Bryn Mawr Classical Review 01.02.18


Steven V. Tracy, Attic Letter-Cutters of 229-86 BC. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. Pp. xvi + 291; 41 figs., 29 pls. $45.00. ISBN 0-520-06806-8.


Reviewed by M. L. Lang, Bryn Mawr College.

Although this "all but complete guide to Attic lettering of the period" (p. 1) is a book primarily to be used rather than read, many parts of it make fascinating reading, since they show how the study of epigraphic hands sheds light in various ways on matters ranging from a stone-cutter's working life to the numbers of such artisans active at different times.

In the Introduction the scope and purpose of the work are stated, and the arrangement of the material is outlined, with a convincing description of how the cutters were identified and on what basis inscriptions were assigned to them. The List of Inscriptions Studied (more than a thousand) then precedes the detailed presentation (in chronological order) of the 38 cutters identified as having inscribed two or more texts. For each cutter there is a date, a description of his letters (with an accompanying illustration), a list of his inscriptions with bibliographical references and notes on what the association adds to our knowledge about various of his works. In some cases, where differences seem to be sufficient to require a subcategory, there is also a list of inscriptions "in the style of" the particular cutter. For example, the Cutter of IG II2 1706, the most prolific of the 38, has "plain and rather sloppy" lettering with alpha, delta and lambda showing a gap at top, rather wide kappas, and off-centered taxus; he inscribed more than 80 texts, four of which are here published for the first time (Agora scraps which become meaningful only by their association with this Cutter and may, through this association, be seen to belong to texts still to be found). Additional notes about the Cutter of IG II2 1706 not only characterize his work and its relevance to the history of the period, but also show how the association of his texts help in both their dating and interpretation. Notes on the works of other cutters show how the attribution to a single hand led to the discovery of both actual joins and association of various fragments in a single text.

In Discussion of Letter-Cutting and Cutters 229 to 86 B.C. changes in the number of cutters, the amount of cutting, and their interrelation during the period are associated with the Athenian takeover of the administration of Delos and the lengthy inscribing of temple inventories there. Consideration is also given to how, where and when cutters worked, how much they may have produced in relation to what has survived, the extent to which the possibility of influence and apprenticeship among them can be seen, and how and when they were assigned work by the secretary.

Inscriptions "Not Assigned" introduces and lists those texts from 229 to 86 B. C. that seem to be the single extant examples of particular cutters. These are differentiated as either notably idiosyncratic or rather ordinary, and they may or may not be associated with one of the 38 by the rubric "school of X."

Of the four appendixes two demonstrate how effective the study of hands is as a tool in dealing with inscriptions: (B) Inscriptions Redated; (C) Joins and Associations Resulting from the Study of Hands. Appendix A (Inscriptions Erroneously Attributed to 229 to 86 B. C.) and Appendix D (A List of State Decrees or Probable Decrees, Not Assigned) join with the very complete indexes (of letter-forms, of Greek names and words, of passages cited, of persons, and general) to make this work as convenient to use as it is useful. Just one more list would make it complete: a list of cutters by source and in numerical order to supplement the listing in chronological order in both table of contents and text.