You are here

Choreo-graphy: contextualizing a choregic dedication (IG I3 833bis)

Deborah Steiner

Columbia University

[νικέ]σας ℎό[δε πρτον Ἀθένεσ[ιν χο]ρι ἀνδρ[ν]

[-υυ]τς σοφ[ίας] τόνδ’ ἀνέθε[κ]εν ℎόρον

[εὐχσάμενο[ς π]λείστοις δὲ [χ]οροῖς ἔσχο κατὰ φῦλα

[ἀνδ]ρν νι[κ]σαι φεσι π[ερ]ὶ τρίποδος

This paper offers a close reading of what is, perhaps, our earliest attestation of choral poetry in Athens, an inscription (IG I3 833bis) on a tripod base of Pentelic marble dated to ca. 500-480; once set up on the Acropolis, the block would have formed part of a more elaborate dedication, no longer extant, erected by a victorious choral poet and topped by a tripod. Scholars have documented the paradoxes of the inscription, its generic hereterogeneity, its use and contravention of dedicatory conventions, its introduction of diction seemingly unparalleled in other votive texts (Wilson 2000, Martin 2007, Belis 2011). My aim in revisiting the epigram is two-fold: first, more fully to locate it within its contemporary political, social and musico-choral environment; and second, to demonstrate how the donor and stone-cutter exploit the inscription’s visual aspects or ‘sematography’ (see Bennett 1963) so as to recreate the performance its words record.

Part one of the discussion focuses on the epigram’s diction, situating several of its key terms within the broader political, social and literary landscape. Beginning with the anomalous horos (unparalleled in earlier dedications), I argue on the basis of Solon fr. 36 (also cited by Martin 2007) and Aeschylus Agamemnon 485-86, which styles Clytemnestra a ὅρος…ταχύπορος, that the boundary stone was nothing if not politically loaded in the fledgling Athenian democracy and seek to determine the expression’s valence in this choregic text. Illuminating for the social context and status of poets, choregoi and craftsmen in fifth-century Athens, is the strikingly similar epigram assigned to Parrhasius (Athenaeus Deipnosophistae 12.543e). This second passage both challenges the current view that horos never again occurs in epigrams and, like the earlier inscription, points to the highly competitive environment in which craftsmen, in words and other media, sought to promote their expertise; artisanal dedications of the same period, also vaunting their donor’s sophia, similarly indicate a new assertiveness on this social segment’s part. The lacunose term at the start of line two demonstrates the donor’s literary sophistication and a further claim: his chorus’ performance equals and even surpasses the most canonical of all such spectacles, that enacted on the shield of Achilles (Il. 18.590-606).

            Part two addresses the ‘readerly visuality’ (Esrock 1996) central to the inscription, and proposes, building on Martin 2007, that the visible and material aspect of the letters, their layout on the rectangular stone, design and mode of incision, generate a re-enactment of the winning performance. Even the marble surface is pressed into service, becoming the dance floor on which the graphic notations perform and exhibiting the radiance regularly ascribed to choral ensembles in hexameter and lyric sources. By way of precedent, I cite the inscription on the Dipylon oinochoe of ca. 740-730 that likewise commemorates a winning dance and turns its letters (even those in the nonsense portion of the text) circling about the jug into the original performers. The choregic epigram’s visual dimension also proves pertinent to current polemics – apparent in near contemporary works by Lasus, Pratinus and Pindar - concerning the optimal shape for the dithyrambic chorus. Reading the epigram alongside both these texts and vase representations of dithyrambic performances, we can better understand the formations adopted by early fifth-century choral troupes and the inscription’s donor/composer’s engagement with these debates.

            The final section accommodates the tripod mounted on the base and argues that the closing phase, π[ερ]ὶ τρίποδος, again pertains to performance dynamics and issues of re-performance. Recreating the original site for the winning spectacle, where the chorus, as texts and vase images illustrate, might dance around a central tripod or within a space delimited by tripods, and inviting the viewer of the monument to circle about the marker, it makes its latter-dance audience not only witness to the choral spectacle but a chorus-member too.  

Session/Panel Title

The Power of Place

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy