THE ELGIN AFFAIR by Theodore Vrettos


The Abduction of Antiquity's Greatest Treasures and the Passions It Aroused
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 Less concerned with ethics than with narrative, novelist Vrettos (Lord Elgin's Lady, 1982, etc.) chronicles the odyssey of the so-called Elgin Marbles from Athens to London against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. Vrettos undermines his story's colorful firsthand material, such as diplomatic correspondence and Lady Elgin's letters, by awkwardly adding some novelistic touches with dialogue and scene- setting--superfluous in any case, for the material is colorful enough. Having survived Roman and Gothic invasions of Greece, the works of the ancient sculptor Phidias had fared badly under the Byzantines, Venetians, and Turks before Elgin, a Scottish diplomat obsessed with classical art, absconded with them in 1802. Justifying his right to their removal as negotiated with the Ottoman Porte, Lord Elgin contemptuously observed that ``modern Greeks have looked upon the superb works of Pheidias with ingratitude and indifference. They do not deserve them!'' In many ways, Elgin had more difficulty returning to England than did his loot. Caught at the outbreak of war, he was held hostage in Paris and the Pyrenees, in part because Napoleon wanted the celebrated sculptures for the Louvre. Before Elgin could arrange his return, Byron, who was to die fighting for Greek independence, castigated him as ``the last, the worst, dull spoiler'' of the Parthenon. Elgin came back to England only to find Parliament unenthusiastic about purchasing the treasures for the British Museum. He had to marshall support from the English art community while fending off bankruptcy and divorcing his long-suffering wife for adultery. But while Vrettos has a remarkable story to tell, he does not entirely unearth its characters' odd lives and complex motives. (16 pages b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-55970-386-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997