Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.07.31

Reinhold Merkelbach, Josef Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten. Band 4: Die Südküste Kleinasiens, Syrien und Palaestina.   München/Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2002.  Pp. xvi, 471.  ISBN 3-598-73007-1.  €139.00.  

Reviewed by Julia Lougovaya-Ast, Columbia University (
Word count: 3148 words

In this fourth volume of Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten (SGO), R. Merkelbach and J. Stauber (M. and S.) continue to do what they have done in the previous three volumes: offer greater accessibility to verse inscriptions from the Greek East that were originally published, whether recently or long ago, in specialized and sometimes hard-to-get periodicals; place epigrams known only from the manuscript tradition in the geographical setting in which they are likely to have been inscribed; and, what is most exciting, provide a few new inscriptions. Since the previous volumes have been reviewed in this e-journal, the reader may wish to consult those reviews to get an idea of the general outline of the publication, BMCR 2000.05.16, BMCR 2001.05.04, BMCR 2002.03.16. This volume covers the coastal areas of southern Asia Minor (Lykia, 17; Pisidia and Pamphilia, 18; Kilikia, 19), as well as Syria (20), Palestine (21), and Nabatea-Arabia (22); it also contains Addenda et Corrigenda to volumes 1-3 (23). It is the final installment of the collected material, and has been followed by volume 5, Register (2004), which includes corrections and additions to volumes 1-4, as well as indices.

Reviews of volumes 1-3 have drawn attention to the advantages (the greater accessibility offered by the inclusion of commentaries and German translations) and the disadvantages (the hasty execution of the edition and subsequent unreliability of some texts) of SGO, and these hold true for volume 4. In this review I want to pinpoint some of the highlights of the volume, starting with the hitherto unpublished inscriptions, of which we have eight.

17/03/03 is an epitaph found in Telmessos in Lykia which dates to the imperial period and commemorates a certain Moscharo, who died in childbirth after delivering triplets, a rare reference to a multiple birth greater than twins. The epitaph is spoken by the deceased:

Moscharo from Euphyra, of prudent mind, I lie here,
Having released my spirit in the labor of delivering triplets.
My husband Xeiniades buried me. I have experienced what I wished for:
To be conducted to my grave by my husband and two children.
The lines do not make it clear whether the triplets survived; perhaps they did since, otherwise, the epitaph is likely to have mentioned their death. The two children mentioned in v. 4 might have been older siblings of the triplets.1 From Patara in Lykia, we get three new verse inscriptions, also dating to the imperial period: 17/09/06, an epitaph on a cenotaph for Villius Hymenaios, which Claudius Helikon set up "for his sweetest friend"; 17/09/08, a fragmentarily preserved epitaph for the wife of a man named Euphemos; and 17/09/07, a Latin epitaph for a freedman born in Lydia, near Tmolos, who apparently excelled in the art of Greek poetry. As a slave, he made it to Rome, where he was eventually freed by Placidus; we are not told, however, what brought him to coastal Lykia, where he died. From Arabian Petra comes a new honorary inscription (22/71/01) praising Horion, who renovated the city-walls and saved Palaestina Salutaris by defeating foreign-speaking (βαραβαρόφωνοι) enemies. 18/13/05 is a text that is due to appear in IK; it is an honorary epigram from Perge for an official named Rufus. In Section 23, Addenda et Corrigenda, one finds two unpublished verse epitaphs from Dorylaion in Phrygia, 23/15 (= 16/34/39) and 23/16 (= 16/34/40). The first word of the latter the editors restore as κάθερ]μα; another possibility might be ἔρεισ]μα, which is more common.

Among inscriptions that have been published recently, by which I mean within the last fifteen years or so, I draw attention to 17/01/07, a polished epigram for Palygos, from the Cretan city of Rhaukos, who died and was buried in Kibyra some time in the 2nd c. BC (this is the date of the ed. pr.). Palygos is said to have received the name of his father's father. The editors wonder why the inscription mentions the grandfather and not the father. The grandfather is mentioned because, as was common for grandsons, Palygos took his name from him, and the commissioner found this noteworthy -- an Attic verse epitaph (IG II/III 12974 = CEG 564, 4th century BC) employs similar language to identify the deceased as the namesake of his father's father. A fourth century BC epitaph for the dynast Apollonios from Olympos in Lykia (17/19/03) is reminiscent of the mock epigram ascribed by Athenaeus to Simonides (Page 37 = AP 7.348), which begins with "having drunk a lot, and having eaten a lot, and having said a lot of bad things about people, I lie here ..." and purports to be an epitaph for Timokreon.2 The Lykian epitaph reads:

Having died, I, Apollonios son of Hellaphilos, lie here.
I performed just deeds, and the life that I lived was always sweet:
I ate, drank and played. But, you, go and fare well.

17/15/01 is a dedicatory record of another Lykian dynast, Perikles of Limyra, who set up an altar to Zeus sometime in the first half of the 4th c. BC. 18/01/28, from Termessos, is a very interesting inscription on a small sarcophagus of a dog named Stephanos. The epitaph seems to have comprised three epigrams, of which the first is largely lost, but the following two survive intact:

This is the tomb of the dog, Stephanos, who perished,
Whom Rhodope shed tears for and buried like a human (vv. 4-5).
I am the dog Stephanos, and Rhodope set up a tomb for me (v. 6).
The small sarcophagus was found near the inscribed sarcophagus of Rhodope herself. Rhodope's epitaph is in prose and states that the woman set up the tomb completely by and exclusively for herself (TAM III.746), which suggests that she was single. 18/12/05 from Pamphylian Attaleia is a neatly carved epigram inscribed on a memorial for Protogonos, son of Ophellis. Protogonos died and was buried elsewhere, and his father honored him by building an altar to serve as "a target σκοπόν for the tears that he sheds for his son."

This volume also includes some notable attractions, which are treated at length and usually accompanied by various illustrations, from old drawings of the monument to recent photographs. Some of the oracles are treated in this way: 17/06/01, an oracle from Klaros in Oinoanda; 17/08/01, an oracle from Patara in Sidyma in Lykia; 18/19/01, another oracle from Klaros, given in response to the question of how to gain protection from pirates who were plaguing the Pamphylian city of Syedra. 18/13/01 records the grant by the Emperor Tacitus of the status of metropolis to the city of Perge; the entry includes an acclamation to the city and a long epigram consisting of five couplets spoken by the city, in which Tacitus is likened to Zeus and Perge to the city of Ephesos. Famous inscriptions of Xanthian dynasts also receive lavish treatment (17/10/01-03). Within this section (p. 48) there is a very interesting reproduction of one of the reliefs of the so-called Xanthian pillar, which illustrates v. 10 of the epigram (17/10/01) in which Gergis is said to have killed seven Arkadian men in one day: six shields are seen hanging behind the warrior, while in the forefront a mortally wounded hoplite is about to lose his shield. 17/08/03 from Sidyma records in a rather lame and lengthy verse the cursus honorum of Flavius Eutolmius Tatianus, praefectus praetorio Orientis from 382-392. In 19/15/02, which must have been incised on the base of the statue of Apollonios of Tyana (the commentaries could perhaps have made it clearer how uncertain -- and this is crucial for the interpretation of the text -- the restorations in vv. 3-4 are). 17/02/01, an epitaph for a certain Aurelius Eutychides, purports to represent a saying of "the leader of the seers," Kerellaios, the essence of which is that to die is not bad, since it is fated, but to die young and predecease the parents, is. This motif seems to have been especially popular in the Greek East (SGO includes twelve examples of it), and it is also attested from the Hellenistic period to the 4th c. AD, among other places, in Karystos on Euboia (ZPE 24 (1977), 33), Lato on Crete (IC I.16.50), and on Rhodes (IG 12.1.146). It is unlikely that Kerellaios was the source of the motif, but he must have known or had a collection of appropriate verses to inscribe on a tombstone. It seems fitting that a person steeped in soothsaying is the source of occasional verses. In the commentary, M. and S. follow Peek's date of 2nd-3rd c., but the name Aurelius suggests a date after 212 (the Constitutio Antoniniana).

As for inscriptions that are perhaps less widely known, I would single out an epigram of 18 verses from Pisidian Adada which discusses the Stoic doctrine of freedom (18/09/03) and dates to the 2nd-3rd c. It is cut on a rock by the road and addresses the passerby: "Read, stranger, and you will gain some useful travel provisions, by learning that the person who is free in his character (τροποῖς) alone is free," vv. 1-2. The epigram goes on to discuss the insignificance of one's ancestry -- Zeus is the forefather of all, for all men there is one root, and all are made from the same clay -- for one's freedom does not depend on his status; as proof of this, it offers the example of Epiktetos, who achieved divinity even though his mother was a slave. Photographs show that we are lucky to have had the 19th century transcription, since by now the inscription has been badly damaged. 18/01/26 is a moving epitaph for a certain Severa; it consists of two quatrains, one spoken by her husband, Candidus, and the other by her:

This is your home and mine, Severa, god-like among women,
A work which Fate fashioned with adamantine hand.
May here, too, I be called your husband,
Candidus, who is not the worst of Hellenes.

Oh, dear man, would that the gods accomplished this for me,
So that, having forgotten icy death,
I would lie in bed, and around me your soft arm
You would always wrap, and we would be immortal among the dead.

22/42/10, from Bostra in Nabatea, commemorates a woman named Kyrilla who died when she was in the eighth month of pregnancy. The epitaph was inscribed in two copies, on the sarcophagus and on the facade of the tomb, the only significant difference being that the one on the facade includes two extra verses stating that the tomb was set up by Kyrilla's son, Kimon (it should be added that v. 7 on the sarcophagus has πέλουσαν, while the verse on the facade reads κύουσαν, though the meaning of the verse remains the same).

Quite a few epigrams in this volume are associated with mosaic floors, which decorated villas, baths, and churches, including baptisteries. Many of the texts are accompanied by photographs, and are thus among the most enjoyable for the reader. Patrikios, son of Olympios, decorated a villa near Heliopolis (modern Baalbek) with a mosaic celebrating ancient philosophy (20/13/03). In the center, the mosaic shows Kalliope, who is surrounded by eight medallions depicting the Seven Sages, subscribed with their places of origin and maxims, and in the key position above Kalliope is Sokrates. The epigram, in a separate tabula ansata, states that Patrikios built a house worthy of the wisdom of Eudoxios, a prudent Πλατωνιάδης. Another villa, located at the border between Palestine and Egypt (modern Cheikh Zouède), houses a mosaic floor with two scenes (22/77/01). One scene depicts a pensive Phaidra in her palace, two hunters, and, in the middle, the nurse handing Phaidra's letter to Hippolytos while Eros is pointing his finger at him; the other scene features Dionysos and Herakles, and the frame has two epigrams addressing the onlooker and calling him to rejoice. M. and S. offer a date of ca. 3rd c., but the mosaic can hardly be earlier than the time of Constantine and is perhaps later. 19/08/03 contains a building epigram that was incorporated in a mosaic floor depicting, in a somewhat primitive but charming way, the three Graces at the baths at Korykos in Kilikia. Another epigram found at a bathhouse located in Osrhoene in Syria tells us that Isaios renovated the baths, "and Panakia (the all-healing) herself now holds this house, which she has sworn never to leave" (20/25/01, vv. 4-5). Church mosaic floors record building activities of certain bishops or priests and sometimes include the date of completion of the project (e.g. 21/23/07 and /08 attesting the projects of Paulos, the bishop of Gerasa in Palestine).

Sharing or assimilation of symbols and poetic motifs from pre-Christian and Christian traditions is well illustrated in this volume. Sometimes the transformation of motifs is easily detectable; thus, building epigrams for baths can be recognized in what was likely to have been for a baptistery; instead of cleansing the body, the waters are meant to cleanse the soul (e.g., 22/42/02, Bostra). But sometimes the distinction between literal and metaphorical meaning is elusive, as is the case with a long epigram commemorating the building of the church of St. Theodoros by the priest Aineas in Gerasa (21/23/03) in the 5th or 6th c. The epigram, spoken by the building, claims that the church went up where a slaughter-house had once been. The description of the stench, slime, and sounds of animals being slaughtered is graphic, and it is contrasted with the beauty and ambrosial smell of the church. Our editors go for the literal interpretation, which might be correct, but one regrets that they do not even mention the explanation proposed by Boeckh and Conder, which Welles found very attractive, namely that the grisly description was meant to refer to a pre-Christian sanctuary where sacrifices of cattle had been performed. In 22/21/01 from Maximianopolis in Nabatea we find epic language seamlessly employed in an apparently Christian context. Here, a farmer by the name of Bassos is said to have built a tomb for himself, his wife and his children, and had it inscribed with three separate epigrams of similar content, all placed around the tomb's door. According to the prose subscription above the door, Bassos accomplished the construction of the tomb in the 71st year of the polis, which was either 357/8 or 372/3.3 The epigram on the left of the door concludes with a reference to Rhadamanthys, to whom the πότνια νύμφα should conduct the souls of Bassos and his family members when they die. M. and S. note that the reference to Rhadamanthys is a quotation from Odyssey 6.564, while the "venerable virgin," also an epic expression (e.g., Od. 5.49; Hesiod fr.26.25), apparently refers to Mary. The Christian context of the epigram is assumed from the prose subscription, which consists of five letters: chi, mu, gamma, koppa, theta. M. and S. conventionally translate chi, mu, gamma "Maria hat Christos geboren." It should also be borne in mind that the letters χμγ are not only an acronym, but are an isopsephism representing the number 643 (chi = 600, mu = 40, and gamma =3), which is also the numeric value of the letters in θεὸς βοηθός, "God the Helper," originally a Jewish phrase expressed by the letters theta and beta.4 The remaining two letters, koppa and theta, are explained by M. and S. as having a sum of 99, which is correct, but the statement that 99 is the sum of the numeric values of letters in the words ἅγιος and θεός andἀθάνατος is a mistake; 99 is the sum of ἀμήν.5

A fair number of inscriptions in this volume are dated by the year in accordance with a certain era, as well as by the indiction. Since the collection addresses a general audience, it could certainly benefit from a note on what an indiction is. Furthermore, several dates can be made more precise, and some should be corrected. 17/17/01: the date according to editions cited by the editors should be "not after 100 AD," instead of 4th-3rd c. BC. 21/05/02: this date would be correct if not for a typo in the edition from which it is borrowed; the correct date is the 11th of April 569, not the 12th. 21/23/04: in the translation the year is given as 599 of the local Gerasian Era (GE), and, accordingly, the calculation arrives at the date AD 535/6. The year in the inscription is actually 559 GE, which was reckoned from the fall of 63 BC. The month Dios of the 5th indiction in the year 559 GE makes the date late fall/early winter AD 496. 21/23/08: the date in Greek should read epsilon koppa phi, not epsilon theta phi, and the month Peritios of the 11th indiction in 595 GE falls in the late winter/early spring AD 533. 22/45/01: the translation should read 19th of Panemos (not 28th). This inscription has a tricky date; it is recorded as year 392, in the 8th indiction, on the 19th of Panemos, but the problem is that 392 of the Era of the Province of Arabia (EPA) corresponds to AD 497, whereas the 8th indiction started on September 1st, AD 499. Consequently, it has been proposed that the letter eta indicating the indiction is a mistake for an epsilon, the 5th indiction (see, among others, SEG 19.895). If so, the date can be rendered the 19th of Panemos 392 EPA, <5>th ind. = 8 July, 497. 22/56/01: in the note on the date, February 974 of the Seleucid Era, in the 5th indiction, should correspond to February, AD 662, not AD 663.

Volume 4 has already received a number of corrections, which are printed in vol. 5 (Register), pp. 12-16.6 Some infelicities and mistakes still remain to be pointed out. 18/15/11: the letters tau nu theta stand for 359, while the letters sigma omikron delta indicate 274 (consistently confused in the translation and commentary). 20/11/02: the epigram is not translated -- perhaps this is because it is closely paralleled by AP 9.193 and 16/53/06, which is translated in vol. 3. 20/14/07: the ages of the two Crispi are wrong in the introduction to the epigram (but correct in the translation). 20/24/01: in the commentary to line 4, "Lies custos" should be moved to the note on line 5. 21/09/02: v. 2 should be ὁδὸν, with an aspirate over the first omicron. 22/16/01: v. 1 has Ὠαστός while in the drawing of the epigram ωριστος is clearly visible; the editors do not mention the discrepancy. 22/39/01: in the epitaph for Kaiamos, who set up his tomb from the salary he drew in the Roman army, M. and S. seem to understand πολυλήειος as formed from ληίς and meaning "rich in booty," and conclude that "Dieser Araber ... hat die Beduinenmentalität nicht abgelegt." The word, however, is likelier to derive from λήιον and denote "rich in corn" or simply "rich," as, e.g., at Iliad 5.613.


1.   Another possibility is that two of them survived, while the third did not.
2.   For thorough treatment of variations of this motif, see W. Ameling, ZPE 60 (1985), 35-44.
3.   See Y. Meimaris, Chronological systems in Roman-Byzantine Palestine and Arabia (Athens 1992), 325-326.
4.   For brief discussion and further bibliography, see D. Hagedorn in P. Hamb. IV (= Griechische Papyrusurkunden der Hamburger Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek IV, B. Kramer and D. Hagedorn eds. [Stuttgart und Leipzig 1998], p. 145); S.R. Llewelyn, "The Christian Symbol ΧΜΓ, an Acrostic or an Isopsephism?" in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity 8 (1997), 156-168.
5.   The last two letters have been read as upsilon theta or rho theta, and interpreted as a date by an unknown era; after Bankes, Wetzstein copied koppa theta, which was accepted by Robert (for bibliography, see SEG 46.2078). A photograph of the inscription in J.-M. Dentzer and J. Dentzer-Feyday eds. Le djebel al-Arab : histoire et patrimoine au Musée de Suweida (Paris 1991), pl. 24 no. 272 clearly shows a koppa, although the editors print rho, p. 133.
6.   As for omissions, I noticed the following texts that should have been included in vol. 4: SEG 8.28; SEG 31.1249 (seems to be intended as metrical, although the meter is flawed); SEG 37.1438 (a significant omission; it is a three couplet dedication to a hunting deity from Damascus in Syria, ca. AD 150); SEG 47. 1776 (epitaph from Pisidia, undated); SEG 49.1878 (honorary epigram for a governor, ca. AD 350-400); SEG 49.2084 (building inscription and epigram from Skythopolis, AD 500/501 or 515/516); SEG 50.1361 (epitaph from Kilikia, late 5th-mid 6th c.); SEG 50.1354bis (epitaph for a priest of Apollo from Oinoanda, 2nd-3rd c.).

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