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 414.

    Funny how the BBC seem very one sided about which comments they choose to show

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    406. GeoSquared
    @402. mb86The british museum has ruined the marbles by scraping them because they then thought they were meant to be white, while in fact they were made of a marble that had an yellowish tint.
    If they're ruined there's no point returning them is there? In actual fact originally they were painted to look 'real':

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    We seem to be obliged to keep lord knows how many immigrants, asylum system exploiters, foreign prisoners etc here.

    Surely we can have someone's marbles, too, if we want them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Can we have our empire back....?

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    Its good to see the BBC hasn't prejudged the issue by refering to the widely known Elgin Marbles as the Parthenon Marbles.

    I'm suprised they haven't mentioned the new vote in the Malvinas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    255.Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells
    This a great idea . .we can sell all the old masters back to their respective countries . .and all our Constables and Turners will wing their way back to us . .and then all the over paid luvvies can find some other gullible tax payers to fund their expensive lifestyle

    =>Yup and send all that gold we recently dug up back to Saxony or Rome or wherever. Nice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    I don't want to fly to Greece to show my little girl Greek history. Nor would I expect Greek people to come the UK to view art originating from the UK
    I find it hard to believe you have any genuine interest in history at all with that attitude.
    Do you realize that there is a wealth of archaeological sites in Greece? You would be viewing the marbles in real context.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    #405 and technically it was gifted to Queen Victoria by its last legal owner Duleep Singh (although you can argue how much choice he had). Equally importantly the Koh-I-Noor is a fraction of its original size and bits are in various other jewels.

    My post wasn't suggesting returning it, rather questioning 'India's' claim on it for exactly the same reasons as you do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    @402. mb86
    The british museum has ruined the marbles by scraping them because they then thought they were meant to be white, while in fact they were made of a marble that had an yellowish tint.

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    343. Peter_Sym 
    It never belonged to 'The Indians'. It belonged to the Sikhs when the Punjab was an independent state.
    It was mined in Andhra Pradesh in India. Punjab doesn't even have a diamond mine. Its chngd hands many times over. No idea who...Hindu..persian...loads more...sikh...brits. East India co. brought it to England and that's where it should stay.All these treasures r safest here!

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    //Shaunie Babes
    7 Minutes ago
    Someone with no power to return the Elgin marbles wins a debate with someone who has no ownership rights. Why is this news ?//

    Because it's in London, and of concern to luvvies, and involves Stephen Fry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    The Elgin purchase doesn't count because Greece was an occupied state? I find Fry's statement strange, Greece wasn't a nation until 1821 or so, before that it was a collection of little states or part of somebody elses empire. Are they going to ask Italy and Turkey to return their temples?

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    The British Museum has been conserving the Marbles for 200 years and should continued to do so. Remember that Greek public sector workers broke into the Acropolis as part of a protest against austerity measures in May-10;

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    Might makes right or so the doctrine goes. Everyone screamed about the US invasion of Iraq and the plundered treasures of its museums. An American tank drove right through the wall of the museum and then left. Curious no? Although much has been recovered not all. The idea that a native people are not sophisticated enough to value their own archeological heritage is rubbish. It's simply plunder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    #398 The Ottomans ruled Greece for over 500 years. Thats longer than Scotland & England have been united as the 'United Kingdom'. If the government in Westminster sells a Scottish artifact is that theft? The USA has existed for less than 300 years. Can Washington sell a native american artifact?

    Its also worth pointing out that Greece is independent because of Britain (twice, 1828 & 1944)

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    Someone with no power to return the Elgin marbles wins a debate with someone who has no ownership rights. Why is this news ?

  • 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 397.

    All museums have the artifacts of other civilisations in them.
    Elgin paid for them so Greece should pay to have them back. Crete will be a fair swap!
    Also the British Museum is free, not €5 like the Acropolis Museum.
    Hypocrisy - it is a Greek word after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    Nah, that won't happen - they'd call in the glue that is Goldman Sachs to ensure that appearances were maintained.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

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

    Not necessarily - did you know that the British Museum and many others, have more items in storage than they have on show for the public to view, due to the lack of space in the viewing areas.


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