Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.16

Reinhold Merkelbach, Josef Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten, Band 3: Der "Ferne Osten" und das Landesinnere bis zum Tauros.   Munich/Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2001.  Pp. xii, 416.  ISBN 3-598-77448-6.  EUR 110.00/sFr 189.00.  

Reviewed by Eugene N. Lane, University of Missouri, Columbia (
Word count: 2757 words

Since this review concerns itself with the third volume of a long-term publishing endeavor, it should be unnecessary to repeat what has already been said in this e-journal about the project in general or its organization, methodology, and aims, or about its midstream change of plans, announced with the second volume. The reader is referred to the review of the first volume by Julia Lougovaya (BMCR 2000.05.16) and of the second by myself (BMCR 2001.05.04). Unlike the first two volumes, this one does include some inscriptions published here for the first time, specifically some from Dorylaion and vicinity, now mostly in the museum of Eskisehir, contributed by Peter Frei, as well as a few from Philomelion (Aksehir) and Hadrianoupolis, contributed by David French and Lloyd Jonnes.

In a rather dismissive review of the first volume of this work, C. P. Jones in Classical Review, 50 (2000) pp. 170-72 says in effect that it is just a collection of Zettel, i.e. index cards, put together in rather expensive book form. If this is so, and it may well be, then apparently some of the Zettel have been kept up better than others. Unfortunately one doesn't have to wait at all long after beginning the third volume to find a spectacular instance of the haste and carelessness with which this publication has been charged. (See not only Jones' review, cited above, but C. Habicht's review in Tyche 14 (1999), pp. 93-99.) The second inscription treated in the book, from Kandahar (a city recently much in the news) is published in such a way that the last word of line 2, τέμενος is garbled into "τέμεigramme," and the entire beginning of the third line is left out. This missing part of the third line is of vital importance for it informs us that we are dealing with a thank offering (to the deified Alexander?) for the escape of N., son of Aristonax, from the attack of a wild beast. Thus, since both the caption and the translation mention the son of Aristonax, but he is not to be found in the text, the reader is totally puzzled, until he looks at the text as given in one of the articles cited in the bibliography, such as the one by W. Peek, ZPE 60(1985) p.76, who, however conjecturally, manages to make a neat four-line poem out of the meager remnants of the inscription. But that is nothing compared with what happens on p. 381, inscription no. 16/52/99. The entire inscription is lost after the listing of the Fundort.

That much having been said by way of warning at the beginning, let us turn to a consecutive review of the book, picking out inscriptions of more than routine interest. This volume adds five new regions to the eleven already treated. No 12 is Bactria, Media, and Armenia; no. 13 Cappadocia; no.14 Lycaonia and Isauria; no. 15 Galatia; no. 16 (far and away the largest) Phrygia. The rather sparse Greek verse inscriptions of the first area are all of a more or less public nature, and are all hellenistic, the latest being from 9/8 B.C. This, of course, reflects the fact that the Greek language never acquired a firm foothold in the area. As well as Kandahar (Alexandria in Arachosia), cities represented include Alexandria Oxiana (Ai Khanoum in Afghanistan), Susa (Seleuceia on the Eulaius) and Armavir on the Araxes. I will pause over them only to ask why in 12/05/01, a statement put in the mouth of a deceased king buried where the inscription stood, the obviously meaningless λυλολους of line 6 receives no comment at all. In fact, it is not even written in capitals as is customary with portions of inscriptions of which no sense can be made. Only a (?) following it indicates that anything is strange.

With Cappadocia we are on more familiar ground. The majority of the inscriptions are of Roman date, private funerary inscriptions abound, and there are some Christian inscriptions. There are also literarily preserved epigrams, such as 13/06/04, a text written by Gregory of Nazianzus to accompany a picture of Christ calming the waves, in St. Basil's Church of Caesarea-Mazaca. The editors devote particular attention to another inscription of that city, 13/06/01, a gladiatorial inscription which they interpret as praising a certain Pelopios for financing gladiatorial games. We find it macabre to glory in the number of people one has had killed in the arena, but not so the ancients. L. Robert had viewed Pelopios as a gladiator not as an impressario of this deadly sport, but our editors disagree.

Rural Lycaonia brings us a preponderance of Christian inscriptions, among which 14/04/ 03 and 14/03/01 stand out -- the first a fairly successful attempt to express Christian thoughts in Homeric verse, the second a similar attempt which ends up being ghastly. "Wir unternehmen keinen Versuch, diese schreckliche Komposition zu übersetzen," say the editors. When we reach Laodiceia Combusta, we still find ourselves in an area where Christian (specifically Novatian) epigraphy predominates. Interesting, although not poetry -- it rates inclusion thanks to an accompanying verse -- is an autobiographical inscription of a bishop Eugenius (14/06/04), from the pagan nobility but with the persecutions of Maximinus Daia showing himself to be a true Christian. Later becoming a bishop he rebuilt an entire luxurious church. Imitating high-flown language his massive nineteen-line sentence strings together one present and eleven aorist participles, before arriving at the finite verb ἐποίησα.

Also interesting is 14/06/22, an epitaph for a Christian woman, who is praised, like Homer's Hera, for her cow-like eyes. Laodiceia also brings the first instances of curse formulas against grave-robbers. When we arrive at Iconium, our eyes are particularly struck by the first instance in this volume of a lost text known only from an old, bad copy (14/07/06). A funerary stele for a pagan notable, it is known only from a traveler's copy published in Amsterdam in 1714, and it has given more recent scholars much to puzzle over. The section concludes with funerary inscriptions, both pagan and Christian, from Isauria, of which the most striking to my mind is 14/13/05, a pagan epitaph of a certain Zenobios, who must have been a handsome fellow as he is compared with Hylas. But his looks did not help him, as he was carried off by Phthonos.

When we look around at the Galatian material, one certainly striking verse epitaph is 15/01/01 from Kinna (?) detailing the loss of three teen-aged children, one girl and two boys, in a short period by one grief-stricken family. Ancyra (Ankara) is distinguished by a number of gladiatorial inscriptions (15/02/02 and l5/02/97, fragmentary), particularly (15/02/03) a very informative inscription -- mostly in prose -- of a "summa rudis," or gladiator emeritus, now an official at gladiatorial contests. The gentleman had acquired citizenship in nine cities of northern Greece and Asia Minor and held a membership in the College of Summae Rudes in Rome, attested only here. Likewise interesting is 15/02/07, a Christian epitaph in good Greek grammar and verse form -- the extent to which Christians should assimilate pagan education always being a topic of dispute in the years of the church's growth. Finally, if we had expected Pessinus to tell us anything epigraphically about the cult of the Mother of the Gods, we are disappointed. We find a priest of Apollo named Apollo, but his funerary inscription (5/03/01) is the only object of religious interest that we find here.

Inscriptions of Phrygia take up more than half the volume. Again, I can draw the reader's attention only to some of the more unusual or important of them. Right at the beginning an inscription of Sebaste (16/01/01) gives part of a third-century A.D. metrical account of the founding of the city, which is connected with the rape of Ganymede. Ganymede's father is said to be Azen so as to establish a connection with Aizanoi and the Azanes of Arcadia. But the bulk of the inscriptions which follow are routine grave or votive verses, for the most part of interest only if they provide information regarding personal or divine names. Eumeneia provides an intriguing epitaph (16/06/01) of a certain Gaios, a shallowly Christianized lawyer, who believes in numerology -- he informs us that his name, Γάϊος, as well as ἅγιος and ἀγαθός all have the same numerical value, namely 284.

Hierapolis provides a fascinating account also (16/07/01) concerning Bishop Aberkios, who was active in the time of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. He allegedly was called to Rome where, received by Faustina Jr., he healed the sick princess Lucilla. Then he was sent to Syria by the Roman church to settle the dispute between the catholic church and the Marcionites, after which he returned to Phrygia. The entire epitaph is preserved only in Aberkios' hagiographical biography, but the discovery of part of the original inscription by Ramsay in 1882, as well as another epitaph (likewise found by Ramsay), dated A.D. 216, which borrows from it, show that the epitaph preserved in manuscript is an accurate copy of his actual gravestone. Whether or not one can give credence to a Christian being summoned (at this early time) to cure an imperial princess, that is certainly what his fellow Christians believed about this obviously important figure in early Christianity. Temenothyrae (Usak) introduces us to the double-door gravestone, characteristic of the area, with a monument for Severa (16/08/04). The one door displays a mirror, perfume bottle, and comb; the other a papyrus roll and wax tablets: the lady was both beautiful and literate. Aizanoi and Kadoi between them show how reliefs of husband and wife standing together could be either of fairly high quality (16/23/09) or quaintly primitive (16/25/02 and 03). Appia offers us a Clarian oracle ordering the dedication of an altar to Apollo (16/31/01) as well as additional double-door reliefs (16/31/02, 75 and 86). We learn a lot from 16/31/10 about the state hierarchy introduced by Maximinus Daia as a counter-organization to the Christians. The imperial priest Epitynchanos is praised on a stele with representations on four sides, prose text on three. Curiously, not only are the gods characterized as immortal but so is the priest himself, repeatedly. This interesting inscription gains admission to this book by being accompanied by a neo-Platonic verse in Epitynchanos' honor. From the same place we have a particularly fine Christian epitaph, at least in outward appearance, in honor of one Akakios (16/31/15), decorated only with a wreath. The Christians, mindful of the commandment not to worship graven images, are reluctant to show the human form on their gravestones. But as soon as one starts reading, one finds oneself in the realm of Protesilaus and the bitter Muses. Old commonplaces die hard. Further examples of shallow Christianization are supplied by 16/31/83 and 97. Appia also introduces us to the "Christians-for-Christians" inscriptions (16/31/12, 77, 87, 88), in which it appears that the Christian community undertook responsibility for the burial of its members.

As far as the language is concerned, we are dealing with Greek which is not only rapidly turning into Modern Greek but also written by people with little concept of orthography or regard for syntax. The editors comment on 16/28/87, "Eigentlich kann man diesen aller Grammatik spottenden Text gar nicht übersetzen." Kotiaion brings us first (16/32/01) a very handsomely carved gravestone, with the occupant of the tomb, young Tatia, holding a mirror in the main field, and busts of her grieving parents in the pediment. Interesting also is the wording of 16/32/03, so carefully phrased that one cannot tell whether the deceased is a pagan, an orthodox Christian, or a heretical Montanist or Novatian. And 16/32/04 combines the "Christians for Christians" formula with thoroughly pagan allusions.

Let us pause in our rapid survey over an inscription with relief (16/34/03) from Dorylaion (Eskisehir), now in the Istanbul Museum. It is dedicated [Μ]ητρὶ θεῶν, Φοίβῳ τ' ὁσίῳ καὶ Μηνὶ δικαίῳ. It appears almost as if the abstract divinity Hosios kai Dikaios, worshipped in the vicinity, had been split up, half going to Phoebus and half to Men. What concerns us particularly here is the accompanying relief, where the authors identify the riding figure in the lower left of the inscription field as "wohl Men." But the iconography is not that of Men at all. This figure does not have Men's crescent at his neck and is carrying a double ax. Men does occasionally carry a double axe, e.g. on coins of Alia, but it is not a hallmark of his, being more characteristic of, e.g., Apollo Lairbenos. Furthermore, no ancient observer would ever have called this figure Men because he lacks the all-important crescent at his neck. Whoever is on horseback here, it is not Men, nor is that a problem in this context since there already seems to be a large discrepancy between the figures in the relief and the names in the inscription. If this is removed, then the only figure both mentioned in the text and illustrated in the relief is Helios. (P. Frei, who first published this inscription, EA 11, 1988, 25-6 no. 12, was much more circumspect in his attempt to identify the gods involved.) Further, the authors both here and further on use the term "Lunus" to designate Men, as if it were a better known name for him. The only problem is that this name for the god dropped out of scholarly usage in the early nineteenth century!

Likewise of interest from Dorylaion are a set of inscriptions (16/34/06-11) concerning a certain Q. Voconius Aelius Stratonicus, called Akamantios. The man had so adorned the city with public works that he is declared a second founder. The original presumed founders of the city were a certain Dorylaos of Eretria and Theseus' son Akamas (the untiring). The present benefactor not only is placed on an equal footing with his namesake Akamas but also honored with a statue by each of the tribes of the city. For the importance of founder-cult in this area, see 16/01/01, discussed above. Passing on to the so-called Phrygian highlands we find an extremely interesting epitaph (16/41/09) of a certain Zosimus, ἐκ λαοῦ ὑψίστοιο, a worshipper of the Theos Hypsistos, and thus possibly a Jew. His profession seems to have been that of a local oracle. He tells us that he foretold the future, writing in πνευματικαῖς γραφαῖς (inspired scriptures?) and Homeric verses whatever people needed to know. Thus we have here one of the people who are responsible for filling the world of late antiquity with the pseudo-Homeric language which so dominated their thought-patterns that even Christians succumbed, as we have seen repeatedly in this volume. (Why in line 7 is the incomprehensible μεωσα not written in capitals?) Likewise from the highlands is an epitaph (16/41/15) for a prophetess Nanas, probably a Montanist like those we know from Tertullian, as she conversed with angels and sometimes with the "greatest ones." An epitaph from Amorion (16/43/04) concludes with a Neo-Phrygian curse formula, and Claude Brixhe has provided an exegesis. One of the best things about these volumes is that the most unpreposessing texts can be made to speak loudly. Take 16/51/04, from Synnada, the one line preserved from the victory of a boxer. The fact that he attributes his victory, not to κάρτεϊ χειρῶν (strength of hands), but to καρτερίᾳ χειρῶν (endurance of hands) shows the difference between ancient and modern boxing. In antiquity there were no breaks between rounds. One could win a match defensively, by staving off blows, as well as by landing them. And from Pisidian Antioch, more properly Antioch near Pisidia, we have the clever arrangement of letters (16/61/03) which allows the verse ἀσκαίης ναέτην Μῆνα σέβων ἐθέμην to be read over and over again. (Men is again called Lunus. A correction is also needed on 16/61/13. It is not in the Yalova Museum, but in that of Yalvac, -- or as our authors usually call it, Yalowadj, using a pre-Atatürk spelling!)

In this review I have tried to hit some of the outstanding pieces in the collection. For the most part, the authors do what they set out to do -- namely to make the monuments more accessible and thus attractive to the student of antiquity. I did not find as many mistakes in this volume as in the previous one -- but when they do make mistakes, they don't do it halfway. It is to be hoped that the fifth volume, with indices, also contains corrigenda. It is a shame that there are already so many of them.

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