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The Xanthos Trilingual and Beyond: Interlingual Patterns in Greek-Lycian-Aramaic Inscriptions

Leon Battista Borsano

Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa

The aim of this paper is to reconsider the processes of translation and reception of public documents in the multicultural region of Lycia during the late Classical period. The epigraphic evidence from Lycia is crucial to disclose the complex problem of empowerment and power projection in southern Asia Minor, between the local elite, the Persian authorities, and the Greek city-states. This complexity is particularly evident in the corpus of bi- and multilingual inscriptions.

This corpus shows a large variety of languages and functions: Greek, Lycian and Aramaic interact in both public and private documents. The most famous specimen of a multilingual public document is the trilingual inscription of Xanthos, which was discovered in an earthwork at the Letoon in 1973: an intricate triple text concerning the concession of specific terrains to the priest of a little-known Carian cult by the Xanthians (Metzger et al. 1979). The superb state of conservation of the stone has persuaded some scholars to consider exceptional the document itself; this is the case of a controversial thesis about the attempted "Carianization" of the areas which were subdued to the Hecatomnid dominion in the mid 4th century BC (Hornblower 1982). Recently, scholars have completely revisited this interaction, in light of the religious and linguistic politics of the Persian Empire and of a more equilibrate interpretation of this document (Briant 1998). Furthermore, linguistical analyses have illuminated the probable derivation of the Greek text from the Lycian one (Rutherford 2002), while the Aramaic version still has a more uncertain value. Assuming that the low chronology (i.e. 338 instead of 358 BC) is less problematic, the role of the satrap Pixodaros remains ambiguous: he is said kyrios (‘powerful’) in the Greek text after the final imprecations, but the exact meaning of kyrios depends on the interpretation of the last Lycian sentence (which is incomprehensible) and of an emendated Aramaic participle, MH<>SN, whose meaning is doubtful. An equivalent polarity in meaning can be found also in the deliberative action of the Xanthians, an expected edoxen in the Greek wording, an obscure (me)hñtitubedẽ in Lycian (a form of prescription?), a rare T‘ŠTW in Aramaic: was that an autonomous decision or a project submitted to the satrap?

Problems like these are hard to solve in the absence of a large combination of parallel evidence in Lycian and Aramaic. Nevertheless, a general reanalysis of the support (lettering, disposition of the texts, material hierarchy between the stele faces) and a comparison with other bilingual public documents from the Xanthos valley may cast further light on the interpretation of the Letoon trilingual. The use of the Aramaic language in Lycia is attested by four other inscriptions, unfortunately highly fragmentary, some of which show evidence of bilingual practice. Among them, two fragments of civic decrees, despite not being contemporary, seem to be comparable to the Letoon trilingual, which does not represent, therefore, evidence for an isolated practice. It is possible to imagine that there were professional compilers and a public of readers for these civic inscriptions. Another fundamental piece of evidence that should be reconsidered is TAM I 45, probably a concession of commercial exemption by Pixodaros to some Lycian cities: the surviving text, albeit fragmentary, is bilingual (Greek-Lycian), but there is sufficient ground to argue that it was originally trilingual. Be it as it may, this document illustrates how political interactions between the satrap and the Lycian cities were far from exceptional and is indeed the best touchstone to test the interlingual patterns identifiable in the Letoon trilingual.

Session/Panel Title

Epigraphic Approaches to Multilingualism and Multilingual Societies in the Ancient Mediterranean

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