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Inscription Hunting and Early Travellers in the Near East: The Cases of Pococke and Chandler Compared

Alastair J.L. Blanshard

The University of Queensland

This paper explores the study of ancient inscriptions in the 18th century by contrasting the work of two early travellers, Richard Pococke (1704-1765) and Richard Chandler (1737-1810), who both published collections of inscriptions encountered on expeditions to the eastern Mediterranean. By focussing on how these two authors treated two different inscriptions (CIL III 143 & IG I3 1508), we can gain an insight into their aims and working practices. We also see the variety of audiences for whom such collections were assembled. Their work illustrates the challenges that 18th-century travellers faced in recording and publishing inscriptions as well as the range of differing abilities and interests of scholars who assembled this material.

Few early travellers are more infuriating to professional epigraphists than Richard Pococke. The editors of CIG continually lament the quality of his work. His transcriptions record letter combinations that are impossible in Greek, he incorrectly joins stones, he misaligns lines, and his historical conjectures are almost always wrong. ‘Quid non licet apud Pocockium?’ writes one frustrated editor. However, this sense of exasperation is increased by our failure to recognise the aim of Pococke’s endeavours. We make a mistake if we imagine that Pococke is behaving according to the rules or standards of professional epigraphy. Instead, Pococke is producing texts that serve very different purposes. His records give the impression of an inscription rather than a final statement of the text. These are texts that are supposed to be corrected, supplemented, and overwritten. Little in a Pococke inscription should be regarded as secure. It is striking that the most profitable engagements with Pococke’s work have emerged when precisely this fact is realised (e.g. Brennan 1989). Pococke’s work needs to be firmly situated within an antiquarian tradition of inscription-collecting in which inscriptions were used as starting points for conjectures and fanciful constructions of the past.

To illustrate Pococke’s practice and the nature of his intended audience, this paper examines one Latin inscription published in the second volume of his Description of the East (pub. 1745), a builder’s mark found in the ruins of Baalbeck (CIL III 143 = IGLSyr 6 2805). Pococke misrecords this simple inscription, producing nonsense. Yet it proved to be productive nonsense. This inscription was subsequently taken up an Irish antiquarian (Tighe 1814) who used it to argue that the Irish people were descendants of the Lydians, an argument which quickly gained popularity within Irish nationalist circles (cf. Graves 1851). It was precisely for such antiquarian audiences that Pococke’s inscriptions were intended and they must be seen in such terms.

Pococke’s practices contrast with the work of Richard Chandler. Here we can see a very different agenda at work. Chandler’s Inscriptiones Antiquae (1774) is designed to produce an authoritative and definitive edition of the inscriptions. Unlike Pococke, Chandler provides texts in both majuscule and miniscule as well as a Latin translation. His edition also includes notes on interpretation, supplements to the text, and advice on the security of readings. It is a work in which Chandler continually inserts his authorial voice in a manner totally different to Pococke. To illustrate Chandler’s work and practice, we will examine his treatment of the Phanodikos stele (IG I3 1508). This important inscription was recorded by a number of travellers. In this account, we show how Chandler’s contribution is firmly located within a school of practice out of which the modern discipline of Greek epigraphy will emerge.

Contrasting Pococke and Chandler is a reminder of the diversity of inscription-collecting practices prior to the rise of the professional discipline of epigraphy. It illustrates the importance of understanding the collector and assessing transcriptions as part of collections rather than individually.

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Writing the History of Epigraphy and Epigraphers

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