BMCR 2013.12.49

Choix d’inscriptions de Delphes, traduites et commentées. Etudes épigraphiques, 5

, , , Choix d'inscriptions de Delphes, traduites et commentées. Etudes épigraphiques, 5. Athènes: Ecole Française d'Athènes, 2012. 563. ISBN 9782869582484 €50.00.

It is something of a scandale that the world has had to wait so long for this selection from the inscriptions uncovered by the French excavations at Delphi over the past century and more (cf. p. 9). Their colleagues from Delos produced a “ choix ” of inscriptions in 1977, and a “ nouveau choix ” from Delos appeared in 2002. Any lingering irritations will now be consigned to oblivion in the collective pleasure and gratitude that will doubtless attend the appearance of this handsome volume. The dossier of inscriptions from Delphi is one of the most extensive, significant and celebrated from any Greek site: more than 3000 have been published. This Choix offers a representative sampling of some 300 of these. More than a collection of texts, it also provides an initiation into the history of the site and its excavations, and it serves as a guide to the scattered editions of inscriptions that have been produced since the 1890s, typically first in the Bulletin de correspondance hellénique, then later collected in the Fouilles de Delphes (vol. 3, in 6 fascicles, 1910-1985, then abandoned) and now lately in the Corpus des inscriptions de Delphes (so far in 4 volumes with a fifth in the offing, 1977-present). The Choix begins with an outline—brilliant for its balance of generality and detail, clarity and brevity—of the history of the site and its inscriptions (pp. 11-31). Section headings provide orientation, making consultation easy and quick. The first section sketches an account of the chronology and history of the site, emphasizing crucial moments and evidence— much of it to be found in the inscriptions collected in the book. The next three sections deal with the institutional issues, treating in turn the administration of the sanctuary, the Delphic amphictyony, and the city of Delphi. The last two sections are devoted to the inscriptions of the site: first an account of their chronological distribution and character, then a guide to the history of their discovery and publication.

Few will read the Choix as a reviewer is obliged to, from beginning to end. Collections tend to be consulted rather than read. Yet the organization of the texts is artful, and a sustained reading is enlightening. The Choix begins with the “apotropaic” presentation of an egregiously misunderstood graffito and ends with a pair of official nineteenth- century inscriptions, which signal for the authors the place where the past events end and the scholarly writing begins: the end (or is it the beginning?) of the history of the place, its transition from inhabited village to sterile archaeological site (“Castri becomes Delphi once more”). In their arrangement of the texts, the editors have managed to balance the competing demands of time and typology: thematically unified clusters of texts are reasonably presented together in defiance of strict chronology.

The collection includes exactly 300 lemmata, an artificially precise tithe of the total epigraphic output of the site. In point of fact, substantially more than 300 texts are presented: in some lemmata two or more inscriptions are presented; other lemmata are doubled (“bis”). Format of the entries is conventional: a reference to the inventory number of the inscription and its physical dimensions, followed by the essential bibliography; the Greek (or sometimes Latin) text, with indication of textual issues at the foot in smaller type; and the French translation. A succinct commentary follows; controversial or tangential points are noted in smaller type at the end.

The editors repudiate the myopic obsession with the spectacular, and confirm their commitment to a representative collection, including a generous sampling of the typical and ordinary (p. 7). I find, however, little here that I would characterize as banal. Perhaps these inscriptions have faded to invisibility, as tedious things will when set in the company of so much that is marvelous and extraordinary? Or perhaps this book has somehow managed to transmute lead to gold? It is a maxim among epigraphists that the most unpromising scraps can be made to yield fabulous secrets if only they are considered systematically. The inscriptions presented here illuminate every aspect of Greek history, from economy and politics to society to culture. I hope the editors will pardon me if I draw attention to some of the most spectacular: the great Persian war inscriptions (nos. 15-20); the many dedications and accounts of objects and buildings (passim); the famous manumission inscriptions (nos. 127-136); the inscriptions of the Dionysian technitai (nos. 194-205); the hymns (no. 60; commentary without text); the musical inscriptions from the Athenian treasury (no. 203, commentary without text); the fascinating record of a shorthand system (no. 115); the many dedications to the rich and famous, including Aristotle (no. 49) and Plutarch (no. 255); honors for various performers, including an historian and an organ virtuoso (e.g. nos. 186-193); an honorific decree and statue bases for female athletes (nos. 185-6). Some copies of widely disseminated Roman inscriptions have also been found at Delphi, including the Roman law against piracy (no. 184) and fragments of Diocletian’s Price Edict (no. 271): these are noted with the briefest of comments, but without the text.

Style of editorial presentation varies somewhat from inscription to inscription. The editors note and defend the inconsistency (p. 8), hinting—if I understand them correctly—that they have parceled out principal responsibility for various inscriptions among themselves. In at least one case (the musical inscriptions, no. 203) a guest, Annie Bélis, is noted as author of the lemma. In general, however, authorship of specific commentary is not attributed; the three editors assume collective responsibility for the whole. The differences in editorial style can be sampled by looking at no. 183, which preserves the arbitration of a disagreement between two cities. The Greek text includes summary headings and quotations from other documents. The editor indicates the main text with the normal, upright Greek font; summary headings are indicated using a bold font; and the quotations are presented in an italicized Greek. This treatment is reversed in the French translation: the main text (as usual) is presented in italics; headings are in boldface; and quotations are indicated using a Roman font. For my tastes the editorial rationalization of this text is excessive. By contrast, the manumission inscriptions (nos. 127-136) are presented with an exceptionable attentiveness to physical detail. These inscriptions were displayed on the great polygonal wall of the sanctuary; the texts are peppered with upright bars and dashes, indicating breaks between blocks in the wall and uninscribed areas of stone. The treatment will cause many readers at least some initial consternation: even though these symbols are duly indicated in the introduction (pp. 32-3), an explanation should be reiterated in the context of the presentation of the inscriptions themselves. This level of detail is arguably unnecessary in a volume of this kind—and if it is deemed necessary, the text should be supplemented with photographs or drawings.

Everyone these days is compelled to come to grips with the relationship between the book and the computer: Should books like these continue to be produced? Or would collections be better presented via web sites? Or would a “hybrid” form of presentation work better? What kinds of information should be reasonably consigned to paper? What might be better served by a digital format? The issue is apparent in the decisions the editors have made about illustrations, and especially about the index.

This Choix contains no photographs of inscriptions or the site (there are seven maps and plans at the end of the volume). It would indisputably be a benefit to have convenient access to illustrations of all of these texts: to take only one example, they would clarify the presentation of the manumission inscriptions. Photographs are certainly better presented in digital format than in print form: it is less expensive and the photographs can be more numerous, dynamic, and of far higher resolution. The editors note (p. 7 n. 3) that photographs of a certain number of the inscriptions can be found on the web site of the French School in Athens, and that they have in view the goal of sometime procuring and posting online photographs of all inscriptions in the Choix. I went to the site of the School (11/8/2013) and spent half an hour looking for them. I found no images that were designated using the numeration of the Choix. I did locate some Delphic inscriptions (by searching under the category “photothèque”). Doubtless I would have found more had I continued to look, but the essential lesson is that images of inscriptions are not yet clearly marked or easy to find.

Volumes such as this have routinely been provided with indices of Greek words, names and so on. The editors decided, “not without hesitation,” to renounce these. They argue that indices would have taken a disproportionate amount of space—and that is true, given the amount of Greek text in the volume. They further suggest that word indices would be less useful for a selection than for an exhaustive corpus (p. 8). That is also true, but it is beside the point: it would nevertheless be useful to have an index of Greek words for the inscriptions included in the Choix. Arguably, though, they are right to omit the index of Greek words: in this day and age, an index is better presented in the form of a searchable digital database than as a printed list of words. The editors enigmatically (or is it pointedly?) make no recommendation of how to do word searches for Delphic inscriptions. The first resort should doubtless be the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) Searchable Greek Inscriptions database.

I hasten to say that I am not suggesting that a searchable database is a replacement for an expert and systematic set of indices, anymore than the raw output of an unlimited “google” search of the word “the” would replace or even approximate the definition one would find in the Oxford English Dictionary. In lieu of indices of Greek words, the editors of the Choix have provided a judicious and expert index of leading institutions, names and ideas, which combines the virtues of an index, dictionary and encyclopedia. So, for example, if one looks up the word “hieromnemons” in the index, one does not find references to all of the myriad occurrences of the word in the Choix. Rather one finds a brief and informative essay, with carefully chosen illustrations:

Official representatives at the amphictyonic council of various states that are members of the amphictyony. Introduction, p. 19. – Under the empire the word “hieromnemon” seems to be replaced by the term “amphictyon”: 292, 295 and already, for example, 182 l. 2 – Conflicts relative to the allocation of amphictyonic seats (or “votes,” psephoi) and the manner of their provision (means of designating hieromnemons): 150 (?); 183 and comm.; 252.

Everything essential is succinctly indicated here. Of course, for those needing more information or aspiring to do a study of the word, it will be necessary to go to a search engine and the corpus volumes. For the purposes of the Choix and its readers, however, this index is supremely serviceable; it might serve as a model for future collections such as these, and maybe even for epigraphic corpora (if such continue to be issued in print).

It is difficult to do justice to a book like this in a review; at the end, the right response is to get to your feet and applaud. Minor academic libraries in the United States these days hesitate before purchasing scholarly works in foreign languages (I mean the French here, not the Greek); they should make an exception for the Choix. Any college or university where Greek and Latin are taught should have a copy on hand.