“Masters” Against “Natives”: Edward Daniel Clarke and the “Theft” of the Eleusinian “Goddess”

Abstract

During his trip to Greece in 1801, Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) discovered the upper part of a marble statue which had already been mentioned in 1676 by George Wheler and which was still visible in the ruins of the Telesterion of Eleusis. With the permission of the Turkish governor of Athens, Clarke brought this sculpture to England where it is still part of the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Its acquisition was made against the will of the inhabitants of Eleusis who recognized the image of Saint Dimitra in this statue and who believed that the harvests would diminish if the sculpture was carried off. This example illustrates well the conflict between the indigenous peoples who had integrated the remains of the past into their daily life and the English “Masters” who - without compunction - followed only their own interests, without any respect for the beliefs of the locals.

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