Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.02.10

Flavia Frisone, Leggi e Regolamenti Funerari nel Mondo Greco: I. Le Fonti Epigraphiche.   Lecce:  Università di Lecce, Scoula di Specializzazione in Archeologia Classica e Medioevale, 2000.  Pp. 193.  ISBN 88-8086463-7.  EUR 28.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Jason G. Hawke, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb (
Word count: 2186 words

Those who study the issue of legislation in the Greek world generally, and funerary legislation in particular, will know that a divide exists. On the one hand are scholars who see the purpose of such legislation as essentially exercises by the polis (or more accurately, those managing the polis at a given point in time) of its legal and political sovereignty over its constituent parts. Most recently, this view has found effective proponents in, inter alia, Michael Gagarin and Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp, and, with regard to funerary law, in Robert Garland, Ian Morris and Richard Seaford.1 At the risk of grossly oversimplifying the general reasons, often such attempts at restricting spending, the number of participants, the types of encomia, and such, could be viewed as aimed first and foremost at hemming in the potential for disruption to the life of the community and the specter of aristocratic extravagance and violence stemming from an already competitive spirit, enflamed by the heightened emotional state accompanying the funeral of an important individual.

On the other hand, a more culturally and ritually oriented set of analyses -- most notably and fully argued recently by Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood2 -- views such legislation as having only secondary and largely unintentional "political" or "economic" (i.e., anti-sumptuary) consequences. For those who subscribe to this general line of thinking, funerary legislation seeks to restrict the possibility of contamination, of the disruptive effects of miasma, to limit its occurrence as strictly as possible, and to provide measures for catharsis of those necessarily polluted through having partaken in the rituals of death and the attendant expressions of grief in the funeral. By regulating such issues as what must or must not be returned to the home after the burial of the corpse, what elements of the funerary apparatus must not be allowed to touch "public" spaces, specific measures for the isolation and or cleansing of the deceased's home and relations, the community sought to regulate and normalize the means by which the survivors were "re-aggregated" to the whole after a period of liminal existence.

Ultimately, of course, both sides are talking about the same end result, namely the attempt through expressions of legal authority to limit disruption to the community and the best way to achieve a stable and sustainable equilibrium in the Greek polis (sometimes expressed as kosmos), which in its archaic phases has been aptly described by Lin Foxhall as "little more than a standoff between the members of the elite who ran them."3 But the consequences of preferring one explanatory model or another for the motivations of such attempts at regulation can be seen as having consequences for the larger, so-called "primitivist-modernist" debate about the archaic polis. Were the Greeks, in prescribing funerary behaviors, motivated by a primordial fear of death and pollution, embracing and then pushing away death? Or did these attempts at regulation of funerary cult and practice represent a "reasoned" act of early statecraft, a safeguard against the emotional tensions of the funerary atmosphere and their potential for disruption to the political and economic life of the community?

It is one of the cardinal virtues of Frisone's (hereafter "F") book that she recognizes throughout this emphasis on community stabilization as paramount, though certainly her interpretations of the evidence she considers leave little doubt that she would align herself more closely with the interpretations of Robert Parker or Sourvinou-Inwood. While her own interpretative agenda is not altogether clear from her terse and abbreviated introductory chapters (which discuss methodology and survey the rather considerable secondary literature perhaps too cursorily given the breadth of interpretation and the importance of approach), her preference for understanding the purpose of the laws she surveys in light of ritual and religious considerations is manifest.

As the title suggests, F. intends this to be the first half of a two volume work, the second of which will address the literary sources. In this volume, the outgrowth of the author's University of Lecce thesis in Greek epigraphy, F. examines painstakingly the surviving epigraphical evidence for funerary legislation predating the Hellenistic period, along with two third century inscriptions (under her consideration are inscriptions from Gortyn, Cumae, Ioulis, Delphi, Thasos, Gambreion and Nisyros, in that order). If for no other reason, the book would automatically be worthwhile to the serious scholar of funerary legislation in the Greek world as an intelligently organized compendium of resources up to the date of this volume's publication. Beginning with the third chapter (pp. 25-43), F. presents one inscription per chapter, and thereafter follows an effective and lucid formula for the discussion of each subsequent law. Each chapter presents the reader with the provenance and circumstances of discovery of each inscription, its general features (e.g., size and material of the inscription, direction of the text, size of the letters, obvious physical impediments to reading the text -- lacunae at the margins, fractures, surface smoothing, etc.), and the restored text, itself preceded by an exhaustive list of the available editions and commentaries on the text in question. There follows a translation of the text, and then a meticulous line-by-line discussion of the inscription, employing the philological rigor promised in the book's preface by Mario Lombardo. While such "rigor" can easily slide into tedium in other studies, generally speaking F. does an excellent job of integrating into this stringent analysis often lively discussions of the various theories for reconstruction by previous editors, and she frequently engages in the debate not only over individual readings of certain lines but also over their (often contentious) interpretation. Each chapter then concludes with a summary interpretation of the law and its place within the context of our knowledge of Greek funerary law. F. includes in an appendix clear, quality, black and white plates of the inscriptions under examination, a welcome reference for those who might wish to check the epigraphy and textual reconstructions favored in the body of the argument itself.

Perhaps the most convincing theme of F.'s book is her sustained attack on the notion of funerary legislation as having any purely anti-sumptuary intent; indeed, it would seem any future attempts to explain the motivation of funerary legislation as principally economic will founder against F.'s analysis. Her discussion is particularly persuasive in her examination of the laws from Ioulis (pp. 57-102), where she notes that the maximum allowable expenditure for the funeral equipment and various quantities of wine, oil, and unguent would have represented a sum value well beyond the economic capacities of most of the citizens. On pages 95-96, F. offers statements which might stand nicely for the overall approach to the work. She observes that the law of Ioulis has been previously interpreted in the light of recurrent themes -- "its anti-sumptuary value; its resemblance -- which immediately becomes dependence -- to the 'Solonian' Athenian laws; the restrictive character on the excesses in the manifestations of grief on the part of the family and in particular the behavior of women."4 On the basis of her own understanding of the law, she jettisons these approaches for an understanding of the law of Ioulis as a manifestation of how the "essential points of the Greek city's relationship with death were inserted in the rigorous context of a ceremonial structure which was dedicated for the most part to the problems of miasma and ritual purity."5

The emphasis on the ritual aspects of regulating and limiting contamination leads F., however, to underplay the potential political significance of certain measures. F. herself notes, for example, that the law of Ioulis has a strong political connection but makes the rather puzzling assertion that while the regulations may have grown out of attempts to combat aristocratic ostentation in funerary practice, the ultimate purpose of the law had been to preserve the good order of the polis (p. 100). This would seem to suggest that the two were unconnected, which simply could not have been the case. Limiting expenditure in funerals to a cap still beyond the means of most citizens need not have been intended, of course, to control the expenditure of resources on the dead in general. Such a ceiling could have a purpose more political than economic, in restraining the expenditure of those families for whom wealth was not a concern, and who could turn a funeral into a public spectacle not in harmony with the desired kosmos of the city. F.'s concentration on the ceremonial and ritual aspects, however, prevents her from engaging this possibility adequately.

This tendency likewise manifests itself in her discussion of the funerary regulations of the Labiadai of Delphi (pp. 103-126), especially in her discussion of key provisions regarding the ekphora (pp. 113-115). Here, F. tries to ignore the clear public dimension of the regulation and, as elsewhere in her discussion of this law, she falls back to the position that the "law" of the Labiadai was not a civic law, but rather that of a phratry. As her discussion of the entirety of the inscription at the beginning of the chapter reveals, the same text also dealt with matters such as phratry magistracies, which arguably followed examples of known civic patterns of office-holding elsewhere. Might this phratry regulation have aped laws of the polis? The possibility is not explored. More telling, however, is the admission on p. 115 that "the law of the Labiadai, it is true, does not hint, in any of its parts preserved for us, at the complex problems of contamination and ritual purification, but it is possible that this constituted the subject of an apposite norm or that it was not included among the competencies of the phratry."6 Perhaps, but resting an interpretative framework on phantom evidence that is not otherwise even obliquely attested is surely untenable, especially given the rather global nature of the remainder of the four-sided stone on which this inscription is found.

Indeed, while this reviewer believes the work to be a valuable contribution to the scholarship on the topic, and found it at turns stimulating and enlightening, there were any number of general features of the book with which one might take issue. A general point of concern -- and one which F. will hopefully address in the promised second volume -- is an apparent lack of concern to engage the archaic, historical dimension as fully as one might hope. While most of the inscriptions treated here are fifth and fourth century examples, F. argues in several cases that they are redactions of earlier, archaic laws. Nonetheless, she begins with the premise that one may leave aside the considerations that have preoccupied scholars of Athenian funerary legislation. F. is certainly correct (p. 11) that the focus on the Athenian example can lead to an Athenocentrism that prejudices the reading of funerary laws from other Greek poleis. The point is well taken, but reducing our study of such texts to an analysis of the language with limited reference to the archaeological material or the historical context -- however wanting our always tentative reconstructions of it must be -- does not appear per se methodologically more acceptable than readings that try to encompass all of these factors.

Indeed, F. struggles to maintain her approach to reading the texts when it comes to her study of Ioulis, where the surviving laws (= IG xii.5.593) clearly draw inspiration from the influence of Athenian practice. It is difficult to understand how our interpretation of such a law is strengthened by largely ignoring the Athenian past which, at least in the imagination of classical Athenians, continued to inform their contemporary legislative activity. To avoid addressing this issue adequately, F. resorts to explaining any similarities between the law of Ioulis and Solon's funerary legislation as superficial and perhaps the result of common practices by Ionian groups (p. 101). Only in her discussion of the surviving "regulation" from fifth century Cumae (pp. 45-55) do we find an extensive treatment of archaeological data. The connection here arises out of the references to "becoming a Bacchus" and the various ritual components F. perceives in certain burial contexts. But here, as F. admits, we do not have "una norma pubblica", but rather an inscription from the interior of a tomb, and in order to frame it among other Greek funerary regulations she attempts to incorporate evidence from Olbia Pontica (p. 53) and parallels from the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial periods (p. 51). How such broad usage across time and space should be valid while reference to the Athenian example shunned is never made clear.

In sum, F. can be criticized on several general and specific grounds. This is hardly surprising, though, given the contentious nature of the topic and the necessarily limited insight any scholar might attain given the quantity and quality of our evidence. F.'s contribution hardly settles the debate framed at the outset of the present review, but it is characterized by thorough scholarship and offers many valuable observations on specific points, as well as a sort of compendium on the available epigraphical evidence and scholarship to date, as mentioned above. Any scholar working in the field of Greek funerary legislation would be wise to give F.'s book full and careful consideration.


1.   Gagarin, Early Greek Law (Berkeley, 1986); K. Joachim-Hölkeskamp, "Written Law in Archaic Greece", Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, n.s. 38 (1992): 87-117; "Arbitrators, Lawgivers and the 'Codification of Law' in Archaic Greece. Problems and Perspectives", Metis 7 (1992): 49-81; Schiedsrichter, Gesetzgeber und Gesetzgebung im archaischen Griechenland (Tübingen, 1999); R. Garland, The Greek Way of Death (Ithaca, NY, 1985); "The Well-Ordered Corpse: an investigation into the motives behind Greek funerary legislation", BICS 36 (1989): 1-15; I. Morris, Burial and Ancient Society (Cambridge, 1987); "Attitudes toward Death in Archaic Greece", Classical Antiquity 8 (1989): 296-320; "Law, Culture and Funerary Art in Athens, 600-300 B.C.", Hephaistos 11/12 (1992-3): 35-50; R. Seaford, Reciprocity and Ritual (Oxford, 1994), esp. 74-105; see also Mark Toher, "Greek Funeral Legislation and the Two Spartan Funerals", in M.A. Flower and M. Toher, edd., Georgica (London 1991): 159-175.
2.   C. Sourvinou-Inwood, 'Reading' Greek Death (Oxford, 1995); "A Trauma in Flux: Death in the 8th century and after", in R. Hägg, ed. The Greek Renaissance of the Eighth Century BC (Stockholm, 1981): 33-48. For pollution, R. Parker, Miasma (Oxford, 1983).
3.   L. Foxhall, "A View from the Top: Evaluating the Solonian property classes", in L.G. Mitchell and P.J. Rhodes, The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece (London and New York, 1997): 119.
4.   p. 95: " suo valore anti-suntuario; la sua somiglianza -- che diviene immediamente dipendenza -- con le leggi ateniesi "soloniane"; il carattere restrittivo degli eccessi nella manifestazione del lutto da parte della famiglia e in particolare dei comportamenti femminili".
5.   p. 96: "...i punti essenziali del rapporto della città greca con la morte sono inseriti nel severo contesto di una struttura ceremoniale che è dedicata per la maggior parte ai problemi del μίασμα e della purità rituale".
6.   "La regolamentazione dei Labiadi, è vero, non accenna in nessuna delle parti a noi pervenute ai complessi problemi della contaminazione e purificazione rituale, ma è possible che questo costituisse l'argomento di una norma apposita o che non rientrasse fra le competenze della fratria".

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