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 194.

    Yeah - let's give them the shirts off our backs while we're on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    @Landscape27 - i doubt they could be trusted to hand back any marbles loaned to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    We have shown grace and decency by keeping the statues safe from Turks, Nazis et al for near 200 years. Arguably they do belong in Greece, but if we give them back they'll owe us a big favour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    most of the comments are fair arguments.British have protected and preserved the marbles for years..But the Parhenon marbles were not bought or acquired in any formal process as someone said in a previous comment.They were just taken when Greeks were under the ottoman empire rule and could not have reacted to this. Maybe they would have been destroyed otherwise but now need to be returned

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    I am completely against this. I'm afraid that Mr Fry has somewhat taken leave of his senses.

    Once you start down this avenue you will have other museums being forced to break up their collections.

    They're in the British Museum and that's where they should stay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Just to make it clear, the Parthenon marbles were " sold" by the ottomans and not by greeks. Greece was under ottoman rule at the time so any transaction is hardly legal. Greeks managed to preserve their heritage despite houndreds of years of foreign occupation and they only want back what left the country illegally. Like the Parthenon marbles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Le Bloke,

    You comment on Greek 'ingratitude towards their Germans paymasters'.

    Perhaps you are unaware a million Greeks were killed by Germans in the German occupation of Greece barely two generations ago. In fact, when measured as a percentage of total population, the German army harmed Greece more than any other nation during WWII.

    I'd say 'paymasters' is at best, an unfortunate word choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Greece needs all the outside assistance it can get at the moment and the return of the Marbles might well improve their economy a tad through increased tourism.
    Alternatively, we might offer Stephen Fry to the Greeks as a national treasure

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Can we have our goodies back from US and other museums even where they have legitimately paid for them? Of course not but we are not moaning....

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    As Franklin said, 'force sh*tes on the back of reason'. We took them fair and square, whether it was a by-product of "Great" Britain or not. Give the Greeks a copy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    As much as I like Stephen Fry I think he has lost the plot here. The British Museam owns them. Through purchases or conquest they are ours. Greece is in complete disaray, you think if we gifted them back to them they wouldn't sell it straight away anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    If we call it the BRITISH Museum it should house British artefacts.

    Return Greek artefacts to Greek museums.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Simply a vote between personalities; Stephen Fry versus Tristram Hunt. Little wonder the vote was in favour of Stephen Fry. Don’t we have greater problems to resolve that the situation of a few broken fragments, from broken temples, from a broken culture? Let's leave them alone and get on with something more constructive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I agree with Stephen Fry that the Elgin Marbles were unlawfully taken and should be returned to Greece, End of Story! If the English crown Jewels were taken and held in France would the English be happy, NO! We in Wales had our Gospels of Chad stolen, parts of the Mabinogion held in Oxford university & the Gold Cape of Mold which is now held by the British Museum and won’t return it to Wales!

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    19th century British went around the world invading, bully, enslaving and plundering even selling opium. The East India Company was instrumental in all of this.
    Britain was hardly the preserver of another country's cultural relics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    As an idea it's ideal; as a practicality it's un-workable. To do this, set this precedent, would likely result in a chain of claim and counter claim the only benefits of which would be lawyers.

    This also raises some interesting questions with regard to property. How can the Greeks of today have ownership of the 5c bc? The link seems tenuous to me.

  • Comment number 178.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    To be properly displayed in Greece they would need to be restored to an outdoor site in a country subject to earthquakes.Siting them in a Greek museum instead would hardly be an improvement.Why not use replica lightweight "marbles" if the need to "restore" their original situation.In reality few ancient ruins resemble their "original" state. Stonehenge is the remnants of a long series for example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    What has gone wrong with the English? Apologize for this and that, wear a hair shirt when possible, kowtow to the politically correct tyrants and bullies. I despair.

    By all means empty the museums, give Gibraltar to the Spanish with apologies and impoverished country is what you deserve and what you will get if you carry on like this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    This would be a very dangerous precedent as if the Elgin Marbles were sent back, then surely India would step up its campaign to have the Kohinoor Diamond from the crown jewels returned too.


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