Stephen Fry's Parthenon Marbles plea backed in debate vote

Parthenon Gallery at Athens' new Acropolis museum The Parthenon Gallery at Athens' new museum is designed to take all the Parthenon sculptures

A call backed by actor Stephen Fry for the return to Greece of the British Museum's Parthenon Marbles has come out on top in a debate held in London.

Fry said it would be a "classy" move to restore the sculptures brought to the UK by Lord Elgin in the 19th Century.

The debate, hosted by Intelligence Squared, ended with a majority for the motion of 384 to 125.

Opposing the motion, Tristram Hunt MP said the British Museum played a key role in cosmopolitan culture.

The Greeks were a proud people suffering terribly, Stephen Fry told the audience in London's Cadogan Hall, but "no matter how much the sovereign debt crisis means they owe us, we will never repay the debt that we owe Greece."

He said he revered the British Museum as "one of the great flowerings of the Enlightenment" but that returning the Marbles to Greece would be an act of "grace and decency".

He said it would be "classy" if future visitors to the British Museum could see a "Parthenon experience" including a film showing how Britain had curated the marbles "beautifully" for 200 years and then handed them over to Athens' Acropolis Museum.

Mr Hunt supported the argument advanced by the British Museum, which says there is a need for collections like its own which allows many different cultures to be compared.

The museum says the division of the sculptures between London and Athens "allows different and complementary stories to be told about the surviving sculptures, highlighting their significance within world culture and affirming the place of Ancient Greece among the great cultures of the world."

Stephen Fry Stephen Fry said he wanted Britain to show "grace and decency"

It should be a source of pride to the Greeks that the sculptures, as a symbol of Greek culture, were such an important part of the British Museum's collection where it could be compared with exhibits from other civilisations, said Mr Hunt.

He feared that restoring the Marbles could lead to a "purge" of museums in which "tit-for-tat recoveries" of objects by their countries of origin would lead to a "global loss of appreciation and understanding".

He said the Marbles had been legally acquired with a permit from the Ottoman empire and the Greek government had never challenged their ownership in an international court.

But Stephen Fry said the argument did not apply because Greece was an occupied country at the time.

Proposing the motion to send the sculptures back, Andrew George MP said it may be that Elgin helped preserve the sculptures, but that job was done now.

He said he was "appealing to Britain's better instincts" and that restoring the sculptures willingly now would be better than a "cringing climb-down" some time in the future.

The debate comes a week before an "International Colloquy" in London on the Parthenon sculptures in London, organised by the British, US and Australian committees calling for their return to Greece. Those attending will hold a "planned organized attendance" at the British Museum on 20 June.

Recordings of the debate will be broadcast on BBC World News at 09:10 and 21:10 on 23 June, and 02:10 and 15:10 on 24 June. All times GMT.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    One can plausibly argue that were it not for Lord Elgin the marbles probably wouldn't exist today. He acquired them legally and the British museum has been an admirable custodian, where they can be viewed by anyone who wishes to see them. If we were to go down this route we might as well empty the British Museum, as the queue forms for repatriation of artifacts by foreign governments. I think not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    Elgin bought these marbles from the Turkish Ottoman empire who were occupying Greece as a foreign invader. If I recieved stolen goods, I would be charged and would have to hand the goods back. Its like me selling my neighbours cherished family heirlooms to the highest bidder whilst I've got him pinned down. It's legally wrong, morally wrong and completely shameful!

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    Lord Elgin bought the marbles from what was the government of Greece at the time. Bought, not stolen; you can't sell something and still claim it's yours. End of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Well done Stephen, Now how about denuding the British Museum of all the other treasures stolen by the British Nation in their ambition to rule other nations Wont have much left to show. Oh by the way would'nt it be real classy .

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    As a constant visitor to Greece for the past 26 years, I still stand in awe of the wonders of ancient Greek architecture, particularly the superb skill of their stonemasons. I think it only fair to return these gems to their homeland. With current day technology, perfect casts could be made of them for us to retain in their present museum setting, which would not detract from their appeal..


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