Elgin Marbles

Should the UK hand over the Elgin Marbles to Greece?

There is growing pressure on the British Museum in London to send the Elgin Marbles back to Athens in what would be a historic move. For two hundred years, the museum has owned and displayed two-hundred sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon – a temple built 2,500 years ago at the height of ancient Greek power, dedicated to the goddess Athena.

Today, if you get to visit the Parthenon in the Greek capital Athens, it’s very much a shadow of its former self. But then this iconic monument has experienced a rocky and turbulent history. Originally, it was a huge temple and strong-walled treasury for the ancient Greeks in the fifty century BC.

Later, when Athens became part of the Roman Empire, the Parthenon transformed into a church in the sixth century AD when the Romans converted to Christianity. Incredibly, this involved adding a bell tower to the temple.

In the 15th century, Greece was invaded by the Ottoman Empire – a Turkic and Muslim kingdom that came to dominate eastern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East for centuries. The Parthenon was changed into a mosque and the bell tower extended to become a minaret. Yet despite all this, the Parthenon was surprisingly intact as it marked two thousand years of existence.

But then disaster struck. In 1687, the Ottomans were at war with Venice – which was then an independent country. In the film below, I detail what happened to the Parthenon. Bit of a spoiler but basically, it was left in the condition you see today. If you think the Parthenon collapsed thousands of years ago, think again. It was wrecked just 340 years ago.

Semi-demolished and unloved, the Parthenon was looted for building material. A fate shared by many ancient buildings at a time before tourism and the notion of conservation. But in the 18th century, wealthy, intellectual Britons took a growing interest in the classical past. They made a beeline for Rome and Athens undertaking what became known as the “Grand Tour”.

DISCOVER: London’s great plague in 1665

Meanwhile in the Ottoman capital Constantinople, the British ambassador was a member of the British nobility called Thomas Bruce – though you know him as Lord Elgin. Initially he sent a team to make drawings and casts of the Parthenon friezes but this somehow developed into the removal of half the Parthenon sculptures. What came to be known – notoriously – as the Elgin Marbles were then shipped to London.

I’ve looked back at newspaper commentary from Elgin’s lifetime and his lordship had plenty of critics. Although you get the impression that some of his critics were jealous they hadn’t got there first. However, Elgin’s claim that he had the approval of the Ottoman authorities to remove the marbles from the Parthenon and ship them off was greeted with scepticism – even in parliament.

One report in The Times on June 8, 1816, covers a debate in parliament where Elgin’s version of events was derided. His argument that he was rescuing the marbles from the Parthenon was rubbished. It was said that he had been given permission to “view” and “contemplate” the sculptures – not to pull them down and ship them off.

What should have happened ideally was that the Ottomans – referred to as Turks in this parliamentary debate – could have been taught to value these monuments as opposed to having them whipped away by Elgin. Parliament viewed Elgin’s conduct – especially in his role as an ambassador – as thoroughly inappropriate. Here is an excerpt from that 1816 newspaper article.

Elgin claimed to have spent something like 74,000 pounds to secure the marbles from the Parthenon. A select committee of the House of Commons looked into the whole affair in 1816 and decided to offer Elgin under half that amount to buy the marbles for the nation.

The committee sympathised with the argument that Elgin had “saved” the marbles, declaring they would have been destroyed over time by the “apathy of the Turks” and “barbarous violence” by passing travellers carrying off fragments. But the sympathy didn’t extend to given Elgin what he was demanding financially. There’s a constant inference – to be blunt – that Elgin was a bit of a chancer and a man in public office who was lining his pockets.

Coronavirus – lessons of past plagues

Coronavirus has been a huge shock. But history is brimming with pandemics and plagues. So, what can we learn from them?

Here’s the bad news first.

Diseases like Coronavirus have an amazingly long history

Viruses have been part of our evolutionary history since we stood on two feet and spread out of Africa. Viruses are not strangers – they have been with us for millions of years – and more than likely, will be with us forever.

Coronavirus isn’t a wholly new phenomenon or a moral judgment on our species – as some seem to suggest (on Twitter for example) – it’s just the latest manifestation of a long running phenomenon.

Here’s the really freaky thing – because of the way in which viruses hijack our cells and mess us up – they have probably played a role in our evolution as a species. So close is our relationship to viruses, that they could even be manipulated in the future to cure cancer or genetic disorders. Small comfort now.

But while the Coronavirus is taking a terrible toll – we could one day harness viruses to be a force for good. Basically instructing a virus to do something useful in our bodies instead of harming us. That’s the science of tomorrow – so what about the impact viruses have had on us in history.

Ancient Greek history – disease with a Coronavirus like impact

A catastrophe like a plague can be absorbed by a civilisation in otherwise robust health. But at a critical moment, it can have a devastating impact. The trouble is – pandemics in history often seem to occur when or because of a broader crisis. So – we know that ancient Athens was racked by plague in 430BC at the height of the Peloponessian War – which killed the great Greek leader and statesman Pericles.

Pericles – died of plague

Plague after plague in the Roman Empire

History shows us that the greatest empire of them all could succumb to the equivalent of Coronavirus and its might and majesty provided no cure.

The Roman Empire saw two huge plagues at turning points in its history. The Antonine plague of the second century AD came at the end of a period of relative stability but now the eastern frontier with Persia was becoming increasingly problematic. And it’s possible that returning soldiers from those battlefields brought the disease back into the heart of Rome.

In the following century, the Plague of Cyprian (recorded by a bishop called Cyprian) bore all the hallmarks of an influenza-driven pandemic. Cyprian wrote about fevers, the passing of blood and aching limbs. When all factors are taken into consideration, it seems the Romans at that time succumbed to an Ebola type of disease. It came at a time when the empire was divided and at war on many fronts – when its usual reserves of vitality were severely depleted.

Spanish Flu – a Coronavirus type pandemic in history

Today in 2020, the British prime minister Boris Johnson contracted the Coronavirus. But he’s not the first leader of the United Kingdom to have fallen victim to a pandemic. In 1918, the news was hushed up that the then Prime Minister Lloyd George – who had just led the country to victory in World War One – had contracted the deadly Spanish Flu.

I was never told about this studying the “Great War” as a child in the 1970s. Britain had just beaten Germany after a four year war and the establishment didn’t want anybody to know that the Prime Minister was flat on his back in bed attached to a ventilator. Ironically, he may have picked up this disease during the many celebrations at the end of the war. And tragically, the Spanish Flu ended up killing more people than died in the trenches.

David Lloyd George – British leader who got deadly flu

The tragedy of HIV/AIDS

The societal impact of a virus can ultimately be positive despite the terrible human cost. HIV/AIDS was an appalling illness that ripped through the gay community in the 1980s. I knew two men who died of AIDS and that was immensely tragic. But the virus forced gay identity to the top of the media agenda. Initially that was a negative. Gay people were accused of spreading a plague.

But within the gay community it built a gritty determination and anger to break through and demand tolerance and acceptance. And among the wider population, gay people went from largely invisible to highly visible. Families were forced to realise that a son, father or cousin was gay – because they finally had the courage to come out.

The Coronavirus has up-ended our lives. There’s already a mass of academic content on how things will be different. The state looks set to play a bigger role. Populism in politics will be in the dock. Experts may come back into fashion. And so on. Let’s see!

Lizard people – our reptilian overlords

Of all the strange conspiracy theories that bedevil our time – the idea that we’re being ruled by lizard people has to be the oddest.

An article in The Atlantic in 2013 estimated that 12 million people in the United States believe that lizard people run their country. That’s small beer compared to the 66 million who think that aliens landed at Roswell in 1948. But it’s still a very significant number.

Lizard people and David Icke

Conspiracy theorist David Icke has been a leading proponent of the idea that reptiles have gained access to the levers of power. The Icke sympathetic ufochick.com site explains how lizards can take over human bodies with compatible DNA.

They have apparently been doing this for centuries targeting people in positions of power – who then intermarry to preserve the reptilian bloodline.

Apparently, lizards might also go for humans who “live in a state of negativity, fear, anger, violence, aggression and or abuse of drugs or sex”. A form of invisible grooming takes place to lower the individual’s guard.

This allows the lizard to “hop into the human energy field” manipulating the subject’s emotional state to change their “vibrational energy”, which allows the lizard to mount a full takeover.

Lizard people – aliens breeding with humans!

Lizard people theorists seem keen to emphasise that they are not talking about shape shifting. It’s something way more subtle and long established. Icke claims that reptiles came from the constellations of Orion, Sirius and Draco and interbred with humans long ago – though not physically. They did it by altering human DNA.

Basically, to put it crudely, there’s a bit of lizard in all our brains but not all of us have embraced our inner reptile. You can tell those who have by certain traits such as eye colour, scars, mannerisms, etc.

Anyway, that’s the theory in a nutshell.  There are, needless to say, some famous lizards in human guise. Queen Elizabeth II is one. Several US presidents. Global corporate executives. And…of course….the Illuminati and Freemasons.

Lizard people in history

Reptiles as super-powerful people and deities is a recurring theme in many mythologies throughout history.  For example, Kekrops – the founder of the city of Athens – was reputedly half-man and half-snake. He established the cult of the goddess Athena and dedicated her shrine on the Acropolis.

Another half-man, half-snake was Fu Xi, the first mythological emperor of China. He was also the creator of mankind. After a huge flood, Fu Xi and his wife Nu Wa – who were brother and sister – married and repopulated the planet. Both had snake bodies.

The name of Fu Xi’s wife Nu Wa is similar to Noah and some have wondered whether the flood story was shared between China and the Hebrews. Anyway, the bit that should interest us is that this couple, our common ancestors, were 50% reptile. And the idea of reptile gods recurs in many cultures from the ancient Egyptians to the Aztecs.

DISCOVER: The history of Exorcism!

Madame Blavatsky and her theory on lizard people

In the 19th century, the mystic Elena Petrovna Blavatsky – known commonly as “Madame Blavatsky” – claimed knowledge of a long lost land called Lemuria. The Lemurian culture had existed 14,000 years ago and the Lemurian people were a race that could lay eggs, had psychic powers and were bisexual. They were wiped out by a huge catastrophe that also engulfed Atlantis.

In 1983, the notion of reptiles from another galaxy coming to Earth and taking over humans was popularised in the science fiction series V.  The “visitors” claim to come in peace but a small band of plucky humans see through their lies and heroically resist. V was remade in 2009 though failed to make the same impact the original series did in the 1980s.

Social media has heralded a revival in lizard people theory

Today, largely thanks to social media, we are witnessing a surge in the belief that lizard people run our society. A few years ago, I found myself arguing with somebody convinced that a well known celebrity was a lizard because their eyes flickered “unnaturally” in a YouTube video. I tried to explain the concept of pixelation but got nowhere.

I can only conjecture that as people feel less in control of their surroundings and lives, theories that claim alien reptiles are running the show seem increasingly plausible.