A YouTube video of Stephen Fry’s motion on the Intelligence Squared’s debate panel to return to Greece the Parthenon Marbles – seized by Lord Elgin two centuries ago – has been making the internet rounds lately.
Here are a few thoughts on it.
First, it’s an eloquent and moving piece of oratory.
Second, it would be great to listen to his opponent’s argument so that the picture is complete. If anything, it would put things in context, perchance strengthening Fry’s argument even further.
Third, there’s one major bump in Fry’s speech, a contradiction of sorts. On the one hand he admits, nay, applauds, the curation of the freezes by the British Museum for two hundred years, expounding the argument by going so far as calling the curation a ‘classy’ act. On the other hand he lambasts Lord Elgin for having ‘raped those beautiful and extraordinary pieces of history’ by ransacking them.
It would be a class act to have these marbles cast and replicated, displaying said replicas in the British Museum for its visitors to marvel
The fact of the matter is, as Fry has so gloriously argued, the British did illegally, or scoundrelly, obtain those marbles, yes. But it turned out well for the marbles, as he admits, because they were curated with extraordinary attention. And yes, now it’s time the British Museum’s returned them to their rightful owners, Greece (or one of Greece’s museums) and yes, it would be a class act to have these marbles cast and replicated, displaying said replicas in the British Museum for its visitors to marvel. Marvel at what, one may ask? At the extraordinary journey the originals went on in the last two hundred years, from Greece to the UK and back again, with all the splendid details and sundry.
Fourth, algebra was invented by the Babylonians, not the Greeks. The Greeks invented geometry, which, combined with algebra, gave rise to a new form of mathematical thinking. As for the word ‘algebra,’ it originated from the Arabs. It means Restoration, and originally referred to a surgical procedure, before it was applied to mathematics.
Fifth, logic, which was invented by the Greeks, dictates with mathematical precision that the restoration of the Parthenon marbles to their rightful owners be done with neither party recriminating each other. Greece ought to shut up and say thank you, no rants and diatribes and redemptive speeches because everyone and their grandmother knows deep down that had the marbles stayed in Greece all these years, they would have either been stolen by the Ottomans — and good luck in retrieving them from Turkey — or destroyed during one of the numerous upheavals and turmoils of Greece, which saw the entire country go to waste slowly, gradually, decade after decade, its assets plundered or dishevelled in a process of mass dysfunction.
Similarly, in the vein of rational goodwill heralded above, the British ought to hand back the marbles to Greece with apologetic gratitude because they were never entitled to them. The rules of fair play, which the British invented — and the love for the underdog, of which the Brits pride themselves — demand that these items be returned home without further ado.
But wait, Greece is in tatters, some argue. Let’s hold on to them just a little longer.
But others are quick to reply that this is a decision that has to be taken by both parties. The days of imperious judiciousness are over. It’s time to negotiate all decisions.
The days of imperious judiciousness are over
Perhaps a middle solution is possible, at least as a first step. The marbles could be placed in the custody of the EU, an umbrella institution, which is conveniently a third party, so to speak. Giving the marbles to it i.e. putting the EU in charge, would dispel all sense of bitterness held by the Greeks toward the British as well as all sense of pride felt by the British toward the Greeks, at least on this matter. The EU, being a benevolent behemoth and all, would grant full custody of the marbles to Greece after a few years, and everyone’s happy.
Sixth — now here’s where it gets interesting — Stephen Fry is homosexual.
What does that have to do with anything?
It has to do with the people who want to see the marbles returned, especially the staunch nationalists who believe that Greece is the Alpha and Omega of all things civilized. These extreme fundamentalists should keep in mind Fry’s sexuality when he’s invited to celebrate, along with other Hellenophiles and art lovers and Greeks themselves, the restoration of the marbles to their rightful owners.
See, there’s a political party in Greece called Golden Dawn, a national socialist organization of criminal disposition, which has risen in popularity lately. This organization believes that foreigners are evil and that immigrants should go home by force. It persecutes minorities of all kinds.
In addition to Golden Dawn, there’s a hell of a lot of normal, non-criminally-inclined people in Greece, many of them religious, conservative, or traditional, who happen to find homosexuality an aberration and who think that foreigners are the root of all evil.
Stephen Fry is a great reminder to Golden Dawn and normal traditionalists alike, that being a foreigner and a homosexual is not an abomination. Golden Dawn fanatics ought to keep this in mind when roaming the streets, looking for scapegoats. The marbles they cherish, the symbols of Greek grandeur, have a champion in a person they’d murder on the spot, should they get the chance.
Normal but reserved people of traditional inclination ought to remember this, too, when next frowning and shouting and cursing in their living rooms, instructing their children that ‘homosexuality is the devil’s work,’ and that ‘one should never trust The Foreigner.’
Let these people remember Fry’s love for Greece and reassess their stance.
Seventh — still on a tangent — Lord Byron, the legendary Hellenophile, who promoted the Greek cause during the War of Independence of 1821, was homosexual. Something extra for Golden Dawn members and other bigots — and the normal but reserved people I mentioned above — to keep in mind when judging and rejecting others.
I think this covers it, a number of tangents and tidbits that address key sociocultural and historic and psychological points. Time to check out. Let the panelists do the talking.
[Note: thankfully the internet is responsive. Here’s the debate in full…]