Cost: Free

The Spectre of Antiquarian Forgery: The Case of the Parian Chronicle

Ordinary Meeting of Fellows (Fellows and Guests Only)

"The Spectre of Antiquarian Forgery: The Case of the Parian Chronicle" Lecture by Dr Peter Nelson Lindfield FSA

Over the course of the late eighteenth century, a remarkable debate over the authenticity of the Parian Chronicle—a supposedly genuine record of Greek History included in the Arundel bequest to the University of Oxford of 1667—rumbled on. Provoked by The Parian chronicle, or, The chronicle of the Arundelian marbles, with a dissertation concerning its authenticity, a 1788 essay by Joseph Robertson (1726–1802), responses, most notably by John Hewlett, challenged Robertson’s claim that the chronicle was not from Greek antiquity but a later forgery. This debate also drew in important figures in British Antiquarianism, including Richard Gough (1735–1809), who intervened in the debate with a 152-page pamphlet in support of the artefact’s authenticity when Director of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and also Taylor Combe (1774–1826), keeper of the newly created department of antiquities at theBritish Museum, London, and later Director of the Society of Antiquaries of London. This debate over the Parian Chronicle is an important moment in eighteenth-century antiquarian study. It highlights how the authenticity of antique fragments was not given at the time, and that, crucially, not everyone could, or did, agree on how to interpret and frame such artefacts. Questioning the chronicle’s authenticity elicited significant and passionate responses.

This debate emerges at a crucial point in eighteenth-century antiquarian study: Britain and British literary and scholarly society had been rocked by the Ossian debate of 1760, and the Chatterton-Rowley debacle from a decade later in 1770, along with Chatterton’s suicide and the publication of his works from 1777. The very public argument over the authenticity of the Parian Chronicle and the consequent perceived impact that it had upon the honour and reputation of the great collector Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, who gave the Parian Chronicle as part of the Arundel Marbles to Oxford, is now almost entirely overlooked and a forgotten event in British antiquarian scholarship. Whereas the Ossian and Chatterton cases are well known beyond literary circles, the Parian Chronicle debate has lain dormant and ostensibly forgotten in modern scholarship. This talk reconstructs the Parian Chronicle debate, inserts it within the broader context of antiquarianism in eighteenth-century Britain, and capitalizes upon the recent discovery of a previously unknown and unpublished manuscript that I believe to be by Combe refuting every point in the debate advanced over the chronicle’s authenticity.

Location: Burlington House