You are here

An Unlikely Muse: Temple Inventories, Their Readers, and Literary Epigram

Elizabeth Kosmetatou

Archive inventories, published or not, detailing the votive holdings of temples, were almost certainly meticulously kept by all Greek sanctuaries, although it is debatable which outsiders, if any, had access to unpublished ones. A comparatively small number of sanctuaries, headed by Athens and Delos, commissioned their annual, or less frequent publication on stone. Several of these large, pedantic, and mostly hard to read inscriptions have been discovered in varying states of preservation to date, and it appears that, while not necessarily comprehensive, their texts could be long and explicit. Their often minute description details, including the date, materials, and style of votives, almost certainly aimed at publicizing the accountability of the public officials who cared for them, as well as advertise the importance and prestige of the sanctuary. On the other hand, factors such as their production costs, repetitiveness, frequent illegibility, as well as the very space they occupied in already crowded religious precincts, all suggest that the purpose of their physical presence was more than administrative.

This paper will mainly focus on the Athenian inventories of the Classical period and their Delian counterparts from the Amphictyonic (ca. 367-314), Independence (314-166 BCE), and Athenian (post 166 BCE) eras. It will address the issue of who actually read inventory lists and consider their influence on Hellenistic literary epigram, which they seem to have inspired. One may reasonably expect that, like their modern counterparts, worshipper tourists were curious enough to stoop over and read those dull texts. Evidence certainly suggests that excerpts were partially transmitted and commented on by periegets, including Polemon of Ilion (3rd century BCE) and Semos of Delos (2nd century BCE), whose interest was oddly enough centered around ordinary, rather than famous dedicants.

An analysis of the language of these texts suggests that priests conducting their annual eksetasmos did not merely rely on their own powers of observation and description skills, but rather recorded votives, whenever possible, by their dedicatory inscriptions, thereby creating a compilation of inscriptions, none of which appears to have been in verse, within a larger inscription. Public audiences appear to have been intrigued by the votive contents of temples, but they grew much fonder of the aesthetics of “virtual” inventories, or anathematika epigrams, which became especially in vogue in the Hellenistic period. While Posidippus (3rd century BCE) and other epigrammatists, whose work survives in the Greek Anthology, may have delighted audiences more than the stones that inspired them and the votives that they dislodged from their original context, real inventory lists continued to play an important role in defining the relationship between worshippers and the gods, facilitating their involvement with buildings, i.e. temples and treasures, their inaccessible interiors, and the sacred space.

Session/Panel Title

Inscriptions and Literary Sources

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy