This paper explores the visual rhetoric of infinity in Greek temple inventory inscriptions. Scholars of temple inventories have often grappled with their content (Hamilton 2000, Harris 1995, Aleshire 1989, Linders 1972) and their elusive ancient purpose (Scott 2011, Dignas 2002, Linders 1988). While these studies have resulted in greater attention and access to the inventories, they have tended to approach them as administrative texts with a singular audience and context. This paper, by contrast, situates epigraphic inventories within the greater cultural world and specifically within the genre of literary catalogue. It argues that the inventories usurp archaic rhetoric and stylistics surrounding the infinite to create an impression of unending riches and boundless wealth. This brand of intertextuality emerges in the formulaics, diction, organization, and formatting of the inscriptions. By considering, for instance, an inventory of Athens or Delos alongside an epic treasure inventory, we can observe a much more archaic poetics at work than previously thought. Finally, I suggest, much of the inventories’ civic impact emerges from these traditional poetic tactics rather than their textual contents themselves. While historians may characterize inventories as an ad hoc “invention” of 5th century Athens, this analysis reveals that their roots extend further than the Classical period and indeed perhaps beyond the epigraphic record itself.
The List as Genre