Skip to main content

Some 25 inscriptions from CEG and later publications may be dated pre-600 B.C., a rough date after which is witnessed a marked increase in the number of carmina epigraphica across the Greek world. Yet although it is these 25 inscriptions that would seemingly form the foundation from which later epigram would arise, important questions remain relating to them. Whilst Athens and Attica dominate the number of attested inscriptions in the 6th c. B.C. and later, the situation in the previous 150 years forms somewhat of a contrast, with Boeotia, Corinth, Naxos, and Corcyra equally, or better, represented in the corpus. Anomalies from such seemingly unimportant locations as Ithaca, Amorgos, and Pithecusae further complicate the regional picture. We should not, however, deny a certain fluidity between pre- and post- 600 B.C. carmina epigraphica. The usual suspects of media are inscribed - ceramics, stelai, bases, bronzes, and sculpture; the same thematic divisions may be distinguished - dedicatory, funerary, and ceramic ownership graffiti; metrical problems are found; quality is mixed - "from exquisitely turned bits of verse . . . to the absurdest doggerel" (Allen, 1888: 37). Mickey's underutilized study of dialect concludes that there was a tendency in early poetic inscriptions to write in a version of the local dialect that simultaneously avoided local dialect-characteristic features (1981: 31). The evidence would suggest that carmina epigraphica sprang fully-fledged out of nowhere with a developed orthography, form, and context that betrays a development in an earlier form that has left no archaeological or literary trace. We are, however, mistaken to stress continuity over development in this early period. In terms of epichoric alphabets, sculpture, layout, prosody, and linguistic analysis there is remarkable variation. No koine culture of carmina epigraphica in Greece can be distinguished, beyond the common poetic link. Nor should we necessarily mistake orthography for dialect. In fact, contra Mickey in a number of inscriptions a strong dialect flavor is detected. It may be additionally noted that two of the great colonial powers of the Archaic Age are well represented in this early corpus - Corinth and Euboea and their respective settlements, which can hardly be accidental. This paper will argue that the early centuries of carmina epigraphica represent an experimental and transitional period in which the possibilities of a new medium are explored, a development in many ways analogous to early prose epigraphy. This will be exemplified via an examination of script, presentation, dialect, and prosody from a number of examples, including the Dipylon Vase (CEG 432), the Nikandre Kore (CEG 403), the Chalkodamans aryballos (CEG 363), and the Arniadas stele (CEG 145). The hypothesis will be advanced that these observations may be explained by situating early carmina epigraphica in a realm of comparatively isolated development in relation to the 6th c. B.C. and later.