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The Rhythm of Routine: Rhythmical Regularization in Archaic Inscriptions

Ronald Blankenborg

Radboud University Nijmegen

This paper aims to show that in the process of ‘oral dictation’, a form of hypokrisis (‘delivery’) that relies on writing primarily as a memorization tool, the repetitiveness of meter took priority over clause-formation. Metrical archaic inscriptions are proof of this process: rhythmical regularization and written punctuation show that the metrical unity, primarily the hexameter, served as a unit of written communication before it doubled as a composition unit. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey represent the last trace of this development.

In the study of ancient Greek epic, the interplay of orality and literacy has been studied in accordance with various comparative models (West 2011, Bakker 2013), regularly identifying indicators of either at the expense of the other. ‘Oral dictation theory’ (Ready 2015) reconsidered the interplay with regard to the contribution of writing in the performance of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey: written versions of the text, possibly circulating from the second half of the seventh century BC, were being used by oral performers as a tool for memorization well into the first century BC (cf. Bird 2010). Oral performers of epic poetry, like low- or non-literate dramatic actors and orators, learned by heart a text read or recited from a written version (Gonz.lez 2013). In the process, meter’s applicability as a tool for composition and re-composition gradually gave way to usage as an aid for memorization. Examples of archaic inscriptions strengthen the intuition for dactylic ‘re-rhyhtmisizing’ (cf. Steinrück 2005; Golston 1998; Blankenborg 2016; forthcoming) in Homer. The following examples feature ‘run-over’ composition, but with full regard for the hexameter:

[Γ]λαυκατ[ίαι τόδε] μνᾶμα Κάλας [στῆσ᾿ Ἀν]θίδα υἱὺς › παι[δί]

IG V 1.720

To Glaucatias, his son, Calas, son of Anthidas, set up this monument

[Ϟυλοίδας μ᾿] νέθηκε Ποτειδάϝωνι ϝάνακτι : αὐτοπόεια

IG IV 222

… dedicated me to Lord Poseidon / as the work of his own hands

[Ἱ]εροφῶν μ᾿ [ νέ]θη[κε Διὸς γλαυ]ϟώπιδι [ϟ]ούρηι : [π]ολ[ι]ούχω[ι δ]εκ[ά]τη[ν]

IG I2 418

… dedicated me to the gleaming-eyed daughter of Zeus, / mainstay of the city, as a tithe

Δειναγόρης μ᾿  νέθηκεν ἑκηβόλωι Ἀπόλλωνι : δεκάτην

IG XII 5.42

Deinagoras dedicated me to Far-Darter Apollo / as a tithe

The inscriptions vary ‘among hexameter, prose, and hybrid forms’ (Friedl.nder 1948:22). Alternatively, inscriptions feature parts of hexameters, and are then combined with prose elements:

Γνάθωνος τόδε σημα· θέτο δ᾿ αὐτὸν  δελφὴ : ἡλίθιον νοσηλεύσασα

IG I2 975

This is the tomb of Gnatho; his sister buried him / after nursing him in mental disease

In Homer, we witness the same: there (e.g. Iliad 10.164), the metrical phrase between position 5. and 7 is regularly ‘filled’ with extraclausal constituents. Together with Homeric ‘run-over’, metrical archaic inscriptions evidence the development of the hexameter as a tool for memorization and performance.

Session/Panel Title

Inscriptions and Literacy

Session/Paper Number


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