BMCR 2019.06.28

The Materiality of Text: Placement, Perception, and Presence of Inscribed Texts in Classical Antiquity. Brill Studies in Greek and Roman Epigraphy 11

, , , The Materiality of Text: Placement, Perception, and Presence of Inscribed Texts in Classical Antiquity. Brill Studies in Greek and Roman Epigraphy 11. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. xviii, 416. ISBN 9789004375505. €118,00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The Materiality of Text is a collection of essays exploring an important new angle that can be productively applied to ancient inscribed objects. As emphasized by several contributors, most academic interaction with epigraphic sources still takes place via disembodied text on paper or in digital editions, often without photographs. This does not come close to the manner in which those texts were originally meant to be experienced. Hence, this generously illustrated book is a welcome publication that should reinvigorate the way in which we read and conceptualize epigraphic texts.

The book is divided into two major parts, “Concepts” and “Contexts”, although the disparity in their length should be noted — the former is comprised of two chapters only, the latter of twelve. The second section is divided further into “Epigraphic Spaces”, “Literary Spaces”, and “Architectural Spaces”, with the last being the most substantial in length. Otherwise, balanced attention is given to the subject’s other aspects: prose texts and verse inscriptions, Greek and Roman texts, and the longue durée from the Archaic to Late Antique period all receive equal treatment. The volume opens with Andrej Petrovic’s introduction, which gives us a strong sense of the theory that guided the editors in their work. The methodological ruminations are brought together from across the humanities, not just Classics. Cultural practices and events such as Soviet censorship of those who were deemed counter-revolutionary, and a 1985 exhibition “Les Immatériaux” at the Centre Pompidou blend effortlessly with philosophical approaches to (im)materiality as represented by Aristotle, Cicero, Heidegger, and Hegel, among others. This broad perspective is reflected in the selection of essays that discuss not only the material presence of the text, but also its absence (Mylonopoulos on the Greek reluctance to inscribe altars and architraves in the Archaic and Classical periods) and transience (Opdenhoff on dipinti in Pompeii).

The chapters are in a constant dialogue with one another, addressing similar themes from different angles, which makes the volume a coherent whole. For example, P. J. Rhodes’ “Erasures in Greek Public Documents” and Ida Östenberg’s “ Damnatio Memoriae Inscribed: The Materiality of Cultural Repression” both treat disposal, effacing, and redactions of official texts. Rhodes collects an impressive set of inscriptions that were either purposefully destroyed, such as FD 3.1.400, which honored Aristotle and Callisthenes, but was later discarded in a well, or amended, as in the case of IG II 2 43, from which a pro-Persian statement was erased when Athens turned against the King’s Peace in 367 BCE. Östenberg’s essay addresses the paradox of such visible erasures in the case of personal names. She shows that sometimes the traces of effacing were purposefully left in order to create the memory of their disgrace (thus not exactly in line with the modern label of damnatio memoriae) and that those erasures were treated differently based on their material form.

Particularly valuable is the scrutiny in the book of epigraphic landscapes and the movement of people in the inscribed urban space. Here, the contribution that stands out is Abigail Graham’s chapter, “Re-Appraising the Value of Same-Text Relationships”, in which she rejects the common practice of looking for an “original” text and calling all other versions “copies”. Graham analyzes how the same text can be manipulated and presented in different ways depending on its surrounding space. Those subtle variations reveal that monumental inscriptions were each meticulously planned to satisfy the aesthetic needs of the relevant building and, at the same time, to reflect ideological hierarchies of the text as perceived by ancient audiences. In a similar vein, Katharina Bolle in her chapter, “Inscriptions between Text and Texture”, analyzes how placement in the urban landscape, visibility, letter design, and the relation to other objects in the vicinity influenced the self-representation of inscriptions’ dedicants and their viewers’ perception.

In the context of crowded epigraphic landscapes it is especially important to discuss the ways in which inscribed texts could vie for attention and create their own authority. Joseph Day, in “The ‘Spatial Dynamics’ of Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram”, explores the highly competitive sanctuary of Delphi. In several case studies of intertextual conversations, Day distinguishes between “cooperative” and “competitive” interactions. The former are illustrated by the Daochus’ monument, where nine statues of Daochus’ family members were accompanied by epigrams that referred to one another’s accomplishments and reinforced the prestige of their kin. The competitive relationship is apparent in the monument of the Nauarchs: dedicated by Sparta, it was intended to challenge the military display of Athens, but was in turn contested by an Arcadian foundation boasting of its own victory over Lacedaemon. Day’s treatment of those epigraphic interplays opens new analytical perspectives for texts that are not as blatantly intertextual.

Donald Lavigne’s essay, “The Authority of Archaic Greek Epigram”, explores comparable questions of self-representation in early epigraphic poetry, but perhaps with less convincing results. Lavigne states that performance, performer, and audience are crucial for our understanding of epigrammatic authority (p. 171) and continues with interesting remarks on epigrams as site-specific performance. Unfortunately, there are not enough details of how Lavigne would actually imagine a performative interaction with epigrams. He limits himself to a notional audience (p. 171) and notional performance (p. 179) by “a person who happens to be inspired by the presence of a monument” (p. 182). While I do agree that funeral epigrams could indeed have been performative, I would like to see more evidence to support this claim. Other chapters add to the diversity of methodological approaches. Philology is represented by Kirk’s essay on what epigraphe is exactly, Zadorojnyi’s exploration of related terminology, Tueller’s work on the creation of women’s speech in Greek epigrams, and Heyworth’s inquiry into the materiality of writing in Latin elegy. Garulli’s and Leatherbury’s contributions both delve into the relationships between different media. The former addresses lectional signs shared by papyri and stone inscriptions, albeit in a rather traditional form of a catalogue. The latter investigates the material form of tabula ansata, which became a decorative element on Late Antique mosaics.

I have one note on an editorial inconsistency: the reference style is author-date in the footnotes, but on some pages we find a doubling with in-text references, which creates unnecessary clutter (see, e.g., p. 106). That minor imperfection, however, does not take away from the value of the volume. Since this publication includes essays from the field of epigraphy, philology, and history of art and architecture, it should be of great interest to scholars across ancient disciplines. It represents a wide variety of perspectives, each of them pushing the field of epigraphy forward.

Authors and Titles

1. Andrej Petrovic, “The Materiality of Text: An Introduction” (pp. 1-25)
2. Athena Kirk, “What is an ἐπιγραφή in Classical Greece?” (pp. 29-47)
3. Alexei Zadorojnyi, “The Aesthetics and Politics of Inscriptions in Imperial Greek Literature” (pp. 48-68)
4. Joseph W. Day, “The ‘Spatial Dynamics’ of Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram: Conversations among Locations, Monuments, Texts, and Viewer-Readers” (pp. 73-104)
5. Valentina Garulli, “Lectional Signs in Greek Verse Inscriptions” (pp. 105-144)
6. P. J. Rhodes, “Erasures in Greek Public Documents” (pp. 145-166)
7. Donald E. Lavigne, “The Authority of Archaic Greek Epigram” (pp. 169-186)
8. Michael A. Tueller, “Writing, Women’s Silent Speech” (pp. 187-204)
9. S. J. Heyworth, “Hard Verses and Soft Books: The Materials of Elegy” (pp. 205-228)
10. Ioannis Mylonopoulos, “The Power of the Absent Text: Dedicatory Inscriptions on Greek Sacred Architecture and Altars” (pp. 231-274)
11. Abigail Graham, “Re-Appraising the Value of Same-Text Relationships; a Study of ‘Duplicate’ Inscriptions in the Monumental Landscape at Aphrodisias” (pp. 275-302)
12. Fanny Opdenhoff, “Layers of Urban Life: A Contextual Analysis of Inscriptions in the Public Space of Pompeii” (pp. 303-323)
13. Ida Östenberg, “ Damnatio Memoriae Inscribed: The Materiality of Cultural Repression” (pp. 324-347)
14. Katharina Bolle, “Inscriptions between Text and Texture: Inscribed Monuments in Public Spaces — A Case Study at Late Antique Ostia” (pp. 348-379)
15. Sean V. Leatherbury, “Framing Late Antique Texts as Monuments: The Tabula Ansata between Sculpture and Mosaic” (pp. 380-404)