Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.05.04

Reinhold Merkelbach , Josef Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten, Bd. 2: Die Nordküste Kleinasiens (Marmarasee und Pontos).   Munich/Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2001.  Pp. xii, 399.  ISBN 3-598-77447-8.  DM 218.00.  

Reviewed by Eugene N. Lane, University of Missouri, Columbia (
Word count: 3423 words

The second volume of Merkelbach and Stauber's lavish Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten is now out, with somewhat different content than was announced when vol. 1 ( Die Westküste Kleinasiens von Knidos bis Ilion, 1998) was published. At that time it was projected that vol. 2 would cover "die Nordküste und das Landesinnere bis zum Tauros." In point of fact, vol. 2 covers only "die Nordküste Kleinasiens (Marmarasee und Pontos)" and a new vol. 3 is is projected for "'der ferne Osten' und das Landesinnere bis zum Tauros." This second volume adds 4 regions, Mysia (08), Bithynia (09), Paphlagonia (10) and Pontus (11) to the 7 already treated in vol 1. The original vol. 3 (Die Südküste Kleinasiens, Syrien und Palästina) becomes vol. 4 and a fifth volume (Register) is now projected. This answers one of the concerns of Julia Lougovaya, who reviewed vol. 1 for BMCR (2000.05.16). Since we have this review already for vol. 1, I see no point repeating much that has already been said about the book's arrangement, rather referring the reader to that review. Another concern that Lougovaya had (end of her second paragraph) which is answered concerns the arrangement of epigrams within each geographical unit. In the preface to vol. 2 the authors make it explicit that the sequence is 1) oracles and cult inscriptions, 2) honorary inscriptions, 3) building inscriptions, and finally 4) grave inscriptions starting with gladiators and the rest in Latin alphabetical order. It should also be noted that the blank endpapers of vol. 1 have been replaced with a handy map of all Asia Minor.

If there is any obvious fault with this lavish publication it is exactly its lavishness, which sees to it that the various entries are displayed so that the eye can take them in easily, not beginning, say, at the very bottom of one page, taking up the entire next page and ending on the top of a third. The result of course is much white space, and white space is expensive in a book. On the other hand it is gratifying to see this kind of loving care used on these frequently neglected stepchildren of classical studies. Epigraphy of course is the area where philology and archaeology most closely meet, and nowhere do they meet more closely than in these often humble verse inscriptions, which have much to tell us if we but listen to them. Merkelbach and Stauber, after the preface of vol. 1, in a paragraph entitled "Anstelle einer Widmung," inveigh strongly against the dry-as-dust, minimal exposition in inaccessible scholarly Latin which is the fate which normally awaits these artifact/documents in standard epigraphical corpora. They are good as their word in the actual production of the books. The Greek texts, except some fragmentary ones, have a translation in lucid German (this lucidity is often challenged, however, by the sheer turgidity of the original), and are accompanied by a photograph in many cases (but the criteria are not clear), and a commentary explaining textual difficulties and problems of translation, as well as matters of content. For instance, there is a set of inscriptions from Cyzicus known only from their being transmitted by the Greek Anthology (08/01/11-29) -- one of the strengths of the book is that such inscriptions are treated right along with those archaeologically preserved--which accompanied reliefs in a temple founded by the Pergamene queen Apollonis (wife of Attalus I) in her native city. These scenes and the verses which went with them (there are also prose summaries of each story preserved from antiquity) describe numerous myths, mostly having to do with relationships between sons and their mothers. Some of the stories are from Homer, others from Euripides, yet others from versions not elsewhere preserved. They could be assumed to be familiar to the ancient observer, but not to today's student. The authors therefore in the commentary provide an often extensive retelling of the myths involved, such as those of Auge and Telephus, Antiope and her twins, Amphion and Zethus, or Hypsipyle and her sons, Thoas and Euneos, with reference to further modern literature. The reader comes away feeling that he has really learned something. Following the commentary, in the case of the archaeologically preserved epigrams, is a brief listing of earlier bibliography, source of the illustration (or place where one can be found), probable date, findspot, and present whereabouts, if known.

Before we leave these inscriptions, let us note that two of them do not belong to canonical Greek mythology. The first of these is 08/01/28, commemorating Cleobis and Biton and their mother Kydippe, the well-known story from Herodotus (I, 31). This is illustrated with representations of the story on other art-works. The authors also accept the archaic kouroi from Delphi as being the statues of Cleobis and Biton that Herodotus mentions, in spite of recent doubt shed on that identification.1 The second inscription that tells a story outside the Greek mythological canon is 08/01/29, which tells the Roman tale of Romulus, Remus, the she-wolf, and their mother, here called Servilia. It is interesting to see the penetration of Roman lore into the Greek east at so early a date.

But it is the grave-epigrams which -- paradoxically -- provide the liveliest picture of life in this area in Hellenistic and Roman times. One finds interesting professions: a Homeric interpreter 08/05/08, or a Pythagorean mathematician (i.e., astrologer) 08/01/35. But the overwhelming sense you get is that many lives were lost young. Of course, it is these which were more likely to be lavishly commemorated, to assuage the parents' grief. Such were Hermocrates (08/01/43), dead as a mere child, Fronto (08/01/41) with his Roman name who died as an adolescent, or Sosthenes and Menippus (08/01/52) who both died before their parents. In one horrendous instance (08/08/12), a family bewails the death of three children at the same time. Sometimes these people died in ways that make the times seem dangerous: Menandros (08/01/46) was murdered, attacked from ambush. Menophantos (08/01/48) was killed by someone who smashed his head with a rock. Asklas (08/05/02), although as handsome as Homer's Nireus/Nileus, fell victim to brigands. And the young man of 08/05/09, whose name is lost, was the victim of a hunting accident. These are but a few characteristic examples out of many.

The stones themselves frequently have "Totenmahl" reliefs or reliefs of the "Thracian rider, " sometimes both (08/05/03). If either iconographic type is supposed to hint at immortality, either by the continuing presence of the deceased at banquets, or by his heroization as a rider, neither is obvious in view of the bleak view of death encountered in the texts. The texts may present some striking expressions, such as the priestess of Aphrodite who is called the goddess's "colt" or "filly" (08/04/02), or the striking coinage (if it is read right) τηκομόχθου, "melted away in labors" (08/05/01). Mostly, however, it is pseudo-Homeric doggerel which appealed to these people, and this shows a good deal about their concept of culture. Admittedly there are places where the verses, although unoriginal, are neatly turned, and can be read with total comprehension at least on the surface (e.g. 08/06/11, a gravestone for a 12-year-old-boy). But the syntax of most of these verses is pretty awful, not just 08/05/06, where the editors comment on the fact, but also, for instance, 08/04/01, where if you read the sentence correctly "Bitter Hades........sent Apollodorus tear-stained Hades." What with all the padding coming in between, the author forgot that Hades was doing double duty in the sentence. Never mind if it made much sense -- it sounded good. Or one has, as in 08/01/06, the uncomprehending reuse of an odd Homeric word such as ἀνώϊστος. Another phenomenon is a poem written in pro-forma Doric dialect (e.g. 08/07/01, a building inscription) because that is felt to be "more poetical." And there are some texts where one must give up. On 08/03/01 the authors state "Man tappt völlig im Dunklen." In such cases they frequently cite conjectures by Peek and leave it at that. Other salient examples, remaining within the Mysian material, are the dedication of a statue of Hera by the great sophist Aelius Aristides (08/06/01), a gravestone for a rooster (O8/07/13), and a funerary inscription for a Christian cantor and lector who keeps up the ancient pagan tradition of verse grave inscriptions (08/08/13).

In some places, however, the reviewer must find fault with the editors' work. In 08/05/04 something went wrong with the accentuation. No fewer than four words are misaccented: παρελθεῖν, προσελθέ, κείμενος and νυμφίον. (There are occasional misaccentuations elsewhere, cf. 08/07/12, where σεμνή is misaccented.) If one looks at the source publication I. K. 18, #497, one finds that all of the misaccentuations but the last are already there.

In 08/03/02, the name of the deceased, Zotion, has fallen out of the translation. And in 08/05/03, another epigram for someone who died young, I agree with the editors that the corrupt ποσγων must conceal παστόν. Faiure of someone to reach his/her pastos is a banal expression for people who die before marriage. Only it is not "der Pfosten des Brautgemachs." It is a bridal canopy or chuppa.2

So far we have restricted our discussion to the Mysian material. When we go ahead into that from Bithynia, we find more examples of the same types of things that we encountered in Mysia. So I will restrict myself to commenting on particularly striking examples of old phenomena, and such new phenomena as occur. From Kios, we find a hymn to Anubis (09/01/02) of late Hellenistic or early Imperial times, which shows some differences from the usual genealogy of the Egyptian gods, (cf. the epitaph of an Isis-initiate, 09/14/01) and from Nicaea the dedication of an eagle to Zeus Archagathos (09 /05/01) by a local dignitary of early imperial times, according to a dream-oracle. Likewise at Nicaea, a series of epigrams preserved in the Greek Anthology (09/05/04-08) commemorate a priest of the imperial cult, named appropriately Sacerdos, and his wife Severa. They were inscribed on a "pyramid" (obelisk?), which points to some kind of belief in astral immortality. Sacerdos had secured Hadrian's help in rebuilding Nicaea after an earthquake in 120 A.D., and died in Athens, apparently representing his city at Hadrian's panhellenic festival. The epigrams are written in pseudo-Doric. We also have several vivid epitaphs of gladiators: 09/05/10 from Nicaea, 09/06/05 from Nicomedeia, 09/09/01 from Claudioupolis, as well as a remarkable monument, also from Claudioupolis, in the form of a tower-shield complete with visor, on which a priest has recorded the names of gladiators who participated in games he sponsored. An early inscription for this area (09/05/16) commemorates in a double epigram a Bithynian officer fallen in the battle of Korupedion, 281 B.C. We see a remarkable monument of Imperial times, the tomb of a Bithynian nobleman, Diliporis (09/05/17). The sarcophagus was supported by a tower-like structure, on which an epigram is inscribed, giving a number-riddle to which Diliporis' name is the answer. The riddle gives the number of syllables and various other descriptive hints about the letters so that if they are answered correctly they will give the sum of 514, the numerical value of the sum of the letters in Diliporis' name. The riddle is derived from a similar one in the Sibylline Oracles. In (09/05/34) we hear of a married couple, Hymnion and Zotike, who had seven sons. Four were kept by them, but the others were given to friends to be their θρεπτοί -- adopted children, of whom we hear so much in Anatolian epigraphy.

Turning to Nicomedeia, we have a badly damaged Clarian oracle (09/06/01) for the city of the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., and, literarily preserved, the epigram by Agathias on Justinian's famous bridge over the river Sangarios (09/06/04). Likewise Nicomedeia brings us the only Latin epitaph so far encountered (09/06/14) and a rather touching epitaph (09/06/15) of a master tailor by his apprentice. An early, elaborate grave stele (09/06/18) with three registers of reliefs above the inscription, commemorates a Bithynian nobleman called Mokazis. The reliefs show, top to bottom, a "Totenmahl," a battle scene, and a bear-hunt, and indeed the verses mention both hunting and warfare.

Passing to the territory of Calchedon, we find a polished, archaeologically preserved epigram (09/07/01) on a statue of Zeus Ourios in a sanctuary near the Black Sea end of the Bosporus, and a literarily preserved epigram from the same sanctuary which was on a statue of a heifer (09/07/02), commemorating Boidion, the wife of Chares, the Athenian admiral, who accompanied him there and died in 339 B.C. Justinian's palace on the Bosporus receves its share of literarily preserved epigrams (09/07/04-07).

Going ahead to Prusias ad Hypium, we find (O9/ 08/04), we have a linguistically remarkable epitaph, written for himself by a certain Capella who is an agonothete and has served his city in various other ways. We all know that when in English we would make a sentence "He did x and y, and z" paratactically, Greek tends to put the first two actions in the aorist participle, and the last in a finite verb. We have almost a parody of this phenomenon here. Our inscription piles up six aorist participles in a row, and never does get to a main verb! Furthermore, although most of them are in the nominative, a couple of them are thrown into the accusative, as if the author had at some time heard of indirect discourse, and found it snazzy, but didn't know how to pull it off.

From Claudioupolis, we have a pagan epitaph giving a version of the "golden rule" (09/09/05), and from the same place the epitaph of an actress (09/09/07) gives the editors an occasion to list all the epitaphs of show-business people in this collection, including some slated for volumes 3 and 4. Another entertainer from this city was the Bacchic dancer Saturninus (09/09/16) who gives the editors the opportunity to quote extensively from Lucian as to the popularity of such dances in these parts. A truly vacuous, but fine-sounding epitaph, 26 lines long (09/09/17), belongs to the noblewoman Tertulla, an example of how to say absolutely nothing in the best pseudo-epic style. From Heracleia Pontica, we have the dour epitaph of an Alexandrian pantomime actor named Crispus (09/11/02), inscribed on a stele surmounted by an aedicula, presumably to hold an urn. Such are the particularly notable monuments from Bithynia.

Regrettably we also find that the book continues to be beset with annoying careless errors in detail. The Boidion epigram has an accentuation error in line 4, as is also the case in line 9 of 09/09/15, an epitaph for two brothers, both doctors, from Claudioupolis. But that is not all: Why do they say (09/04/06) where the text reads γενήσασα, "Korrekt wäre γενέσασα"? The verb is γεννάω. Or (09/04/36), where the text reads καμόντι, "Man erwartet καμόντο oder καμόντες." What is καμόντο supposed to be? Or look at 09/05/36 and 37. The editors state that the person called. χρησσίων in the first poem is called χρηστίων in the second. He isn't. He is called χρηστός. In 09/07/10 the translation does not make clear that both father and on were called Menios. Perhaps the most disturbing case is 09/07/11. Here in line 8, the original editors had written the meaningless μάτηρ μυρόμενοι σὺν ἕα (I disregard dotted letters.) The first time that Merkelbach dealt with it (I.K. 20, no. 33) he changed the accent of the last word to ἑά, and rather desperately says that it is the feminine nominative singular of the poetic possessive pronoun. (Cf. 10/02/03.) But that still does not give any sense. If one looks at Merkelbach's own bibliography, however, one sees that Peek treated the inscription in a article in ZPE, 42, 1981, p. 290. There Peek says that thanks to a better photograph provided by Schwertheim he can read μάτηρ μύρεται οἰκτρὰ νέα, which gives admirable sense. This reading is also adopted by Sahin and Ögüt-Polat in an article in E.A., 1985, 117-8.

Paphlagonia and Pontus can be treated together, as there are fewer epigrams from there than from the more westerly regions. One that deserves particular attention from a historical point of view is 10/02/12, from Caesarea-Hadrianoupolis, which speaks of a maiden, abducted by barbarians, who chose death over dishonor. What exact barbarian attack, however, we do not know. A proud and up-beat epitaph (10/02/28) meets us from the same place, and tells us of the exploits of Priscus, who so impressed the emperor Trajan with his abilities and good looks that he was given the honor of carrying the imperial standard in front of the whole army, then returning home distinguished himself no less as a farmer, ordering his dependent peasants to do everything just as Hesiod had instructed, apparently with great success until his dying day.3

Amastris provides us with the tombstone of Aemilianus (10/03/02), an upper-class amateur athlete and "initiate" of Bacchus (the rites were not secret), who mastered wrestling, javelin-throwing, pancration, discus-throwing, running, long-jump, and all kinds of ball games. He won at satyr-dancing at Cyzicus and at Pergamum, but died before he could get home with the Pergamene prize, aged 30.4 At Pompeioupolis the epitaph of Cyrus, a performer of Homeric scenes, (10/05/04) gives the editors the opportunity to present literary evidence about these Homeric performers, from Achilles Tatius, Artemidorus, and Petronius. Sinope gives us far the earliest piece in this collection, a grave pyramid of the daughter of the Carian, Nadys, dated 475-450 B.C. (10/06/01), and other early inscriptions (10/06/02, 10/06/06), the second of which echoes Sophocles' words in the Oedipus at Colonus, that the best of all things is never to be born, as well as the epitaph of Sinope's best-known son, Diogenes the Cynic (10/06/03). The epitaph of Ripane (10/06/05) gives the editors occasion to discuss the cult of Sarapis in that city, since Ripane's statue was set up near Sarapis' temple.5 Sinope also brings us a late inscription (10/06/07, ca. 520 A.D.) in which a Christian official is still writing very much in the style of the pagans.

Turning to Pontus, Amisus furnishes us a particularly ironic gladiatorial epitaph (11/02/01): Diodorus had beaten his opponent Demetrius, but failed to kill him immediately; the "summa rudis" then ordered another round, and Demetrius killed Diodorus. The relief shows Diodorus at the moment of his temporary victory. We are also informed of the rebuilding, in the fourth century A.D., of the Baths of Phazimonitis, sacred to Asclepius and the Nymphs, by a governor called Iovinus (11/04/02-03). Christianity is not yet making itself felt yet, in this context, nor -- remarkably enough -- in Amaseia, where a poet named Marianos wrote epigrams on the topic of his Platonic Eros-garden, full of reminiscences of the Phaedrus and the Symposium, during the reign of Justin II! Somewhat less ironic than the gladiatorial stele of Diodorus is that of the bestiarius Troilus: he specialized in fighting bears in the arena, only to be killed by a fever (11/07/08). Euchaita, near Amaseia, is distinguished by an early Byzantine verse inscription (11/10/01), recalling how the Emperor Anastasius made a new bishopric here and renamed the city in honor of St. Theodore, who was martyred in Amaseia in A.D. 306. Two inscriptions, probably also of Euchaita (11/10/02-03) show how the motif of two raised hands in relief continues to characterize grave steles of persons prematurely dead even in Christian times. I conclude my excerpting of these epigrams with another up-beat piece, somewhat reminiscent of Priscus' inscription, 11/13/02 from Pontic Sebastoupolis. In it a certain Pantarchos speaks of being favored by the Fates from his very birth, of his military career, of his happy marriage with Theotima, and the two sons whom she bore him, the thought of whom comforts him even in the underworld, as the elder pursues a military career, just like his father, and the other is still being brought up by his mother, who makes known her late husband's virtue and happiness so long as the broad heaven endures and the sun shines with its circular light. Who could ask for anything more?

All in all, the editors deserve great credit for bringing together all these scattered documents, and showing how they make vivid the lives of people so removed from us in time. It is a shame that there are errors of omission and of commission, some of them not at all trivial. But the book's merits outweigh the occasional sloppiness. We look forward to the publication of the remaining volumes.


1.   It is puzzling that M. and S. still unquestioningly accept the twin kouroi of Delphi as being the statues of Cleobis and Biton which Herodotus mentions. This identification was first questioned by G. Vatin in two articles Études delphiques (= BCH Suppl. 4) 1977, pp. 13-22 and BCH 106, 1982, pp. 509-525. There have been various reactions, but I do not think anyone would now unequivocally call them Cleobis and Biton. (See SEG 27, 1977, #132; 32, 1982, #549; 35, 1985, #479; 41, 1991, #132; 45, 1995, #493; and 46 1996, #564, for references to subsequent discussions.) I find it surprising that the editors of this volume make no mention of this whole affair.
2.   See my articles, "Pastos", Glotta 66, 1988, 100-123, and "On the Use of the Word "Pastos" in Patristic Greek," in Discourse Analysis and Other Topics in Biblical Greek, ed. S.E. Porter and D.A. Carson, Sheffield 1995. For another use of this word in this collection, see 09/05/21. In this case, however, the pastos is not a symbol of marriage not accomplished. Rather the woman commemorated had given birth to eleven children ἀληθεῖ παστῷ.
3.   I find the scenario envisioned for the circumstances surrounding 10/02/32 to be vivid, but not totally convincing.
4.   The editors, who frequently comment on grammatical oddities, miss their chance to say something about τετείμακαν in 10/04/01. The perfect has a secondary ending. It is felt to be a simple past tense, a substitute for the aorist, as it is used by Byzantine authors such as Zonaras (who at least knew the correct endings).
5.   καθαροῖο is misaccented in line 3.

Read Latest
Index for 2001
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:27:18, Friday, 03 April 2009