What is in a name?

There are a number of possible ways of referring to the Parthenon Sculptures & many people have queried the fact that I sometimes refer to them on this site as the Elgin Marbles.

There are two possible terms to describe the sculptures from the Athenian acropolis, & the choice, tends to instantly mark out on which side of the argument the speaker’s sympathies lie.

In an age of political correctness mangling many conventional phrases, the term Parthenon sculptures still has a definitive conciseness & clarity that no one can argue with, & as such is the preferred term for use by restitutionists, as they believe that there is no reason Elgin’s name should become attached to the stones when all he did was steal them. Logic dictates that the marbles belong to the Athenian Acropolis & not to Elgin. Parthenon Marbles fits into the same category as this, although referring to Marble Sculptures as Marbles is a convention that has dropped from favour in modern English & can cause confusion for people who do not realise that you are referring to large sculptural artefacts, not small balls used by children for playing games.

On the other side of the argument, the retentionists favour the term Elgin Marbles, although the reasons for the use of this name are not as clear-cut as they first appear. On the one hand, the mention of Elgin’s name implies acceptance that he is the rightful owner / discoverer of the stones, & indeed, there is indeed a partial truth in this argument, as he has popularised them to a level that the archaeologists & museum curators could never have dreamt of achieving.

However, many people, no matter what their personal beliefs might be are constrained into following an official line of reasoning, when speaking in public or on behalf of their employers. The term Elgin Marbles was one of the prerequisites of their sale to the British government, & therefore, the British government & British Museum are obliged to use this term when referring to the sculptures, no matter what personal views they might hold on the subject. The British Museum has now stepped away from this name though & prefers the term Sculptures of the Parthenon (although some books that they have published themselves still carry the phrase Elgin Marbles in the title.

In the text, where possible I have use the term Parthenon Sculptures, except when quoting to references from other sources.

I have had to consider however, the fact that for the general public, the artefacts in question are still most commonly know as the Elgin Marbles. As a result, this is the term most used on internet search engines such as Google to locate information on the subject. For this reason, I have tried to refer to them by this term at least once in each post that is relevant to them, although this should in no means be seen as a sign of preference for this phrase.

Where I have used the term British Parthenon sculptures, it is in reference to those currently located in Britain, & is in no way intended to imply any level of ownership. Similarly, the phrase Greek Parthenon sculptures is merely referring to the location, i.e. those still in Athens.