BMCR 1998.01.09

98.1.09, Wertbegriffe in den attischen Ehrendekreten der Klassischen Zeit. Heidelberger althistorische Beitrge und epigraphische Studien 25

, Wertbegriffe in den attischen Ehrendekreten der klassischen Zeit. Heidelberger althistorische Beiträge und epigraphische Studien ; Bd. 25. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1997. 337 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9783515071604. DM 96.

This is a book which even aficionados of its subject-matter, such as the present reviewer, will wish not so much to read as to use and consult. It is what the French call an instrument de travail (there is doubtless a German equivalent of the term which temporarily eludes me), and as such it deserves a warm welcome from anyone interested in the value-system of classical Athens—and, especially, anyone yet to comprehend that its full ramifications have still to be mapped out.

The title is precise. Athenian Wertbegriffe could be a vast subject indeed, but the writer (hereinafter V-T) limits her scrutiny of it both evidentially and chronologically. Focussing, under the first of these heads, upon honorific decrees entails its own upper terminus, since the genre does not begin to be extant on stone until the middle of the fifth century (with IG I 3 17). The lower terminus is then provided by the conventional end of the ‘classical period’ in Athens, the Macedonian-imposed constitutional changes of the year 322/1. Within this timespan, 297 documents are presented, numbered, and discussed. (At pp. 163-4 V-T adds three ‘Dekrete nach 322/1’, but in doing so lacks the courage of her evident convictions. If she believes, as one must assume she does, that 322/1 is a significant date for her field, she should not have gone beyond it at all. But in truth what she should have done is go beyond it wholeheartedly—down to, say, the mid-third century; that, or else convince us of the terminological as with as the constitutional relevance of 322/1. I for one would need a great deal of convincing. Cf. e.g., P. Gauthier, “Les cités hellénistiques: epigraphie et histoire des institutions et des régimes politiques”, in Praktika [of the Eighth International Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy] (Athens 1982) 81-107, and again in Les cités grecques et leurs bienfaiteurs (BCH suppl.12, Paris 1985) 7-10 and passim.)

After a brief introduction (which also fulfils the functions of preface and acknowledgments) she presents this body of evidence twice over: first as pure ‘Dokumentation’ (pp. 14-164); then, re-arranged, in a discursive review of ‘Gebrauch der Wertbegriffe’ (pp. 165-309). A full bibliography (pp. 310-26) and an index locorum (pp. 327-37) round off the work—the latter confining itself to the 297+3 inscriptions of the Erster Teil and the use they are put to in the Zweiter Teil. There is no general index, but the need for one is (arguably) met by the elaborate divisions and subdivisions of the second part, set out as a table of contents on pp. 5-8.

The catalogue raisonné which makes up Part I is very well and helpfully done, on the whole. Non-Athenian honorands (who are of course in the clear majority) come first, in a chronologically-ordered list of 178 documents. They are all decrees of the Athenian state itself (Volksbeschlüsse). This uniformity is achieved by the inexplicable error of classifying under deme-decrees for Athenians (see below) IG II 2 1186, a mid-fourth century Eleusinian decree for two Thebans. The presentation of Athenian citizen honorands comes in six sub-sections: twenty decrees of the Council and/or Assembly; twenty-three decrees of tribes; twenty-four (twenty-three if we expel IG II 2 1186) decrees of demes; nineteen decrees of prytaneis and boards of officials, military bodies, phatries, gene, and orgeones ( vel sim.); eight ‘Ehreninschriften’; and twenty-five ‘Weihungen’. (These last two categories obviously look beyond honorific decrees themselves to their immediate aftermath. The individuals involved—who, I take it, are presumed in the case of the ‘Weihungen’ to be making a religious dedication, though sometimes the distinction is extremely hard to discern—are people who have already been praised, crowned, etc. and are now parading the fact.) Throughout, V-T excerpts from the documents the sections germane to her purposes (for which see further below, on Part II). Within these entirely reasonable limits she has immersed herself deeply in the phraseology employed, and as far as I can see has missed very little of the relevant bibliography, down to 1994 (including the second fascicle of IG I 3, with its addenda to the first). Thus what she proffers here does deserve the name of catalogue raisonné : a scholarly textual presentation of this material not merely more up-to-date than anything else in the public domain but secure in its critical grasp and (a point I would especially applaud) absolutely open and transparent in its methodology. Too often in the past inscriptions of all kinds were edited and, where necessary, restored in ways arcane to the non-expert. Nowadays epigraphy is out of the closet, surely never to return, and what we had been led to think of as its great secrets turn out to be (for the most part) nothing of the sort, but commonsense principles such as the presence or absence of adequate parallels. When one absorbs one’s self in an entire genre of document, as V-T has done, it becomes possible to draw useful attention to phenomena of rarity (e.g., p. 57 on IG II 2 79: ‘auffällig ist die Erwahnung der πρόγονοι zusammen mit ἀνὴρ ἀγαθός ἐστι’; pp. 232-3 and 249 set the point in context) and, alike, to query an orthodox restoration (e.g., p. 162 on SEG XVII 65: ‘die Ergänzung der Wertbegriffe ist nicht richtig, weil sie nicht vor, sondern nach στεφανωθέντες begegnen’) and if possible better it (e.g., p. 27 on IG I 3 164, p. 35 on IG I 3 106, p. 65 on Osborne D13, p. 75 on IG II 2 229, p. 86 on Osborne D17/23, p. 121 on IG II 2 1145). When SEG XLVII (1997) appears it will have a wealth of good, detailed work by V-T to record; she has treated this body of material with an altogether new and quite splendid level of methodological rigour.

The treatment of individual documents in her Part I thus benefits hugely, in “feedback” style, from the synoptic study and presentation of the data as a whole in Part II. This second part of the book, as I have commented above, is elaborately subdivided—too elaborately, indeed (with four levels involved), to warrant description here. Suffice it to say that a basic bipartition, into an Erstes and a Zweites Kapitel, considers first the phraseology itself (Formulierung) and then its import (Inhaltliche Bedeutung), both abroad (Außenpolitischer Bereich) and at home (Innenpolitischer Bereich). (Modern bibliography is here cited very sparingly; the norm is internal cross-referencing to Part I.) Under the ‘Formulierung’ head we dwell briefly in austere realms most usually associated nowadays with the books and articles of Alan Henry—syntactical formulae involving conjunctions such as ἐπειδή and the preposition E(/NEKA—but the main focus of attention then becomes (in both chapters) the Wertbegriffe themselves: adjectives like φίλος and χρήσιμος; adverbs like καλῶς and ἀδωροδοκήτως; verbs like ἐπιμελεῖσθαι and εὖ ποιεῖν; phrases like ἀνὴρ ἀγαθός ἐστι; and ‘die summarischen Wertbegriffe’, abstract nouns (cognate with some, though not all, of the foregoing) such as ἀνδραγαθία, ἀρετή, δικαιοσύνη, ἐπιμέλεια, εὔνοια, εὐσέβεια, and φιλοτιμία. Once she has made it clear, in chapter 1, precisely when and where language of this kind is used, V-T then proceeds in chapter 2 to draw whatever inferences (about its ‘Inhaltliche Bedeutung’) the evidence itself warrants: that, for example, ‘das Adjectiv πρόθυμος bedeutet die Bereitschaft des Geehrten, sich um Athen verdient zu machen’ (p. 267), or that ‘die Verbindung δικαιοσύνη ist typisch für Magistrate und Funktionäre und wird nur sekundär für Privatpersonen und in Dekreten von Vereinen gebraucht’ (p. 294). Safe, soundly-based conclusions, as we see, are the only sort that hold any attractions for V-T, and as far as they go they are valuable. Others, though, may well wish to go further.

Others indeed have. To my earlier comment that V-T has missed little or nothing of note down to 1994 (the only item in her bibliography later than that is an article of her own) I must now, at the risk of immodesty, append at least one exception known to me: D. Whitehead, ‘Cardinal Virtues: the language of public approbation in democratic Athens’, Classica et Mediaevalia 44 (1993) 37-75.

If V-T had known and used this article I venture to hope that finding another scholar stimulated by the same topics and (in large part) the same evidence for them would have gratified her—which is undoubtedly what I have been to contemplate her study, more systematic and more authoritative in its findings, within its own self-imposed limits, than anything (yet) attempted either by me or by anyone else. But more important, she might have been provoked into saying something about the location of an approach like hers in the context of a larger picture. In the past (as I have lamented more than once in print), investigations into the classical Athenian value-system by the likes of Lionel Pearson, John Ferguson and Sir Kenneth Dover have woefully neglected epigraphic evidence in general, and honorific decrees in particular, wrongly supposed to be repetitive and banal; the focus has been almost exclusively literary, on the evidence provided by comedy, tragedy, and, thanks to Dover, oratory (with Plato taking a well-deserved back seat). Beginning in 1983 with an article on filotima which V-T does know and use, and culminating (thus far) with the wider-ranging one cited above, I have seized every opportunity I could to remedy this deficiency and elevate the epigraphic evidence, in this respect, to the status of the literary—the point being that one can then attempt to juxtapose and integrate them both. It is therefore something of an irony to be asked to assess, here, an approach which goes to the other extreme. On occasion (e.g., nn. 835, 844, 960) V-T does flirt, at second hand, with the literary evidence, as marshalled in such works as Gerlach’s ANHR AGAQOS and Eiliv Skard’s Euergetes-Concordia, but this is frankly mere tokenism, no more satisfactory in its way than her random inclusion of just three post-322 inscriptions.

The only legitimate criticism which can arise with a monograph like this is that the author has failed in his or her own aims (which is manifestly not the case here). To complain that (s)he has not done something (s)he never intended to do is ultimately a waste of time. A study of Romulus may exclude Remus if so it chooses. A study of twins which did so might be another matter, though. The selfsame Athenians who saw words like ἀνδραγαθία, δικαιοσύνη and φιλοτιμία incorporated into the inscribed texts of honorific decrees were hearing them used in the Assembly, in the courts, and in the theatre; the two kinds of evidence are symbiotic, and we still await a properly integrated analysis of them, dealing especially in the diachronic interplay between the one and the other, which is more than the sum of its parts.

I have characterized (and welcomed) V-T’s efforts as an instrument de travail, a means to an end. That end—a multi-faceted understanding (within obvious evidential limits) of classical Athenian Wertbegriffe—is worth the labour, but it will need the use of more tools than this one alone.