Turkey’s Latest Repatriation Demands

Turkey seems to be encouraged by its success getting the Pergamon Museum to return the Hattusas Sphinx (our initial coverage is here; I don’t think we presented any of the ‘success coverage‘ last summer) … now it’s going after something in the Victoria and Albert … from the Independent:

Turkey is demanding the return of an ancient marble head, now languishing in the stores of a London museum, which was taken from Anatolia more than a century ago.

The Turkish culture ministry has asked the Victoria and Albert Museum to return a 1,700-year-old life-sized marble carving of a child’s head, described as bearing a likeness to Eros, the Greek god of love.

Tolga Tuyluoglu, the director of Turkey’s culture and tourism office in London, said: “The Turkish ministry of culture thinks this item belongs to Turkey. We believe if an item has been removed from a country then it should be returned to the original place.”

In 1882, the archaeologist Sir Charles Wilson, then Britain’s consul-general in Anatolia, removed the head from the Sidamara Sarcophagus, a huge tomb dating from the third century, which he had excavated. The sarcophagus, which now sits in Istanbul’s Museum of Archaeology, is one of the finest and most widely known of its type and period.

Sir Charles, who served in the Royal Engineers, conducted archaeological surveys in Palestine and Lebanon before moving to Anatolia, which corresponds to most of present-day Turkey, in 1879. He removed the head from the Sidamara Sarcophagus, which he then re-covered in the hope of acquiring the whole object. The head is that of a child with curly hair looking over his shoulder. Sir Charles’s family later donated the head to the V&A, where it is held in the museum’s stores.

“It’s a complicated issue,” said Mr Tuyluoglu. “There are many agreements between the two countries. We are discussing the matter.” The Turkish government wrote to the V&A last year, Mr Tuyluoglu said, but had still not managed to acquire the object. He said the culture ministry was “working hard” for the return of such objects but denied it had been attempting to win favour with voters ahead of the country’s June general election.

The V&A’s acquisition and disposal policy states that objects can be disposed of if they are “unsuitable for retention” and if their disposal will be “without detriment to the interests of students and other members of the public”.

“There has been a request from the Turkish government,” a V&A spokeswoman said. “As a national museum the V&A is governed by UK law on disposal of objects from the collection. However, the V&A is considering the request seriously.”

A diplomatic minefield

Should Turkey’s demand for the return of the missing stone head develop into the kind of row that still surrounds the Elgin marbles, it could have broad ramifications. As Turkey seeks EU membership, co-operation in the fields of art and history is seen as a key element of diplomacy, leading the British artist Mark Wallinger to be commissioned last year to create a temporary cinema for the Turkish city of Canakkale as a symbol of goodwill. “Discussions about Turkey’s joining the EU are intense and can be fraught, but without a cultural dimension they lack depth,” the British Council’s David Codling said at the time. “The arts, in this instance, provide a forum for debate within and between countries.”

I’ve always hated when people say something is “languishing” in some storehouse … here are the definitions from Merriam-Webster:

1a : to be or become feeble, weak, or enervated b : to be or live in a state of depression or decreasing vitality
2a : to become dispirited b : to suffer neglect

3 : to assume an expression of grief or emotion appealing for sympathy

… I realize they probably mean the “to suffer neglect” thing, but I always get mind pictures of depressed statuary moping about weakly in a closet somewhere …

Gladiators and Rugby

Interesting item from the Dominion Post … I was wondering just the other day what had happened to my fellow McMaster grad Matthew Trundle:

Two thousand years after Romans flocked to big arenas to watch the gladiators, Kiwis are heading to stadiums in the hope our gladiators, the All Blacks, will win us a world title.

Two award-winning lecturers from Victoria University have decided to explore the similarities and differences of those two times and places in a two-part public lecture tomorrow.

Associate Professor of classics Matthew Trundle will look at the complex relationship Romans had with gladiators and the allure of big arena events.

Dr Trundle says a huge business sustained the arena spectacles of ancient Rome – much like rugby today. “As Rome grew and the power of Roman elites grew with it, the shows put on for the urban poor became more elaborate and bloodier. But the gladiators had a much more complex relationship with their fans than the modern-day All Blacks.

“Gladiators were the ultimate outsiders, unmentionable slaves, yet central to Roman identity. Their blood was said to cure epilepsy; their touch brought fertility.”

Associate Professor of Psychology Marc Wilson will talk about the importance of rugby to New Zealanders and speculate on what could happen if we won or lost the World Cup.

Dr Wilson says a major focus of the lecture is how these two forms of sport differ or connect.

“[Dr Trundle] would argue that they might look the same, but actually the gladiatorial games were just not about the sorts of things I think rugby is about.

“It’s a lot about religion. They weren’t put on for people, they were put on for the gods.”

Dr Wilson says rugby is central to many New Zealanders’ sense of self-worth.

“One of the reasons is that we are good at [rugby] and psychologically how we value ourselves benefits from associating ourselves with things that other people think are good.

“Therefore we get a boost to our own self-esteem from identifying with the All Blacks. Of course, the downside is that when you lose our self-esteem takes a massive blow as well.”

Circumundique~ September 4, 2011

Some items from the Classical blogosphere that caught my eye: