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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Parthenon Marbles

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  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    You can't argue with provenance - this is cultural... it's a matter of national respect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    Anyone who has visited the Acropolis will have seen the beautiful modern museum on the same site - many of the other sculptures from the temples on the site are preserved and looked after here. The Greeks are smart enough to know that this is the best way to preserve them from atmospheric pollution. It would be a good home for the marbles...

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    Reply to 432:

    Greek Christians massively damaged the Parthenon turning into a church; the Ottomans compounded that converting it to a mosque. They then used it as a gunpowder magazine, which the Venetian navy blew up. The ruins were left to crumble.

    Elgin was no conservator, but his actions, however selfish, did save the sculpture from obliteration.

    Would it better if they'd been destroyed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    458. XJ900F
    "The biggest culteral difference that the Greeks have made to the world is the ideology of Democracy"

    As i remember my history, they also went in for slavery and voting with Hemlock. Another point is that they were recently a military dictatorsip and are unstable again. Unless the Tory party can find a buyer, I suspect they are safer here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    485 cherryismyname
    England “ruled” Ireland for much longer than the Ottomans held Greece, its only recently your Queen apologized!
    Ireland now ruled by the Irish (North&South).
    The Marbles will be repatriated and the then ruler of England will make a heartfelt apology; it’s only a matter of time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    If we return the marbles, does that mean Greece will vote for us in the Eurovision Song Contest? No, I thought not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    If a British lord had bought the Coloseum from the Germans when they occupied Rome and shipped it home would that make it rightfully British? The Greeks have built a beautiful modern museum at the Acropolis and are clearly ready to display and preserve the marbles properly. They deserve to have their ancient patrimony returned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.


    Yes - if you live in a world of conquerers and thieves, you might as well be the best one !
    I think you should look at the bigger picture though - lots of good things came out of the British Empire too - amazing advances in science, engineering and trade. Lots to be proud of there...

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    I suppose the marbles should be given back to the Greeks, but on the other hand they'll probably only go and drop them or something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    Athens had been part of the Ottoman Empire since 1456. 350 years! Surely that was long enough to have legal authority.
    And the parthenon was a ruin since 1687; by 1800 much of the decorations had been severely damaged or lost.
    Elgin's work saved what we have today . The British Museum has over 5,000,000 visitors a year, all with free admittance.
    Keep them there for the world to admire..

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    482. ConnorMacleod

    I agree if the time is right then things that belong to others should be returned.

    Interesting how you say we were more successful at it than others. Effectively you're saying we were better thieves than everyone else. Not a great legacy for what was a blip of an empire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    Wow, I wonder how of you would respond if the subject was important!!!

    A debate most haven't heard of, with the participation and opinion of a ...comedian and you go ballistic. Get a grip -

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    Just because everyone else is thieving and got away with it then we should also?

    I wasn't saying it was right - just that the British shouldn't be lambasted more than everyone else just because they were more successful at doing the same thing. I think that some items of great cultural significance should be returned to their home countries if the time is right...

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    458. XJ900F
    "The biggest culteral difference that the Greeks have made to the world is the ideology of Democracy"
    That is a VERY BIG DEAL in my book too, so I'm glad we can agree on something. They also created an oath that doctor's swear to this day, classical stories and the Olympics, which brings people together. Yes, we owe a lot to Greeks...

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    Rah Rah Britain seems to override any other consideration or claim, i.e. they actually are part of the Greeks heritage, not Britains.

    Say the French had temporarily taken over England and sold the crown jewels to Argentina, who displayed them in a museum in Buenos Aires, it would be a different story then.


  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    When your Country is going down the pan big time, what better way to get your population to look for another scapegoat.
    The Argentinians have been doing it for years with the Falklands.
    Stand by for the Spanish to start Saber rattling about Gibralter.................AGAIN!
    Their are enough Greeks making a good living in the UK to buy the marbles back for their Country at a fair price.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    457 ConorMacleod - Who else was stealing things from around the world? I agree things that were stolen should be given back, whether it was the British, French, Arabs or who ever. Just because everyone else is thieving and got away with it then we should also? That's exactly what all the rioters thought last year, i.e. lets grab what we can while we have the chance......

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    476 "Greek conservators have asserted that they have been irrevocably damaged by previous cleaning methods employed by British Museum staff."

    Probably better than the Greek approach to restoration, whereby one conservator was overheard to ask "all the salads?" before drizzling the marble with chilli sauce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    "...the British museum has been an admirable custodian"

    Are you sure about that...? I read the following...
    "The marbles held in London suffered from 19th century pollution—which persisted until the mid-20th century, and Greek conservators have asserted that they have been irrevocably damaged by previous cleaning methods employed by British Museum staff."

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    The Elgin Marbles have been a cause celebre for Greece ever since Melina Mercuri as the culture minister wanted them back after the fall of the colonels. They can't be displayed in situ because of the pollution. They built a new museum and wanted them back for the Olympics. Meanwhile significant parts of Greece's Byzantine and Venetian heritage falls apart from neglect. Look after what you've got.


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