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57.2.Sheppard

Hymns played an important role in Greek religious life, commonly accompanying sacrifices and performing an important procedural role in giving expression to the prayers of the community. They had a specific performance context which required performance by a particular section of the community – for example paeans were performed by a choir of young men. In light of such a clear performance context, it is somewhat strange to encounter inscribed hymns. What role could these inscribed hymns play when shorn of their original performance? This paper explores the reasons hymns could be inscribed and the function they played within sanctuaries in light of changing literary and religious attitudes in the early Hellenistic world. I shall use Isyllos of Epidauros' paian to Asklepios as an example since the extensive accompanying text (including a metrical lex sacra) allows an unprecedented glimpse into the reasons for the paian's inscription. Although the text has recently attracted attention for its political content and the details it provides concerning the cult of Asklepios (Furley and Bremer 2001, Kolde 2003, Vamvouri Ruffy 2004), little attention has been paid to how the inscription functioned and the role it played within the sanctuary. The first part of my paper will discuss the purpose of inscribing Isyllos' paian. Building upon previous discussions of the readership of Greek prayers, in particular curse tablets (Depew 1997), I shall suggest that there existed an assumption that (regardless of questions of readership and literacy amongst human viewers) the paian would be designed to be read by the divinity so that they would act on the paian's requests. The prayer of the inscribed paian is preserved forever – a factor which could help to explain the somewhat general nature of requests in inscribed hymns. Furthermore, this idea goes hand in hand with the suggestion found in earlier Greek literature (e.g. Pi. N. 8.16, h. Cer. 494) that prayers and hymns could function as offerings in their own right, without the need for accompanying sacrifice. Thus an inscribed hymn could perform the same function as a dedicated statue, reminding both human and divine viewers of the original offering of the hymn's performance. The second part of my paper will examine how Isyllos' paian constructs its authority through the aid of the accompanying text. The paian attempts to establish the Epidaurian Asklepeion as the primary sanctuary of Asklepios in the Greek world and I will build upon previous discussions (Kolde 2003) by analysing the role played by the metrical lex sacra in asserting the paian's authority. Exploring the suggestion that metrical leges sacrae attempt to portray themselves as divinely inspired (Petrovic & Petrovic 2006), I suggest that the inclusion of a metrical lex sacra accompanying the paian and Isyllos' ambiguous remarks concerning its discovery play a crucial role in asserting that the paian and the accompanying religious proposals it makes are divinely ordained. Furthermore, the command of the lex sacra to establish an annual procession ensures that both Isyllos' actions and the paian itself survive not only on stone but in the cult life of Epidauros. By prefacing the paian with an account of the ritual procession, Isyllos appears to prefigure later mimetic hymns in establishing a performance context for the reader of the paian. I close with a couple of suggestions: the tendency towards inscribing hymns in the late-Classical and Hellenistic periods suggests a diversification of the genre; features such as mimeticism and the anticipation of future readers hinting at subsequent developments under Hellenistic writers (following Petrovic 2011). Within an era marked by changes in religious and literary practice, the decision to begin inscribing texts such as Isyllos' paian demonstrates an early awareness of these factors. Isyllos positions his paian as a marker of religious change, demonstrating an awareness of the power of inscribed hymns to construct authority and to preserve the claims of its sanctuary in perpetuum.

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