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 174.

    The Marbles are Greek. They belong to Greece. We only accquired them through the Turks when they occupied Greece - they are no better than any piece of art looted by the Nazi's. Give them back to Greece and show some British decency.

  • 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 172.

    Here's a vote for sending them back. Arguments based on the notion that the Greeks can't be trusted to look after them are facile at best.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Skakespeare17@26, No the Museums wouldn't be empty at all. They'd be full of each countrties own historical items rather than those from everywhere else.
    Plus Museums are always 'lending' each other exhibits. Where's the problem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    We should, after secret negotiations, return them. In the negotiations we should seek something in return. We could then claim the moral high ground and appear to all the world as a country of learning and understanding. (even if we are not)

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    If we were to return everything in our museum back to its origin, there might be nothing left!

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    The British Museum has rescued and preserved so many important pieces of human history which would have otherwise been destroyed by their host nations.

    I think it would be fair to give them back but only if the Greeks at least give recompense and recognition for the hard work done by the BM in preserving them and give guarantees that the marbles will be preserved as well as they currently are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Britain and France burned down the Summer Palace in Peking and looted its treasures many of which ended up in the British Museum. The action of Britain and France was never one of preserving treasures for future generation but one of greed and showing its own people how their military can trample on another country considered weaker than they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    1. The piece were not "purchased from Greece" (Tanglesoft), they were purchased from Turkey (Ottoman Empire) who occupied Greece. So UK paid an occupier for properties of an occupied state.
    2. Throwing assumptions over what might happened to they pieces had they remained in Greece is of no consequence since they were removed. That point is moot and we'll never know the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    What, to the British (and in some cases just the English) is history, to the rest of the world is unfinished business. On such matters do much of the ills of the world draw sustenance. Too much unpicking of the past and the present falls apart. Such siren calls as those of St Stephen, however persuasive, should be resisted. The backwash of history is rarely benign.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    If like Stephen you also wish the marbles to be returned to their home you can sign an e-petition listed on the direct gov web site by clicking on the following link -

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Let's just lend them to Greece and see if they send them back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    When the Greek's are about to lease islands to China as well as selling off art from state museums to private collectors now isn't the time for this debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Actually do give a damn on this subject and concur with Mr Fry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Maybe getting them back would cheer them up a bit, after all their financial problems. I would like to see them though b4 they go!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Basically, the Greeks were as bad at business back then as they are now. They made a bad deal which they regret and are now wanting to turn the clock back, we will never get a word of thanks from them even if we did as they are so arrogant and filled with imaginary pride.

    I say keep the marbles, they werent being looked after, we bought them we've kept them safe, we deserve to keep them.

  • 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..

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    142. cheeryAllyj : You ask an interesting question; just what is it about the English that makes you feel like everyone hates you?

    Could it be an arrogance that expects the rest of the world to agree to your continued custody of other cultures masterpieces?

    (You even had a go at the Scottish! The Scottish!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    The wherabouts of some statues is not a big issue but the BBC have a HYS on it. The growing pensions crisis in the UK will be the single biggest issue in the UK in the coming years.

    We discuss trivia while disaster looms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Key point in all this, 'returning items to their country of origin'.
    Or is it a case of 'I robbed you over 'x' number of years ago'. That gives me the right to keep the things that I stole?
    Rubbish, return them and everything else stolen from other cultures, they can always be 'lent' to other Museums so people around the world get the chance to see them


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