Why did Greek cities award life-like statues to individuals by civic decree? Focusing on two distinct types of discourse – the speeches of orators and the epigraphic vernacular of the city – I locate tensions between personalized opinion and civic discourse surrounding the award of statues. The statue habit was not the straightforward promotion of elites; rather, it marked the interplay of a civic institution with the ambition of individuals, both of whom had stories to tell quite of their own.
Steles and bases preserve the administrative language concerned with statue awards. I argue that the award of a statue by decree was also an occasion for civic historiography, whose purpose was democratizing: the epigraphic record promoted an uninterrupted narrative of civic agency and success. With Kaunos as my principal test-case for this paper, close study of the syntax of decrees reveals how the demos perceived honorands and their statues, frequently occluding private initiative. Conversely, orator-politicians often took issue with the economy of honors in general or on a particular occasion. Adapting Jürgen Habermas’ notion of the “public sphere,” I argue that speeches, circulating as pamphlets among a reading elite, developed an autonomous sphere of critical reflection and debate, which was separate from the epigraphic vernacular of the city. In contrast to the ubiquitous narrative of civic agency, then, I trace a more exclusive preoccupation with honorific statues in Isokrates, Lykourgos, Dion of Prusa, and Favorinus.
My conclusive comparison is between Dion’s tirade Against the Rhodians and a series of honorific inscriptions that preserve not only the decree but also formulas and citations of future oral proclamation. Therefore, I maintain, we witness how speech delivery in the assembly continued, but also developed in distinctive ways, according to papyrus or stone. In particular, I argue that we should distinguish between two registers of “talking about” honorific statues. Ancient viewers were perfectly capable of identifying statues with a genitive, as in “this is the statue of so-and-so.” Fourth-century orators, it is fair to say, were mildly obsessed with discussing the honors system at Athens and so, in their prose, we read about statues “of Konon” and the like. To use their names in the genitive came naturally to these authors. By contrast, a nominative-accusative formula, like “ho demos (no verb) Konona,” is syntactically elliptical and did not, presumably, come quite as naturally. Rather, it was a technical way of talking, with which ancient viewers would be familiar from inscriptions only or predominantly. But when Dion launched his tirade, his principal complaint was that he Rhodians had gotten into the habit of awarding statues, but took the easy way out by re-inscribing old bases without changing their statues on the bases (165-6). Dion was well aware that, on the matter of honorific practices, he was taking a stance of personalized disagreement with an item of civic interpretation: from the start, Dion emphasized that he speaks not as a citizen but uninvited and as a private individual about a matter of public concern (1).