YOU have heard of losing your marbles – well, Britain might be about to experience that for real.
We face having to return the Elgin Marbles — the collection of sculptures originally created by the ancient Greek architect Phidias and his assistants — under a free trade deal with the EU.
Greece, which has long demanded we give these treasures up, has insisted a clause about their return be inserted into any agreement.
If you have ever seen the Elgin Marbles, you will understand what all the fuss is about. They are simply stunning.
It’s no wonder that the Greeks want them to be returned to Athens while we want to keep them.
They are on display for free in the British Museum, and I would urge you to pay them a visit.
You cannot help but be moved by the amazing level of craftsmanship and imagination embodied in them.
Created nearly 2,500 years ago in ancient Athens, they were part of a temple called the Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess Athena.
The outstanding sculptures depict, in expressive detail, rippling muscles, bulging veins, fluttering robes, the flaring nostrils of horses and the upward swing of a bull’s head in a flowing, dynamic composition that reveals the extraordinary skill of their creators.
They have inspired artists in their depiction of the human and animal form since they were rediscovered in the 17th Century.
To have them here in Britain, in the care of the British Museum since 1817, is an enormous privilege, never to be taken for granted.
We are lucky that Lord Elgin found them and made a deal with the local Ottoman rulers at the time to bring so many of them back to the UK in the early 1800s.
At the time, the Parthenon was no longer the awe-inspiring temple it had been.
In fact, it had been badly damaged in an explosion in 1687, and when Lord Elgin took them, many of the marbles were little more than rubble.
Since being housed in the British Museum, among other stunning treasures from the ancient world, public understanding of their significance has grown.
They continue to inspire anyone who sees them with a sense of what human beings can achieve in the application of knowledge, imagination and skill.
The outstanding sculptures depict rippling muscles, bulging veins and fluttering robes[/caption]
At the British Museum, which is legally obliged to care for them in perpetuity, they can be visited and studied by adults, children and young people from all over the country.
Not all of us will be lucky enough to travel to Greece in our lifetime but your mind can wander there by seeing the Elgin Marbles in London.
And it is important that our kids continue to do this, because it opens up the history of the world and art.
It is not just Brits either. London is one of the most accessible cities in the world, easy to reach from across Europe and elsewhere.
People from around the globe visit the museum and learn what we share in common, and how humans have interpreted the world through their artefacts.
We should resist the claim that artefacts belong where they were made, not least because it denies historical truth.
Throughout history, artefacts have been traded across the world, often to the benefit of the people who created them, sometimes to their detriment. History is complicated and often not to our liking.
The Parthenon was built long before modern Greece existed — when the region was made up of warring cities divided by arid mountains.
Those who built the Parthenon had no notion of nationhood. Their concern at the time would have been to show off their city.
How proud they would have been if they could have foreseen the reverence with which their creations are held today around the world.
The fact that the DNA of their descendants is now likely to have spread worldwide only reinforces the point that the geographical origin of the Marbles carries little objective significance.
Giving in to repatriation demands will undo the real achievements of cultural history in showing that more unites us than divides us. The amazing thing about the flowering of knowledge about the world in the 17th and 18th Centuries was that it created an awareness of human potential — a sense of what we could achieve in the arts and sciences.
The Marbles symbolise this achievement — they opened up horizons and revealed new possibilities for human thought and action.
Maintaining this sense of openness remains as important now as ever.
In today’s globalised world, it’s tempting to think that people can see anything via the internet, if not physically.
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But we must fiercely guard our museum collections, which remain the most accessible way for properly engaging with history.
The Government is right to refuse to include the Elgin Marbles in any deals with the EU.
They should never be used as political capital to serve the interests of European elites.
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