British actor and longtime activist Stephen Fry has a new idea for the return of the Parthenon Marbles which has quite a unique twist, one that uses virtual reality to allow visitors to see them reunited together in Athens in 3D.
Like many others across the globe, Fry has repeatedly called for the priceless sculptures which were chipped off the facade of the Parthenon to be returned to Greece.
This time, though, the actor, writer, and impresario has added the use of artificial reality to the mix—something which would make museum goers feel that they were in Athens themselves, taking part in their restoration to the Greek capital.
The sculptures, which were created by the master sculptor Phidias approximately 2,500 years ago, were chipped off the façade of the building by workmen employed by Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin, in 1801 and spirited away to England.
Virtual reality to immerse museum visitors in repatriation experience
For some time in the personal possession of Lord Elgin, who at the time was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, the marbles ended up as possessions of the British Museum.
Even at that time, however, the taking of cultural treasures that were of such immense importance that they almost singlehandedly constituted the very identity of a nation and a people, was controversial.
Some members of Parliament even agitated at the time for their return to Greece.
But the British Museum, which maintains it has a bill of sale that allows for the taking of the sculptures—although it was signed by the occupiers of the country at the time—has maintained its ownership of the Marbles ever since.
Fry, who is 64 and has written a series of books retelling stories from Greek mythology, urged their return to Greece in a humorous aside, saying that such a move would be a “classy” gesture on the part of Great Britain: “It would be a classy thing—and Britain hasn’t done a classy thing internationally for some time.”
His idea comprises faithful copies of the sculptures that would be made for the British Museum while a computer-generated artificial reality experience would show visitors how the originals were transported back to Athens, making them feel in effect that they themselves are part of the repatriation back to the Greek people.
Fry: “One million Athenians” would welcome back the Parthenon Marbles
The Greek government, along with a host of cultural institutions worldwide—including the UN—has demanded the return of the Marbles as objects of incalculable worth that represent the national heritage of Greece.
Journalist Hugo Dixon posited in The Times that the British Museum could have perfect copies of the sculptures made in marble while originals are returned to Greece as a goodwill gesture.
However, Fry is the first to add the aspect of virtual reality to the request to repatriate the Marbles, as he explained on Chris Evans’ “How to Wow” podcast. “I have this passion that we will return the Parthenon marbles to Athens . . . where they belong,” he said.
He added that he was “really keen on this and [he] know[s] a lot of people say ‘We’ve looked after them’ and it’s certainly true we’ve looked after them, but it would be such a classy act.”
Assuring future visitors to the British Museum that they would be seeing the most perfect replicas imaginable, Fry stated, “You can cast them, and now with laser refinement you can cast them so exactly.”
“So the British Museum would have a Parthenon experience and you go in and see this fabulous technology using AR helmets, or whatever you want to wear,” posits Fry, adding that “you [could] see how the originals were perfectly reproduced and you watch them being packed up and put on the train.”
Then, he said, British Museum visitors would be able to immerse themselves virtually into the entire experience, as the priceless artifacts are ever so carefully wrapped and shipped across Europe, where they would take their place at the Acropolis Museum alongside their sisters and brothers there who await them in their special gallery facing the Acropolis.
“They would be welcome,” he said in perhaps what is the understatement of the century.
“I promise you one million Athenians would come on to the street to welcome them. They mean so much to the Greeks, they are part of the nature of what Athens is,” he said.
“It would be a classy thing and Britain hasn’t done a classy thing internationally for some time,” he added.