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Deconstructing an Athenian Decree: IG I3 84 and the Composition of the Inscribed Document

John Aldrup-MacDonald

Duke University

Most Athenian decrees were probably recorded on papyrus and deposited in the city archives, and, like the archives, were lost to time (Sickinger 1999). A small number were also inscribed on stone, thereby furnishing some documentary evidence for the nitty-gritty of politics at home and abroad. Yet those inscriptions may conceal as much as they reveal, for it has been suggested that “we cannot assume…that what gets onto a stone was formalised and enunciated in precisely those terms in the assembly” (Osborne 2010:71) or even in the archival copy of the decree (Rhodes 1993: 2), because the citizens who served as secretaries of the council, who “must be assumed to retain ultimate control over the content of the inscribed text” (Low 2005:106) also appear to have had “much greater discretion in deciding how to frame the minutes of the meetings they attended than their modern counterparts” (Henry 1979: 105). Such is “the status quo on the subject” (Scafuro 2003: 227), found in handbooks of Greek epigraphy and in collections of Greek decrees for more than a century (Miller (1885) 12, Klaffenbach 1957: 70, Rhodes/Lewis 1997: 3).

This paper seeks to reopen the question. I argue that in IG I3 84, a decree of 417 B.C.E., the secretary retained part of the proposal put forward by the council but nullified by a rider proposed in the assembly. Although it has been suggested that the secretary sometimes did and sometimes did not reconcile the main motion and rider (Rhodes 2001: 38-39), to my knowledge the only evidence for the former is IG I3 110, wherein the rider amends the text put forward in the proposal of the council. Most riders simply add to the main motion, rather than change it. The rider in IG I3 84 does both.

In IG I3 84 three of the provisions of the main motion put to the assembly by the council are contradicted by three of the provisions in the rider proposed in the assembly.  Thus, although the rider does not stipulate that the text of the main motion be amended, it clearly amends the content of the main motion – yet the secretary allowed the contradiction to stand in the record. Now, since the decree was engraved in the same hand, we can infer that it was engraved at the same time, and thus it is not simply the case that the secretary was reluctant to modify a text already inscribed. Moreover, since the same man proposed the main motion and the rider, this cannot be chalked up to the desire to keep a record of who proposed what parts of the decree. The simplest explanation is that because the proposer did not explicitly stipulate that the secretary modify the main motion, and despite the fact that the proposer included, in his rider, language that amended the content of the main motion, the secretary did not redraft the text of the main motion to reflect the amendment. In other words, in this case the secretary, Aristoxenos, far from editing out parts of the main motion that were amended, preferred to publish them as proposed.

Thus, in the case of IG I3 84, the secretary put aside whatever discretion he may or may not have had and probably published the original proposal in precisely those terms in which it was formalized in the council and enunciated in the assembly. It will require more than fifteen minutes to demonstrate that Aristoxenos’ preference was a feature, not a bug, in the publication of decrees. But the decree, like any genre of text, can on close reading betray the principles underlying its composition. A close reading of IG I3 84 suggests that we need to revisit our understanding of those rules, and since the decree was the basic instrument of Athenian democracy (AthPol.41.2), to understand better the composition of decrees is to understand better the mechanics of democracy.

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