You are here

From Text to Monument: Sociolinguistics and Epigraphy in the Bilingual Funerary Inscriptions from Lycia

Marco Santini

Princeton University

The paper investigates the phenomenon of language contact between Greek and Lycian as it emerges from the bilingual funerary inscriptions from Classical Lycia and aims to show that a thorough sociolinguistic approach to these texts is possible only through a combined analysis of textual and visual phenomena — i.e., by considering them not just as documents but as integral parts of monuments.

The problem of language contact between Greek and Lycian is to be addressed in different ways depending on the typology of the epigraphic evidence (Adiego 2014). The use of Greek in the bilingual celebrative inscriptions of the dynastic period can be explained by the dynasts’ desire to have recourse to a prestigious language (Keen 1998), whereas the debate on the public decrees of the Hecatomnid period is dominated by the attempt to identify the political role of each of the languages employed (Rutherford 2002). On the other hand, the study of bilingual funerary inscriptions offers a wide range of possibilities to account for the relationship between the two languages. The common assumption that bilingual inscriptions served the purpose of making the document intelligible to a double audience is not fully satisfactory. Instead, a comprehensive examination of the content, style, diction, and layout of each inscription suggests that any inference as to the purpose of inscribing bilingual texts should be drawn on a case-by-case basis. There emerge different strategies by which individuals and families negotiated their multiple or "fluctuating" identities, ranging from the preservation of the official value of Lycian to the adoption of the Greek language and epigraphic style as a means of prestige display.

The bilingual inscription from Karmylessos (Kalinka 1901, TL 6) presents an interesting interaction between the two languages and reflects a mixed background in which the two cultures may be assigned specific roles. The Lycian section of the text is formulaic, but Lycian maintains its role as normative language, as evidenced by the detail of the final curse (Bryce 1981). The Greek text reproduces the Lycian style in the introductory formula, but some textual peculiarities show a level of linguistic competence which goes beyond the purposes of a sheer translation.

Greek did not play the same role for all culturally mixed families. The funerary inscription of Siderija Parmnah from Limyra (Kalinka 1901, TL 117) has a very different impact compared to the bilingual of Karmylessos: the Greek text is clearly intended as a literal translation of the Lycian epitaph, and the juxtaposition of the two texts does not show any careful plan of layout — Lycian starts and Greek follows, almost mechanically. Completely different is instead the case of the bilingual of Korydalla (Neumann 1979, N302): here, the prominent role of the Greek language and culture is shown by the polished surface displaying one line of Greek and four lines of Lycian laid out in an elegant Greek-fashion stoichedon, with the Greek text isolated on top by a vacat and conceived as a sort of epigraphic heading.

This last case shows best how the amount of text inscribed in either of the two languages and its content are by no means the only criteria for a sociolinguistic approach to ancient multilingualism: much is revealed, in certain cases, by how the texts are laid out together on stone.

Session/Panel Title

Epigraphic Approaches to Multilingualism and Multilingual Societies in the Ancient Mediterranean

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy