up by British support during the Revolution.” In 1941, to encourage Greece’s wartime resistance, a draft was prepared by the British Foreign Office regarding a scheme “to return to Greece [after the war, and providing a new museum was built for them] the Elgin Marbles, including the Caryatid and the Column from the Erechtheum.” In 1982, talks were on the brink of a breakthrough when Mercouri’s campaign seems to have overshadowed or possibly derailed them. And in 1994, Greece evidently considered “agreeing to the low profile return of certain free-standing figures from the Parthenon rather than continue to press for the return of all fragments of the frieze.”
In 2021, to mark the bicentennial of the start of the Greek War of Independence, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had again asked for the “temporary repatriation” of the sculptures; in return, Greece would send objects to the Duveen Gallery that had never before left Greece. The response of then Prime Minister Boris Johnson (an advocate of reunification in his Oxford Union days) was that the Marbles were legally acquired and owned by the British Museum. Currently, though, serious talks are underway. George Osborne, the current Chair of the British Museum Board of Trustees, has evidently been in conversation with the highest authorities in Athens about a potential “Parthenon partnership”; a breakthrough seems more tantalizingly imminent now than ever.
Room 19. What I have not been able to visit since the start of the pandemic is the British Museum’s Caryatid; Room 19 has remained closed during my visits. (According to their website, it is now open again.) But I have been able to visit her on Google Street View. She is displayed two rooms away from the Duveen Gallery, a reminder that not all “Elgin” Marbles are Parthenon Marbles. She stands alone, wedged under a low ceiling beam modeled to suggest the Erechtheion’s entablature, in a corner in a room that contains, among other fifth-century Athenian artefacts, ornaments and architectural elements from buildings on the Acropolis, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Nike. (In 1834, when Greece suggested some of the pieces of the Nike Temple be returned to be used toward reconstruction of the building, British authorities refused.)
Even in Google Street View, one can zoom in on the wall label (a caption sometimes called in curatorial parlance a “tombstone”) which, like others in the Museum, is pitched so that rhetoric against the Marbles’ return is presented subtly woven in with neutral information:
The Caryatid came to the British Museum in 1816 with Lord Elgin’s other marbles. Her sisters, much corroded after nearly two more centuries of weathering, were removed from the building in 1978. They can now be seen in the Acropolis Museum.
I marvel somewhat at this sentence: the Caryatid “came,” as if of her own accord. The “other marbles” points to the difficulty, ultimately, with either the term “Elgin” or “Parthenon” Marbles—she is not, after all, of the Parthenon, though she was certainly removed by Elgin’s agents from the Acropolis. Like her “sisters,” it points out, she is in a museum, (and thus cannot be “returned” to the building.) The Museum, as nearly everyone does, gives the statue gendered she/her pronouns. The unsaid here is that the chaste maiden has been rescued (rather than abducted or ravished, the opposing rhetorical flourish) from the corruption—moral perhaps as well as physical?—of remaining for another two centuries in Athens.
Certainly her sisters have been through things she has not—further vandalism by visitors, two brutal sieges, during which the Erechtheion was materially damaged, and German occupation, as well as the acidic pollution that, in the 1970s, began to turn their marble surfaces to friable gypsum. (During my first visit to Athens as a student in 1988, I saw, in the old museum atop the Acropolis, two of the Caryatids placed in sealed cases filled with inert gasses, designed to stabilize their surface.)
But she is also an architectural element, not a purely decorative one, and while elegant sculptures as individuals and charming as a group, the “stone sorority” represents no Phidian frieze of inestimable artistic value. What is the reason, then, for keeping her? Does she inspire artists? Does anyone miss her in the Duveen Gallery? Does anyone seek her out there in Room 19?
Even the British Museum cannot help but anthropomorphize her and her sisters, a family group.
“Scattered to the Light”: The lone Caryatid continues to inspire contemporary Greek poets and poems, such as Anna Griva’s (b. 1985) “Caryatids.” Griva inverts many of the expectations of a Greek (and especially a Greek woman) poet contemplating the Caryatid standing in the British Museum and brings in some of the contemporary concerns of Greece as a locus of immigration and asylum seeking. It begins:
My friend Maria
came here from the Congo ten years ago.
Her sisters remained back in their country.
She is homesick for them and talks constantly
about their games and their laughter
back when they would run barefoot through the jungle
and gathered fruits of all different colors.
Maria dreams of the day when she will return there.
“I am like that Caryatid of yours, the one in exile,”
she said to me one day, and this comparison
struck me as strange.
How did a statue
become a symbol of displacement?
How did it become a sisterly memory?
How did it define
beyond borders and languages,
the longing for home?
I think one of the many small, carefully calibrated shocks of juxtaposition the poem performs is inverting the expectations not only of the speaker but of the reader, especially in a Greek poem, with such a title, that it is not a Greek identifying with the statue, wrenched from her sisters, alone in a foreign clime, but an asylum seeker in exile in Greece, parted from her own sisters in Africa.
We might brace ourselves for some comment on the whiteness of the Marbles, or the contrast of dark skin and white marble, but Griva foils this expectation—the word “white” never enters the poem, which instead contains many-colored fruits against the hint of green jungle, although there is a suggestion perhaps of paleness in “pearls.” Instead the marble’s hardness and sparkle, but ultimately also its vulnerability, become the focus. The poem continues:
A girl who lives all by herself
in a strange place
wants to show she is stone,
But it takes only a blow
to turn it into fragments,
scattered to the light.
The girl tries to become stone, but the stone, subject to breaking, proves itself organic (the contrasted smooth, soft glow of pearls, which might suggest laughter—the pearls in a smile—or the roundness of tears).
The end makes me think of Winckelmann’s assertion about beauty and whiteness, “the colour which reflects the greatest number of rays of light.” Here, instead, it is beauty itself that, scattered to the light, glows. The sisters, too, are one beauty, a string of pearls, scattered by the exigence of migration.
The association of the Marbles with exile and refugees, so topical here, turns out to be an old one.
Would It Be Permissible to Speak of a Caryatid? The Select Committee’s recommendation to Parliament was to purchase the Marbles, albeit at the fire-sale rate of £35,000, less than half the asking price; in today’s money, this is about three million pounds, which wouldn’t buy much in today’s inflated art market, not even a corner of an old master.
At the time, however, even this low price was controversial: Parliament was contending with failing harvests, a bread shortage, and public unrest. The eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora beginning in April of 1815, the largest volcanic eruption in human history (10 times more powerful than the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa) had thrown up enough dust and ash into the atmosphere to lower the global temperature and bring on “incessant rain,” in Mary Shelley’s phrase, in northern Europe; 1816 became known as the “year without a summer.” (The hazy yellow skies of that period inspired the impressionistic landscape canvases of J. M. W. Turner; Mary Shelley began Frankenstein during that cold, damp summer in Geneva.)
And there were the pensions of military veterans to pay from the recent Napoleonic wars. A famous cartoon of the time by George Cruikshank has John Bull buying stones instead of bread. Lord Castlereagh is shown against a background of broken statues, “Here’s a Bargain for you Johnny! Only £35,000!! . . . Never think of Bread when you can have Stones so wondrous Cheap!”
In the end, Elgin never even got hold of the sum; it was seized by his creditors. Elgin, ruined in more ways than one, fled to France to escape his debts and would die in Paris in 1841.
The Committee writes in its recommendation:
In contemplating the importance and splendor to which so small a republic as Athens rose . . . it is impossible to overlook how transient the memory and fame of extended empires, and of mighty conquerors are, in comparison of those who have rendered inconsiderable states eminent, and immortalized their own names by these pursuits. But if it be true, as we learn from history and experience, that free governments afford a soil most suitable to the production of native talent . . . no country can be better adapted than our own to afford an honourable asylum to these monuments of the school of Phidias, and of the administration of Pericles; where secure from further injury and degradation, they may receive that admiration and homage to which they are entitled, and serve in return as models and examples to those, who by knowing how to revere and appreciate them, may learn first to imitate, and ultimately to rival them.
Haydon, though nobody had asked him, would have approved this sentiment, that ultimately it is the poets and the artists who raise a country to greatness.
I am struck by the word “asylum,” as if the sculptures were human refugees, fleeing an unsafe country, and granted protected residence until such time, perhaps, as it is safe to return. It is a Greek word, much associated with Athens and her temples through the Athenian playwrights; Aeschylus’ Suppliant Women could as easily be translated The Female Asylum Seekers. The meaning of “asylum” was that, once inside a temple’s precincts, the asylum seeker could not be seized. Asylum meant “inviolable,” “without right of seizure.” To violate this right was sacrilege.
I am also struck by the word “serve”—as with refugees today, the sculptures are expected, in return for their safety, to express their gratitude, to be useful to their new society. This, I think, they have been, inspiring, especially in the scandal and excitement of their first arrival, poets and painters, sculptors and novelists. London itself was changed, both by the Parthenon and its several sculptures, as architects were inspired by drawings of and sometimes visits to the Temple, as well as casts and the originals of the Marbles: Neoclassical façades, columns and pediments, unlikely friezes, sturdy Caryatids are seemingly everywhere once you start to look.
In fact, of course, the Marbles cannot be returned to the nation of Greece. Greece, which recently celebrated its 200th birthday in 2021—1821 marked the beginning of the War of Independence—has never had custody of them. What a grand, brave, celebrated gesture giving them to Greece as a present would have been and could still be. What a stroke of brilliance in diplomacy and public relations for post-Brexit Britain.
Perhaps, after their 200 years of service to the British public, it is time to let the Marbles go. For 200 years, seven to eight generations, London has had possession of them. This is a good, long time—a dizzying leap into the future from the point of view of young Keats, almost twice as far from him as Morosini’s explosion was to Elgin.
But should it last forever? During the original House of Commons debate, the MP Hugh Hammersley had proposed an amendment that, although it was not adopted, looked forward to a time when the nation of Greece might come into being. It continues to resonate:
Great Britain holds these marbles only in trust till they are demanded by the present, or any future, possessors of the city of Athens; and upon such demand, engages, without question or negociation, to restore them, as far as can be effected, to the places from whence they were taken, and that they shall be in the mean time carefully preserved in the British Museum.
Even the Committee was awed by the vicissitudes of time—nations rise and empires fall. In the space of the Marbles’ sojourn in Britain, world wars and civil wars and cold wars have been fought. Britain has obtained a lease for Hong Kong, and that lease has expired. Species and glaciers have disappeared, new diseases have come into being. When old age shall this generation waste, they shall remain, in midst of other woe than ours . . . The challenges that will face us in the next century, much less the next two centuries, of climate chaos will be staggering and unlike anything the human race has faced before. Are we to say that never—never—will the Marbles be again seen in their birthplace? This strikes me both as hubristic and depressing.
The seagoing nations of Greece and Britain are on more of an equal footing now than ever before and retain close and friendly ties. But what better way for a post-Brexit Britain to display large-mindedness, its good faith, generosity, its participation in the brotherhood of nations, to recall its position as foremost among the liberty-loving philhellenes than this magnificent gesture? Far from breathing fire, one of Greece’s recent slogans about the Marbles has been simply “Why not?” And I think that is the question. Why not let this collection return to the city of its birth, to reengage with the monument and the rock from which it was taken? The purposes for which Parliament purchased them from Elgin have been fulfilled—they have inspired, they have taught, they have been preserved from the shadow of destruction.
But I think the debate about the fate of the Marbles is not ultimately between Greece and Britain; from the start it was really between Britain and itself, something to take up with its own conscience. This has always been the case, from the very beginning, where it is English travellers, British (and Irish) writers and poets and artists and architects, who set the terms of this debate, a case perhaps in which the poets really are “unacknowledged legislators,” in Percy Shelley’s phrase. Greece cannot compel the Marbles be returned, nor I think ultimately would it want to. It would like these to be regifted out of a spirit of generosity and like-mindedness, not grudgingly and unwillingly. A sacrifice, such as the ones that the pious people on the frieze are going to, emptying their town, must be voluntary and joyful.
I am reminded that just as “frieze” in English feels frigid and static, and “zoophoros” in Greek, vivid and animated, so the English “statue” comes from the Latin “stare”—to stand; a stiff, rigid word, it is etymologically kin to “status quo” and “statute of limitations.” Whereas “agalma,” the Greek word for statue (the modern word is unchanged from the ancient one, the one used by Socrates) instead means “that wherein one delights, a glory, delight, ornament: a pleasing gift, especially for the gods.”
As of this writing, change seems to be afoot. An advisory body called the Parthenon Project (parthenonproject.co.uk), founded by Greek business man John Lefas, chaired by a former UK Culture Minister, Lord Ed Vaizey, and including in its membership conservative peers (as well as the actor, writer and activist Stephen Fry and honorary Greek citizen novelist Victoria Hislop), aims to change the conversation and arrive at a “win-win” solution to this intransigent debate. Deputy Director of the British Museum Jonathan Williams also wants to “change the temperature.” In Greece, too, there is hope that King Charles III as a philhellene (and himself half-Greek by birth) might have a role to play. Someday, I would like to believe, the Marbles will be reunited in Athens. It will happen.
If so, what “story” will the Duveen Gallery tell? For a while I think there should be an exhibit that tells its own story, a story that is intricately woven with British history and identity and British letters: it should be the story of Keats and Byron and Park Lane and boxing, of the shipwreck of the Mentor, which underwater archaeologists continue to excavate, discovering new finds. It should be the story of Lord and Lady Elgin and of the firman—the Italian summary copy of which is now owned by the Museum. It should be the story of other things that Elgin took from Greece—altars and medals and the bronze burial bowl and gold myrtle branch rumored to be from the tomb of Aspasia. Many of these objects are in the British Museum already but stored in basements and not on display. Perhaps the Getty would lend the marble “Elgin Throne,” an object wrenched from the little Russian church on Philhellenon Street. Maybe the Vatican would lend the Apollo Belvedere, whose stock has come so far down in the world since it was reckoned the most beautiful statue in existence. It will contain Haydon’s famous sketches of the horse head of Selene, which the Museum owns, and early plaster casts of the Marbles themselves. There is even a consortium that aims to carve exact replicas in Pentelic marble using 3-D machining devices. These exact marble copies could be exhibited in the gallery with a light display suggesting all their glorious original color, along with Alma-Tadema’s popular and once controversial painting. It should be the story of British travellers and their reactions, and of the artist G. B. Lusieri, a better painter than Benjamin Haydon, many of whose extant exquisite paintings and sketches are in the National Galleries of Scotland or still owned by Broomhall, Elgin’s estate. It should be the story of the dodgy art dealer cum misguided philanthropist Duveen, yes, and the cleaning—with the copper tools on display. It should be the story of Virginia Woolf and her lifelong interest in both the Marbles and the Parthenon. It should be the story of the Turkish traveller, Evliya Çelebi, and his travel book. And it should be the story of Greeks, and their responses, in literature, politics, and art. The Acropolis Museum, likewise, might enrich its exhibits with the history of the Parthenon post-Pericles, as church and mosque and fortress, and of the Acropolis, once crowned with a Frankish tower, Ottoman houses, and a minaret.
Why not reunite the Marbles? And if so, why not now? Perhaps the idea just takes some adjusting to. Maybe start with a single step.
In the gallery at the new Acropolis Museum, earlier proposals had left the spaces for the “lost Marbles” empty, or marked by veils or curtains, but this was thought to be a rhetorical step too far, too “emotive,” too histrionic, too shrill. The rhetoric of the naked white casts is now left to speak for itself, as are the ongoing reconstructions on the Temple above, which continues to repair the main damage of Morosini, while marks of other man-made destruction are left in evidence.
But it is a different case with the five sisters, the “fat Maidens,” as Virginia Woolf wrote of them in her journal, admiring their vigor and strength. The five remaining Caryatids, removed from the Erechtheion in 1979 to protect them from acid rain (six exact concrete replicas now support the porch) are situated in a mezzanine of the Museum, in a large space. Over their heads is only the lightness of air—their stoic days of holding up are over. They stand in such a way that it is as easy to view them from the back as from the front, each sporting her matching yet unique intricate hairdo, the thickness of their tresses a way of buttressing the load-bearing neck. They were recently cleaned with lasers, so that no material touched the stone; the process was done transparently, during visiting hours, in full view of the curious public. Their missing sister is not represented by a plaster cast, she is not represented at all.
There is just an empty pedestal, waiting for her.
 Vassilis Lambropoulos, “Unbuilding the Acropolis in Greek Literature,” Classics and National Cultures, ed. by Susan A. Stephens and Phiroze Vasunia (Oxford, 2010).
 George Seferis, “Letter to a Foreign Friend,” trans. by Nanos Valaorites and appended by Edmund Keeley, Poetry, 105:1 (Oct. 1964), pp. 50–59.
 In one of the many Marbles coincidences, the “maid of Athens” is supposed to be about Teresa Makri, the sister-in-law of Kyriakos Pittakis.
 Duncan Howitt-Marshall, “New Charities Act May Compel Museums to Return Cultural Artifacts,” Greece Is, September 29, 2022.
 William St. Clair, Who Saved the Parthenon? (Cambridge, 2022).
 Aubrey Thomas de Vere, Picturesque Sketches of Greece and Turkey, Vol. 1 (London, 1850).
 Robin Osborne, “The Viewing and Obscuring of the Parthenon Frieze,” The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 107, 1987, pp. 98–105.
 On March 24, 2023, the Acropolis Museum repatriated three Parthenon fragments returned by the Vatican Museums.
 John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” stanza 1: “Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, / Thou foster-child of silence and slow time . . .”
 Theodore Theodorou, “Robert Adair’s Letter to Elgin,” with a draft of the letter trans. by Leonora Navari. First published in Greek in Ta Istorika, 20, Athens, 2003, pp. 509–517. http://www.adairtoelgin.com/
 William St. Clair, Who Saved the Parthenon? (Cambridge, 2022).
 British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. “Position of the Foreign Office in 1941,” Appendix 1: The Foreign Office recommendations, 2001.
 Martin Bailey, “Declassified Documents Reveal Near Return of Elgin Marbles,” The Art Newspaper, January 31, 2000.
 William St. Clair, Who Saved the Parthenon? (Cambridge, 2022).
 Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford, 1940).
 Bafflingly, the British Museum did not give permission to the consortium to take measurements and gave no reason (at the time) for their refusal. Later, they claimed a backlog.