Greek in Italy

Project Research Blog

An Oscan inscription in Milan

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This weekend I visited the Museo Poldo Pezzoli in Milan. It had a great exhibition on Wunderkammern, which includes a unicorn horn* and a beautifully mounted bezoar (‘a calculus or concretion found in the stomach or intestines of some animals, chiefly ruminants, formed of concentric layers of animal matter deposited round some foreign substance, which serves as a nucleus’, OED.com –  it’s less disgusting than it sounds). But the main attraction for me was an Oscan inscription in the Greek alphabet, which I needed to look at for the book I’m writing (on Oscan inscriptions in the Greek alphabet…). It is written on the cheek-pieces of a Chalcidean-type helmet and comes from the early fourth century BC (making it one of our earliest Oscan inscriptions). You can see a picture of the helmet here: http://www.museopoldipezzoli.it/node/1041 (the inscription is visible on one side).

Metapontum Temple of HeraThe helmet is not very well presented, but you can just about read vereias kam[]sanas metapontinas (right cheek-piece), sup medikiai po (left cheek-piece), which means ‘of the ?something? Metapontine vereia; in the magistracy of Po…’ (the text is Metapontum 1 in Crawford et al., Imagines Italicae, Lu 37 in Rix, Sabellische Texte). The translation of the left side is fairly clear, although the name of the magistrate is abbreviated; since there are several Oscan names beginning Po, we can’t be sure which one this is. Unfortunately, apart from the fact that we can tell it is an adjective, we don’t really know what kam[]sanas means (not helped by the fact that minor damage has erased one letter – here represented by []). A vereia is some kind of body of people, and this one is Metapontine, i.e. it belongs to Metapontum (modern day Metaponto in Basilicata), a city on the Ionian sea between the toe and the heel of Italy (the in-step?). Metapontum was originally a Greek colony until it was captured by the Oscan-speaking Lucanians in the early fourth century (you can see its rather nice temple of Hera in the picture to the left). So in 2,400 years the inscription has travelled from one end of Italy to the other!

* Really a narwhal horn

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