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 394.

    384. Calum McKay
    Can the Lewis Chessmen be returned to Scotland please?
    Given that they were probably carved in Trondheim, Norway I'd be careful with that one. Lewis was ruled by the Vikings then too. Apart from being found on land that is now Scottish they're a Viking relic of Viking rule.

    You've come up with a perfect example of how tricky this sort of thing can get.

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    We should be given the rest of Parthenon as collateral on all the loans we are expected to give Greece

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    The Turks sold it to us. That must grate on the Greeks.
    Essentially we are harbouring stolen goods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    The British Museum cannot return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. Despite many people’s desire to see the Marbles returned the fallout would disastrous with museums from around the world being stripped of their artefacts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    Why do people put such weight on the word of minor celebrities from the acting world, why is his word seeming so much more worthwhile than mine, yours or the guys next door. His greatest admirer seems to be himself but other than that, who cares for one millisecond what he thinks, its entirely irrelevant

    Who is Stephen Fry? Another two bit actor, once gone who will remember him, certainly not me

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    Just give them to Greece, and then on your heads be it when the Greeks allow them to crumble to dust through neglect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    ..Stephen Fry is a pompous and arrogant fool who should retire to Norfolk, preferably to Bernard Matthew's farm along with all the other Turkeys.

    How rude - Stephen Fry happens to be a highly intelligent and very knowledgeble man and is far from being a fool. Just because you disagree with his opinion, does not mean you have to resort to insults.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    #345 says he is a member of the British museum and that the marbles were a 'gift from Byron'. Scary!

    This reference indicates what happened and Byron's thoughts on Elgin.

    'That all may learn from whence the plunderer came,
    The insulted wall sustains his hated name:'

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    While we are on the subject we also have back all the stolen figures that were looted from the West African countries...The National museum is full of artefacts that dont belong to the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    Very specious reasoning by Fry.It's not logical to return stone artifacts to their original place or country.The last wonder of the world the Great Pyramid had all its white limestone covering stolen for building.No one is asking for this to be returned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    Can the Lewis Chessmen be returned to Scotland please?

    C McK

  • 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 382.


    No,its not meant to be a record of British history, it contains and exhibits items from all over the world and always has done, where did you get such an idea, I suggest you visit their website or better still visit the museum. ITS A WORLD CLASS MUSEUM, please check first!

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    Its interesting to read how many are quite happy to keep priceless artefacts taken from others by force, or through spurious dealings with people who didn't own them.
    If the UK had been defeated by Germany and stripped off its treasures, most would have been bemoaning their loss, damning the Germans and clamouring for their return.
    Then people want the govt to be harder on criminals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Hmmm, a difficult one because where does it stop? Do we then give back the Crown jewels given how they were obtained?

    If we start this, it is a slippery-slope but I see the dilema but also the consequence - most of our museums would close.

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    There were casts made, they were located in one of the buildings belonging to St Mark and St Johns College in Chelsea and were left there, as part of a listed building, when the college relocated to Plymouth in 1973.
    The British Museum were very interested at the time as the casts were made early on, and may have contained details that were subsequently lost from the originals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    Greece is in dire straits economically, and it would show our appreciation of the peerless Greek contribution to European civilization were we to reunite the Elgin Marbles and the Parthenon. Perhaps the British Museum could start a public appeal to raise the funds to allow this to happen? They could then buy the Parthenon and erect it on Hampstead Heath.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    surely that should be Stephen Fry whines-why do we have to listen to this self apointed spokesperson give his views on anything and everything

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    311. SuperSonic4

    Perhaps a philanthropist could pay for their upkeep instead of paying tax?
    Fine idea but where does the philanthropy part kick in - are we assuming that the upkeep is considerably more than the tax bill?

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    The Marbles are in a safe place, free for anyone to see. These are not just a greek treasure, nor a british treasure - they are a european treasure. In a united Europe they ought to be revered regardless of which member state they reside. Where are the europhiles on this subject then?


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