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‘Powerful Rhyme’ on an ‘Unswept Stone’: Alkmeonides’ Epigram IG I³ 1469 = CEG 302 and (Re)performance

Cameron G. Pearson

            In the definitive publication of CEG 302 (inscribed on a Doric capital which once supported a lost statue) Ducat proposed that the statue faced the valley, with its back to the visitor, who read the epigram once s/he had arrived at the shrine. On the basis of research in the archives at l’École fancaise d’Athènes, and a re-examination of the stone, I will argue that the statue (probably a small kouros or charioteer) faced the visitor, and that the placement of the unusually long epigram on three sides of the capital forced viewers to become participant-spectators in its reperformance, as their movements around the monument evoked those of an epinician chorus.

            This paper is a contribution to recent scholarly work that addresses the symbiosis of literary performance and material culture (e.g. Day 2010: esp. p. 200, n. 94 and 2013; Fearn; Neer and Kurke: 527-28, n. 1; cf. also, Ebert, Young, Svenbro, Burnett 2005, Cummins, Athanassaki, et al.). CEG 302 is a dedication celebrating a chariot victory of Alkmeonides from the Apollo Ptoion Sanctuary in Boiotia, dated to circa 540 BCE. The capital is inscribed on three of its faces. Face A contains two lines, face B (to the right of A) contains two lines, face C (opposite face A) was left blank, and face D (to the left of A) contains one line, giving us five lines of iambic trimeter.

            A         [Φοί]βο μέν εἰμ’ ἄγαλ[μα Λ]α̣τ̣[οί]δα καλ[ό]ν· |

                        [hο δ’Ἀ]λ̣κμέονος hυῒς Ἀλκμεονίδες |

            B         [h]ίποισι νικέ[σας ἔ]θεκέ μ̣’[ὀκέαις],|

                        hὰς Κνοπι̣[άδα]ς ἔλαυν’hο[— x — ˘ —] |

            C                                Vacat                          

            D         hότ’ ἐν Ἀθάναις Παλάδος πανέ̣[γυρις].

            A         I am a beautiful agalma of Phoibos, son of Leto,

                        and Alkmeônidês, son of Alkmeôn,

            B         set me (here), after he won with [swift] mares          

                        that Knôpi[adas] the [?. . . ] drove,

            C                                Vacat                          

            D         when the festival of Pallas was at Athens. 

            Our monument would have been overshadowed by many others in a sanctuary known for its large kouroi (Ducat catalogues 90-135). But it is also a monument erected by a member of the Alkmaionids, the powerful Athenian family, who were capable of building a temple at Delphi. Its small stature is noteworthy, but I believe this can be explained by its relatively long epigram (only five archaic inscribed epigrams are longer). Thus we have a rare example in archaic dedications, where poetry trumps material object. Relevant here is Cannon’s theory of, “expressive redundancy,” whereby elites lead the way in more modest display, and what Morris calls, “individualizing” as opposed to “public” display.

            I will argue that the epigram directs the viewer around the monument at least once. The reader could begin with any of the faces, depending on the direction of approach, and would then reconstruct and reperform the poem in its ‘correct’ order (A, B, D) by determining from μέν in the first line that the poem begins there, or by noticing that B and D do not read like the beginning of a dedicatory text. (On ancient readers, cf. Stoddart and Whitley, Svenbro, Bing, Bakker, Elmer, Day 2010: 21-24 and ch.2, Schmitz).

             The first two lines on face A would necessarily be read at least twice, since it was not possible to go behind the monument from B to D. This would have emphasized the two parallel genealogies on face A: Alkmeonides, the son Alkmeon, and Apollo the son of Leto. The reperformance of Alkmeonides’ genealogy in one reading of the poem repeats what would have been heard in the aggelia, read out after the victory (Robert, Nash, Day 2010: 198-228, Day 2013). Furthermore, as with epinician odes, this movement around the statue as the epigram is read out loud could evoke the triadic movement of strophe, antistrophe, epode (2, 2, 1), as well as the music and dancing of an epinician chorus (Burnett 1989, Carey 1989, 1991; Lefkowitz 1991, 1995, Pavese, et al. most recently, Eckerman).  

Session/Panel Title:

Poetry and Place

Session/Paper Number

60.5

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