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Send Them Back: The Parthenon Marbles Should Be Returned to Athens

We should return the Marbles as a gesture of solidarity with Greece in its financial distress, argues Stephen Fry.

What’s all this nonsense about sending the Parthenon Marbles back to Greece? If Lord Elgin hadn’t rescued them from the Parthenon in Athens and presented them to the British Museum almost 200 years ago, these exquisite sculptures – the finest embodiment of the classical ideal of beauty and harmony – would have been lost to the ravages of pollution and time. So we have every right to keep them: indeed, returning them would set a dangerous precedent, setting off a clamour for every Egyptian mummy and Grecian urn to be wrenched from the world’s museums and sent back to its country of origin. It is great institutions like the British Museum that have established such artefacts as items of world significance: more people see the Marbles in the BM than visit Athens every year. Why send them back to relative obscurity?

But aren’t such arguments a little too imperialistic? All this talk of visitor numbers and dangerous precedents – doesn’t it just sound like an excuse for Britain to hold on to dubiously acquired treasures that were removed without the consent of the Greek people to whom they culturally and historically belong? That’s what Lord Byron thought, and now Stephen Fry is taking up the cause. We should return the Marbles as a gesture of solidarity with Greece in its financial distress, says Fry, and as a mark of respect for the cradle of democracy and the birthplace of rational thought.


Speakers

For the motion

Andrew George

Politician and former MP


Liberal Democrat politician and former Member of Parliament for the constituency of St Ives in Cornwall (1997-2015). He is the Chair of Marbles Reunited, a campaign for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles

Stephen Fry

Celebrated actor, writer and broadcaster


Celebrated comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist. His acting roles have included a Golden Globe Award–nominated lead performance in the film 'Wilde', and he has also written and presented several documentary series, including the Emmy Award–winning 'Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive'. He was also the long-time host of the BBC television quiz show QI, with his tenure lasting from 2003 to 2016.
Against the motion

Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Historian


Historian specialising in the Atlantic, Early America; Early Modern Europe, Latin America and the Mediterranean. His books include 1492: The Year Our World Began and Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature.

Tristram Hunt

Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum


Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum. He is a former Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and a former shadow education secretary. He read history at Trinity College, Cambridge. Between 2001 and 2010, he was Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London, and presented a range of radio and television programmes for the BBC and Channel 4. Hunt’s books include Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City, the award-winning biography, The Frock-coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels, and Ten Cities That Made an Empire.
Chair

Zeinab Badawi

BBC World News presenter


BBC World News presenter.