Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.12.22

Marco Tentori Montalto, Essere primi per il valore: gli epigrammi funerari greci su pietra per i caduti in guerra (VII-V sec. a.C.). Quaderni della rivista di cultura classica e medioevale 16.   Pisa; Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2017.  Pp. 244.  ISBN 9788862279062.  €68.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Marco Sferruzza, Università di Roma La Sapienza (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Warfare plays a major role in Greek culture, in that it pervades not only the literary sources but also the visual arts, archaeological evidence, and epigraphic sources. Funerary inscriptions are particularly important, since they show how, to what extent, and from when the hoplite ideal of the “belle mort” became embedded in Greek society.

M. Tentori Montalto’s book, published in the series Quaderni della «Rivista di cultura classica e medioevale», is based on the author’s Ph.D. thesis. This study collects all Greek funerary verse inscriptions dedicated to the war dead from the archaic age to the end of the 5th century BCE, mostly, but not exclusively, from mainland Greece.

This corpus consists of 46 inscriptions. 32 epigrams dedicated to war dead: nos. 1–17 (private epigrams) and I–XV (public epigrams); 5 inscriptions dedicated to warriors who did not die in battle: nos. a–e; 4 copies of inscriptions dedicated to war dead, which might or might not be copies of 5th-century originals: nos. A–D; 5 dubious inscriptions: nos. α–ε.

The introduction presents the corpus and the criteria for inclusion. After surveying the current state of academic research, Tentori Montalto presents his work and its impact in several branches of ancient studies. While most of the inscriptions studied here are present in the wider CEG corpus (P.A. Hansen, Carmina Epigraphica Graeca, Berlin 1983–89), the selection of the theme of the epigrams and the addition of several newly found and/or studied inscriptions make the book of Tentori Montalto a new and valuable work.

The inscriptions are grouped into the categories of private and public. The inscriptions are then organised according to their completeness and in rough chronological order. For each inscription an outline of the monument is first given, followed by bibliographic and photographic references. The Greek text of the inscription is then given in transcription with a critical apparatus, followed by a translation in Italian by the author. A number of the inscriptions are also found in the 25 photographic plates at the end of the book.

After this outline, an extensive analysis of the inscription is given. The reader will find there useful notes about the material condition of the base, about the alphabet and linguistic peculiarities, and philological and literary analysis, as well as historical notes. In dealing with the historical context of the epigrams, Tentori Montalto gives brief but thorough accounts; he reports not only the literary loci similes and echoes but also the similarities with the Greek aristocratic milieu.

The section on private epigrams deals mainly with linguistic and epigraphic issues. In some of the epigrams (nos. 1–4, 14), the most interesting remarks concern the linguistic forms attested in the inscriptions. A common problem is the identification of the beneficiary: in some cases the name of the deceased has to be reconstructed or emended. When it is possible, a bit of their life and socio-cultural context can be inferred from the text. A good example is the epigram of Tetichos (no. 2), the “Cicada”. In trying to reconstruct the prosopography of the honorand, the author delves into the symbolism of cicadas among the Athenian aristocracy.

Some of the epigrams have been preserved in a very fragmentary state, with the result that the analysis and commentary focus on the textual reconstruction. Such is the case for epigram nos. 8–10, 12–13, 16. Before supporting his argument, Tentori Montalto reviews the philological efforts of his predecessors. In several cases, he proposes new readings based on his autopsy of the inscription.

One field of study in which these epigrams will be useful is Greek military history. Tentori Montalto underlines the images and formulas of the epigrams connected with the so-called “hoplite ideal”. He highlights, for instance, echoes by Tyrtaeus, such as the praise of the young age of the fallen (nos. 2, 4), and the refusal to flee (no. 7).

Tentori Montalto deals, when possible, with historical issues such as the historical setting of the epigram. No. 11, for example, a stele from Thessaly, commemorates Theotimos, a warrior fallen at Tanagra. In identifying the battle mentioned here with the famous battle of Tanagra in 458/7 BCE when the Thessalian cavalry suddenly joined the Spartan side, Tentori Montalto suggests that here a ‘lawful’ Thessalian hoplite is celebrated, in implicit contrast with the laconising aristocratic horsemen. To highlight the contrast, the author briefly analyses a related, non-verse inscription: the dedication at Delphi of the Thessalians (no. 11a).

Epigram no. 15, although it is greatly mutilated, has been identified with the inscription of the monument to Melanopos and Makartatos mentioned by Pausanias (1.29.6). The epigram is the clue for the identification of the battle in which the two died, a battle at Tanagra that cannot be identified with the battle in 458/457 BCE but is probably a battle from the Archidamian phase of the Peloponnesian war (for which see infra, epigram no. XII). Closing the first section, epigram no. 17 is presented, an inscription previously published.

An appendix consisting of five epigrams (nos. a–e) follows the first section and collects the funerary inscriptions (all from CEG) that may or may not refer to war dead. In relating the arguments for and against the inclusion of these epigrams among his collection, Tentori Montalto stays true to the principle of caution, stating for instance that inscriptions nos. c and e most surely do not commemorate war dead.

The section on public epigrams is the largest part of the work and analyses 15 inscriptions. A colossal inscription from Ambracia (no. I) opens the section. The author accounts for the many historical issues concerning this inscription and gives a brief account of the settlement and migration of the Perrhaebi, which may be the “Pyraiboi” mentioned in the first verse.

Epigram nos. II–VI date to the first decades of the 5th century and have been connected with the Persian wars; as such, they offer much of interest about the building of a celebratory tradition.

No. III, the epigram for the war dead from the tribe Erechtheis, is most telling. Its probable connection with the battle of Marathon makes it of fundamental importance for the historical study of the aftermath of the Persian wars. Tentori Montalto links the disposition of the letters, here called ‘alternated stoichedon’, with the mass formation of the hoplite phalanx, perhaps proving the importance of that battle in the tradition of the Athenian hoplite, although caution argues against positing a direct connection between the textual disposition and hoplite tactics.

Epigram no. IV, which mentions the Persians, probably contains two different epigrams commemorating the Athenian dead at Marathon, and Tentori Montalto brings out every possible reference to the battle in the text. The very fragmentary epigram no. V allows the author to infer only that it refers to a land battle and a naval one, which could be, among many other possibilities, Plataea and Salamis. Epigram no. VIII, from a monument to the Argive dead at Tanagra found in Athens, has been identified as the one seen by Pausanias (1.29.8–9); it could be an interesting instance of the type of the attic tribal list used for the commemoration of one of Athens’ allies.

No. XI, a fragmentary and now lost inscription, is known via the literary tradition (Anthologia Palatina 7.254): most of the commentary deals with identifying the historical event in which Athenian horsemen were involved; the battle of Tanagra (457 BCE) is perhaps too early, and a more plausible candidate is an event from the Peloponnesian War.

Well preserved is inscription no. XII, dedicated, like the former, to fallen Athenian horsemen. The reference to Alkathoos (i. e. Megara), Tanagra and Spartolos has been the starting point for previous scholars in identifying the military events which most likely date to the first phase of the Peloponnesian war. The author criticises previous reconstructions and proposes to date the events to either 429 or to 424 BCE, in both cases postulating that one of the battles mentioned in the inscription has not been documented elsewhere.

Epigram no. XIV receives a thorough commentary. Starting with the archaeological history of the monument, Tentori Montalto analyses the well-preserved inscription, which refers to an Athenian defeat. The epigram mentions a demi-god as the real cause of the defeat, and the many hypotheses about this character, with suggested identifications ranging from Trophonios to Orion Amphiaraos, are discussed here since his identification could help with dating the inscription.

The last epigram of the section, no. XV, mentions a battle at the Hellespont and is preceded by lists of Athenian dead in the Chersonesos and at Byzantion. It has been linked with the monument seen by Pausanias (1.29.13); this epigram probably refers to the battle in 409 BCE.

As an appendix, later copies of epigrams are then presented (nos. A–D). The main issue discussed here is whether they are copies of archaic/classical inscriptions or later works. Quite interesting is an inscription from Miletos, no. B. It mentions a state of war between Megara and Miletos; Tentori Montalto relates the various hypotheses for the historical event to which the epigram pertains. He then suggests that it is an original work that reuses the language of Attic funerary inscriptions to relate the mythical past of Miletos, including the rivalry with Megara in the colonisation of the Black Sea. Epigram no. C, from Late Antiquity (5th century CE), is preceded by a brief title that attributes the verses to Simonides and refers them to the Persian wars. The inscription contains many errors, traces of itacism, and may lack a line: it is then suggested that it is not a direct copy of a 5th century BCE inscription, but rather of a copy (or even an original work) of the Hellenistic age.

The third section of this corpus deals with the dubious epigrams (nos. αε). Nos. α and β have too many lacunae to ascertain their link with war dead. Epigram no. γ is well preserved, but its language is too vague: the honorand’s “great deeds”, wergon agathon at v. 3, may or may not be connected with warfare. The last two epigrams, nos. δ and ε are mere fragments (the former also now lost) and cannot be dated more closely than the 5th century BCE generally.

Summarising and providing a broader context, the conclusions are a fundamental part of this study. Tentori Montalto here follows the chronological and geographical development of the culture of warfare in ancient Greece as seen through the funerary epigrams analysed above. The image of the culture of warfare in 5th-century Greece is then used in a short history of warfare culture in the classical world. The aristocratic ideal of the “good death” first rises in archaic Greece; the poleis of the classical period subsume it in different ways, the most noteworthy of which is the Athenian fusion with democratic ideology. Beside the Persian War epigram, a model, starting from the middle of the 5th century, is also the Athenian form of funerary monuments, comprising epigrams and lists, which spread beyond Attica in the 5th and 4th century. With the rise of the Hellenistic kingdoms and above all of Rome, this form of honouring the war dead was destined to shrivel, although there are still a few isolated instances of the form surviving well into the Roman era.

This corpus is a valuable reference work, and its many digressions, the depth of the author’s knowledge of the historical context, and above all the summarising introduction and conclusion make it a work useful not only in Greek epigraphy, but also in history, linguistics, and philology.

Table of Contents

Ringraziamenti, p. 11
Introduzione, p. 13
I. Gli epigrammi privati per i caduti in guerra, p. 27
Ia. Appendice sugli epigrammi privati per guerrieri non caduti in guerra, p. 77
II. Gli epigrammi pubblici per i caduti in guerra, p. 85
II a. Appendice sulle copie di epigrammi, p. 157
III. Epigrammi incerti, p. 165
Conclusioni, p. 169
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