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58.2.Myers

This paper offers a new interpretation of the trilingual stele that C. Cornelius Gallus erected at Philae in 29 BCE enumerating his accomplishments as Egyptian prefect (CIL 3.141475). Previous interpretations of the stele have focused on what it may reveal about Gallus’ subsequent political disgrace and suicide (e.g., Boucher 1966, Bresciani 1989, and Hoffmann, Minas-Nerpal, and Pfeiffer 2009). This paper approaches the stele from a different direction, suggesting that its frontier provenance, as well as its cross-cultural mixing of Egyptian, Hellenistic, and Roman features, indicates an aspect of how Gallus was perceived in antiquity. Along these lines, the paper considers the stele in the context of other sources for Gallus: the Qaá¹£r Ibrîm papyrus, the Vatican obelisk, Gallus fr. 1 (Courtney), and references to Gallus by other poets. I contend that a consistent feature in all these sources is a ‘Gallus-periphery theme’, i.e., that Gallus was associated with the edges of the Roman empire and with absence from the imperial center, Rome. I begin by looking briefly at the connections between Gallus and the periphery that are suggested by the stele’s inscriptions and by its location on Philae. The placement of the stele on Philae, which ancient sources describe as Egypt’s southern frontier (e.g., Diod. Sic. 1.22, Str. 17.1.49, Plin. Nat. 5.59, I. Philae II 142), links Gallus to a new periphery of the Roman world. Moreover, the stele’s inscriptions emphasize that Gallus expanded the frontiers of Egypt: the hieroglyphs describe him extending Egypt’s eastern and western frontiers; the Latin and Greek relate that Gallus expanded Roman power southward and engaged in diplomacy with ‘Aethiopians’, a name that evokes the periphery of the world from Homer onwards. The paper next considers the significance of the stele’s iconography and of the hieroglyphic inscription. I argue that the hieroglyphic inscription, which is nearly as large as the inscriptions in the other two languages combined, is prominently featured as part of an effort to have the stele present Roman power in an Egyptian manner. Although hieroglyphs were a script whose literate audience was limited to a small number of Egyptian priests in the 1st century BC, Gallus’ stele makes use of their profound symbolic power as the traditional script of Egypt’s ruling elite. The presence of hieroglyphs expresses continuity with Gallus’ Ptolemaic predecessors, whose trilingual inscriptions are a model for the Philae stele, at the same time that the Latin on the stele and the content of the inscriptions celebrate the new Roman regime. The hieroglyphs communicate Roman power in an Egyptian manner. Yet from a Roman perspective the quintessentially Egyptian nature of hieroglyphs have the additional effect of presenting Gallus himself in an Egyptian manner, contributing to the Gallus-periphery theme. As Hoffmann, Minas-Nerpal, and Pfeiffer (2009) demonstrate, the relief images on the stele similarly use traditional Egyptian visual idioms, while also employing Hellenistic and Roman features. I argue that like the trilingual inscriptions these images not only address Egyptian audiences, but also inscribe Gallus in the Roman imagination in a peripheral, Egyptian context. As evidence of this effect on ancient perceptions of Gallus, I consider possible references to the stele and its inscriptions in Strabo (17.1.53) and Cassius Dio (53.23.6). My ultimate aim is to demonstrate that the connection between Gallus and the Egyptian frontiers fostered by the Philae stele provides an important insight not only into Roman perceptions of Gallus, but also into the nature of subsequent Augustan elegy. I conclude by arguing briefly that the anti-travel themes present in the elegies of Gallus’ successors (e.g., Prop. 3.7 and Ov. Am. 2.11) on one level reflect how Gallus became an icon of the dangers of mixing travel, politics, and love poetry, and an exemplar of the challenges of negotiating the politics and poetics of the early principate.

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