BMCR 2007.05.03

Le iscrizioni nella Periegesi di Pausania. Commento ai testi epigrafici

, Le iscrizioni nella Periegesi di Pausania : commento ai testi epigrafici. Studi e testi di storia antica ; 16. Pisa: ETS, 2006. 514 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.. ISBN 8846715985. €32.00.

Table of Contents

The aim of this monograph is to isolate, translate and comment on the inscriptions that are reported in the text of Pausanias’ Periegesis [henceforth P.]. The need for such a comprehensive study had indeed been stressed by Christian Habicht1 and was already carried out, however summarily, by Whittaker.2

In the brief introduction, after sketching the history of scholarship on P.,3 Cesare Zizza [henceforth Z.] outlines the targets of his own enterprise and the methods by which he has extrapolated and displayed the ‘epigraphic material’ found in the literary text of P.

The book is articulated into three main sections, of which the first is devoted to a comprehensive evaluation of the epigraphic material transmitted through the text of P.; the second and bulkiest section consists of detailed commentaries to 54 such inscriptions; and in the final section there is a study of the historiographical use that P. has made of these texts.

The first section is subdivided into two chapters: in the former Z. outlines the peculiarity of Pausanias’ use of epigraphical sources. Indeed P., by providing references to 205 texts, far surpasses the number of documents reported in historians like Herodotus (25 texts), Thucydides (8), Xenophon (3) and Polybius (10).4 In only 54 instances, however, does P. give the full text of the inscriptions he is considering; in a larger number of cases (about 150) he just provides a resume of their content, and in a few more cases (13) he only gives a hint to their existence.

Z. also notes that in the economy of the Periegesis the epigraphical evidence is unevenly scattered through Attica and Megaris (book I: 17 and 1 texts respectively), Corinthia and Argolis (book II: 2 and 11 texts respectively), Laconia (book III: 2 texts), Elis (books V and VI: 122 texts, almost all from Olympia), Achaia (book VII: 3 texts), Arcadia (book VIII: 22 texts), Boeotia (book IX: 7 texts), Phocis (book X: 13 texts), while Messenia (book IV) provides no inscriptions of her own. A number of inscriptions (18) are also quoted by P. outside their geographical context.

In the following section Z. has also gathered the different types of objects onto which the texts were allegedly inscribed: human statues (about 100 texts), stelai (almost 30 texts), shields and weapons (10 texts), tombs (10 texts), buildings (6 texts), altars (5 texts), plastic representations of chariots (3 texts) and horses (5 texts), different objects (6 texts). To a slightly different category than ‘epigraphy’ belong captions which illustrate mythological scenes (almost 30 examples in all, most of which pertaining to the chest of Cypselus at Olympia). Less profitable is the classification of these same texts into typologies familiar to professional epigraphers (funerary inscriptions, dedicatory inscriptions, honorary inscriptions and so forth).

In the second chapter of the first section Pausanias’ own way of dealing with inscriptions is examined. Z. ascertains that in a high number of instances an epigraphical text is evoked by P. under the name of ἐπίγραμμα, a word that most often denotes a metrical composition: a synonym of this, also frequently attested, is ἐλεγεῖον or plural ἐλεγεῖα; for non metrical texts the most frequent expression is the plain γράμματα. Verbs that denote the act of inscribing are γράφειν, or the compounds ἐγγράφειν, ἀναγράφειν and μεταγράφειν. P. was also sensitive to a number of details of interest to the modern epigrapher: e.g. whether an inscription was written in a certain dialect and in a specific alphabet; whether the shape of the letters was old fashioned or the inscription was worn; whether it was written in a straight line, in a circle or boustrophedon.5

In the second section Z. reproduces, translates and illustrates the 54 texts that are given by Pausanias in full. Unfortunately this means that about 150 references to other epigraphical documents in Pausanias are here put aside.

A major inconvenience in the presentation of the epigrams is that the Pausanian context is not provided in any systematic way (a decision made, I suppose, to enhance their alleged ‘epigraphical’ character), thus compelling the reader to have at hand a complete edition of P., not only to understand the epigram, but often also Z.’s commentary.

The texts are presented to the reader in the order in which they are found in the Periegesis, beginning with inscriptions found in book I and ending with those in book X. I find it more expedient to classify them here according to the categories put forward by Habicht—that is mythology, archaeology and history.6

Myth is represented in a number of inscriptions: no. 3 marked the alleged tomb of Phytalos, a dweller of Attica, to whom in ancient times the goddess Demeter had taught the cultivation of figs; no. 4 (whether mythical or historical in character) stood on a portrait of Methapos, an Athenian expert in the mysteries, and founder of all kinds of rites; no. 5 is a curse of the Arcadians against the mythistorical traitor of the Messenians, Aristocrates; nos. 10-18 are a series of captions accompanying mythological scenes on the lost chest of Cypselus; no. 19 was engraved on a stone pillar at Olympia, declaring that it was the only remnant of the house of Oenomaus; no. 23 is a dedication by the Achaeans celebrating the cunning Pelopidas as their ancestor; no. 40 is the dedication to Tegean Athena of a peplos by Laodice, allegedly the daughter of the hero Agapenor, who had settled in Crete after taking part in the sack of Troy; on no. 41 is mentioned the latter’s departure for Troy; no. 45 signalled the relics of the marriage-bed of Alcmene and Amphitryo in Thebes; no. 49 marked the tomb of the Sibyl Herophile in the Troad; to this group we may also attach no. 46, an epigram on the tomb of Hesiod in Minyan Orchomenos, and no. 53, an oracle allegedly given to Homer in Delphi.

A number of texts define space or illustrate objects of art and identify their creators, which will be of greater relevance to the archaeologist: no. 6 is the signature of Phidias on Zeus’ statue at Olympia; no. 7 is an offering set up by the craftsman Euergos of Naxos; no. 9 is the dedication of an altar to Zeus Moiragetes in the racing track of Olympia; nos. 24, 25 and 43 are metrical signatures by the craftsmen (father and son) Mikon and Onatas; no. 33 is also the metrical signature of two brothers, the Argives Eutelidas and Chrysothemis; no. 54 is the signature of the celebrated painter Polygnotos of Thasos; no. 38 was set up by a certain Aristocles, the inventor of the starting gate for horse races ( ἱππάφεσις) that was in use at Olympia.

Some epigrams directly relate to major historical events and characters: no. 1 and no. 2 describe offerings presented by Pyrrhus in Thessalia and in Dodona to celebrate his victories over the Gauls and the Macedonians respectively; no. 8 was on a shield (or a cup) dedicated in Olympia by the Lacedaemonians after defeating the Athenians and the Argives at Tanagra in 457 BC; no. 20 is a dedication made by the Hadriatic Apollonians from the spoils of the Thronians; no. 21 is also a dedication of booty made by the Arcadian Clitorians; no. 22 is an offering of the Spartans for victory over the Messenians; no. 27 was on an offering presented by the Thracian Mendaei after storming the town of Sipte; nos. 28-29 were inscribed on a statue of the Spartan Lysander that had been set up by the Samians; no. 37 is a dedication of spoils from the Thracian Chersonesos, set up by a Miltiades, either the winner of Marathon or his uncle; no. 44 was set up by the Tegeans for Philopoemen; no. 46 was on a statue of Epaminondas; no. 50 was on a shield dedicated to the memory of the Athenian Cydias, who had died fighting against the Celtic invasion of Greece, around 279 BC.

Agonistic epigrams may also be considered as ‘historical’: no. 26 was inscribed on plastic representations of chariots and horses offered by the Arcadian Phormis, a general of the Syracusan tyrants Gelon and Hiero (Hiero also set up an inscribed dedication, no. 42, for having won twice in the horseracing contest, and once in the chariot race); no. 30 commemorates the panhellenic victories of the wrestler Cheilon of Patrai and his glorious death in battle; no. 31 was set up by the boxer Damarchos; the donor of no. 32 was also a boxer, the Corcyran Philon, twice winner at the Olympic games; no. 34 was set up by the Epidamnian Cleosthenes for victory in the chariot race; no. 39 celebrates the Achaean runner Oibotas; no. 35 celebrates one Pythian and two Olympic victories of the horse Lycos; no. 36 was set up in memory of Pythocritus, winner in a contest of flute-playing; no. 48 was also set up by a flute-player in honor of Heracles.

The comments of Z. of course draw largely on the recent Italian edition of P., to which he has also provided a contribution, however subsidiary, by compiling the indexes to volume VII.7 On the other hand, there is nothing specifically ‘epigraphic’ in the commentary: while it is sound, rich and informative, based as it is on a broad knowledge both of P. and of the relevant modern literature, it does not add any new inscriptional evidence. Also, in those instances where the information provided by Pausanias is matched by real inscriptions,8 the impression is that Z. does not make the most of them, refraining, e.g., from giving any picture or drawing of the true epigraphic material.9 Another flaw in the commentary is that often explanation of crucial points is entrusted to long quotations in Greek (usually from the text of P.), that unfortunately are unaccompanied by Z.’s (or anybody’s) translation.

Section III is a study of how P. has made use of inscriptions in the composition of his book. To start with there is a general consideration of the nature of P.’s work: Z. stresses that the Periegesis of Greece was written to complement the existing standard works on Greek history.10 Making use of inscribed texts is therefore for P. a way at times to confirm the established historical traditions, at other times to question and correct them. On the other hand P. is also able to read and comment on inscriptions in the light of historical information.

To sum up: what we have here is a valuable historiographical study, focusing on the use that P. has made of inscriptions to boost and enrich his Periegesis. On the other hand, it is neither a collection of all epigraphical texts mentioned by P. nor an appreciation of P. based on significant expertise in epigraphy. Z. has had access to all epigraphical texts mentioned by P., but it was rather his choice to reproduce, translate and comment on those 54 texts that are given by P. in a complete (or nearly complete) form. As most of the inscriptions reproduced by P. (and thence considered for inclusion) have a metrical character,11 the book resembles more a collection of literary epigrams than an epigraphical corpus.12


1. C. Habicht, “Pausanias and the Evidence of Inscriptions”, Classical Antiquity 3 (1984) 40-56. Idem, Pausanias’ Guide to Ancient Greece, Sather Classical Lectures 50, Berkeley 1985 (= Pausanias und seine “Beschreibung Griechenlands”, München 1985), chapter III.

2. H. Whittaker, “Pausanias and His Use of Inscriptions”, Symbolae Osloenses 66 (1991) 171-186.

3. To the references provided by Z. one should now add W. Hutton, Describing Greece. Landscape and Literature in the Periegesis of Pausanias. Greek Culture in the Roman World, Cambridge University Press, 2005 (reviewed by V. Pirenne-Delforge in BMCR 2007.04.04) and J. Akujärvi, Researcher, Traveller, Narrator. Studies in Pausanias’ Periegesis, Stockholm 2005 (reviewed by S.D. Smith in BMCR 2006.05.39). Of course both were unavailable to Z.

4. For a comparative study in the use of documents in ancient historiography it may be useful to consult some of the papers presented in the volume edited by A.M. Biraschi, P. Desideri, S. Roda, G. Zecchini, L’uso dei documenti nella storiografia antica, Perugia 2003. Z. himself has previously provided a study of the use of epigraphical material: C. Zizza, “Tucidide e il tirannicidio: il buon uso del materiale epigrafico”, Annali della Facoltà di Lettere dell’Università di Siena 20 (1999) 1-22.

5. These features, already outlined by Whittaker, art. cit. 171-172, have been fully developed by Z., 97-114.

6. C. Habicht, Classical Antiquity, loc. cit. in note 1.

7. Pausania, Guida della Grecia, Libro VII, L’Acaia, a cura di M. Moggi e M. Osanna, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 2000. In the same collection there have also appeared: Libro I, L’Attica, a cura di D. Musti e L. Beschi, 1982; Libro II, La Corinzia e l’Argolide, a cura di D. Musti e M. Torelli, 1986; Libro III, La Laconia, a cura di D. Musti e M. Torelli, 1991; Libro IV, La Messenia, a cura di D. Musti e M. Torelli, 1991; Libro V, L’Elide e Olimpia, a cura di G. Maddoli e V. Saladino, 1995; Libro VI, L’Elide e Olimpia, a cura di G. Maddoli, M. Nafissi e V. Saladino, 1999; Libro VIII, L’Arcadia, a cura di M. Moggi e M. Osanna, 2003. Volumes IX and X have not yet appeared.

8. These are no. 8 [W. Dittenberger and K. Purgold, Die Inschriften von Olympia, Berlin 1896, no. 253]; no. 20 [E. Kunze, in V. Bericht über die Ausgrabungen in Olympia, 1956, 149-153]; no. 22 [Dittenberger and Purgold, Die Inschriften von Olympia, no. 253]; no. 33 [J. Ebert, “Neue griechische historische Epigramme” in Energeia. Studies presented to H.W. Pleket, Amsterdam 1996, 19-33, p. 26]; no. 49 [relevant to the interpretation of this text, as was shown by Habicht, loc. cit., are H. Engelmann and R. Merkelbach (eds.), Die Inschriften von Erythrai und Klazomenai, 2, Bonn 1973, nos. 224-226]; the inscriptions on the offerings of Gelon and Micythus at Olympia, which are not reproduced or commented in the second section, but are dealt with by Z. in specific paragraphs (pp. 418-422 and 413-417 respectively), also have epigraphic matches [Dittenberger and Purgold, Die Inschriften von Olympia, no. 143 and nos. 267-269].

9. The few pictures provided (pp. 214-215) to illustrate the chest of Cypselus (nos. 10-18) are modern reconstructions based in turn on the text of Pausanias.

10. A point notably made by D. Musti, op. cit. at note 7, Libro I, L’Attica, pp. xxxvi ff.

11. There are no significant exceptions as no. 9 is one word only and nos. 51-52 are two Delphic mottoes. On the other hand, a few epigrams present metrical imperfections.

12. The book is in general very well produced and almost flawless in printing, except on p. 345, line 2: … l’abile e [il] lungimirante … Regrettable is the lack of a comprehensive analytical index (there is only a short list of Greek nouns found in the epigrams).