ATHENS -- In 1801, Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin and British ambassador to Constantinople, hit upon what he considered a splendid idea.

The ancient Greek temple of the Parthenon -- perhaps the most famous building ever erected -- was decorated with a series of 17 marble figures and a 160-meter frieze depicting the ancient Greek gods and heroes. They didn't seem to be doing anybody any good at the 2,500-year-old edifice atop the Acropolis in Athens. So why not hammer them off and transport them to a place where they would be better appreciated -- that is, England's green and pleasant land?