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Monday, 2 April 2012

When Stephen Fry Met Lord Byron

Stephen Fry as Lord Byron in Turkish Dress
One of my most vivid memories is that day in mid-August when I visited the Athenian Acropolis in the scorching heat of the early afternoon hours. There were about 3,000 other tourists there, all fighting hard to shelter in the shade of the only tree that grows on top of the hill. Is it my imagination, or did some of us actually climb it? I was reminded of this yesterday when Stephen Fry repeated his belief that the Elgin marbles should be returned to the Parthenon (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/apr/01/stephen-fry-elgin-marbles-greece). Much has been said on the issue, and readers will easily find books and articles to help them form their opinions.
What the readers may not be aware of, is that the British actor got enthusiastic support from fellow Cambridge alumnus Lord Byron, who was quick to post a reminder on his heavenly blog (I want to believe that bipolar I disorder is recognised as extenuating circumstances and that they let him into Heaven) that he had been the first to react, back in 1816:

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatch'd thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!

Byron also wrote: “I opposed, and will ever oppose, the robbery of ruins from Athens, to instruct the English in sculpture (who are as capable of sculpture as the Egyptians are of skating).” Er… yes, thank you George. He concluded his paragraph beautifully: "The ruins are as poetical in Piccadilly as they were in the Parthenon; but the Parthenon and its rock are less so without them. Such is the poetry of art." 
Byron did not know he would die in Greece eight years later, after travelling there to fight for the country’s independence. Stephen Fry said the London 2012 Olympic Games are an opportunity ‘to redress a great wrong.’ After two hundred years, the debate is only just starting.

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