Last week I visited exhibitions on Sicily at the Ashmolean in Oxford (Storms, War and Shipwrecks), and at the British Museum (Sicily: Culture and Conquest). Both were a lot of fun, but perhaps unsurprisingly, I felt the British Museum came out on top. This was largely because the Ashmolean’s exhibition was focussed on underwater finds, and there are only so many anchors and amphoras that I can see before my eyes start to glaze over. Of great interest for me, though, were three of the rams from the sea battle near the Egadi Islands that I mentioned in an earlier post and which Katherine has also discussed over at her blog. Two had Latin inscriptions and the other one was the one with a Carthaginian inscription. I was very excited to see them in the flesh, although I have a bit of a gripe: as is very common, museums often seem to think that any writing on an object is of minor importance, and position it so that it is hard to see. In this case, one of the rams was placed so that the inscription was upside down relative to anyone looking at it, and quite far away, so hard to get a close look at – since the inscription was incised rather than in relief, and the metal was somewhat degraded, it was hard to make out anything at all.
The British Museum exhibition was far better than the last couple I’ve been to there. Not least because, in the main, I could actually see the objects on display. Recently, in the Museum’s exhibitions, the general lighting has been practically non-existent, with the objects being lit by very small spotlights. The effect has been to cast weird shadows over much of the stuff, and, occasionally, to make the information boards impossible to read. Although some of the lighting was somewhat eccentric at the Sicily exhibition, in the main it was far better. And there are some lovely objects: a fourth ram, and beautiful decorations from the island’s Norman period. The thing that struck me most, however, was a bilingual inscription, in Greek and Latin, which read (you can see a picture here):
ΣΤΗΛΑΙ | TITVLI
ΕΝΘΑΔΕ | HEIC
ΤΥΠΟΥΝΤΑΙΚΑΙ | ORDINANTVRET
ΧΑΡΑΣΣΟΝΤΑΙ | SCVLPVNTVR
ΝΑΟΙΣΙΕΡΟΙΣ | AIDIBVSSACREIS
ΣΥΝΕΝΕΡΓΕΙΑΙΣ | QVMOPERVM
ΔΗΜΟΣΙΑΙΣ | PVBLICORVM
Which means: ‘signs are arranged and carved here for sacred temples along with public works’
According to the Museum, this came from Palermo, and is to be dated between 100 BC and 50 AD. The information suggested that, as there were mistakes in both the Greek and Latin, and Palermo was originally a Punic settlement, the person who wrote it may have had Punic as their native language. Personally, I’m not so sure: while the use of cum plus the genitive in the Latin is clearly ungrammatical, I can’t see any mistakes in the Greek (apart from the use of Doric ναός ‘temple’ rather than Attic νεώς, which is not really a ‘mistake’). But I’d be delighted to have them drawn to my attention.
Apart from this nice example of Greek and Latin being used in tandem in ancient Sicily, what I also find interesting about this inscription is the use of ‘archaic’ spellings in the Latin, which the museum’s sign also drew attention to. From the point of view of ‘Classical’ spelling, the use of Q instead of C before V to represent [k], EI for long [i:] and AI for the diphthong [ae] all look pretty old fashioned. But I’ve just started to have a look at these kind of spellings, and quite a lot of them seem to have carried on well into the first few centuries AD, at least among certain writers. So I’m not sure that these spellings would necessarily have been particularly old fashioned at the time this sign was written.
James Clackson has kindly advised me of an article by our friend Olga Tribulato on this inscription. The article is called ‘The stone-cutter’s bilingual inscription from Palermo (IG XIV 297 = CIL X 7296): a new interpretation’ and was published in Zeitschrift für Payrologie und Epigraphik, 177 (2011) 131–140. It’s available online free here (NB opens as a .pdf). The mistakes in the Greek which I didn’t recognise, and which Olga discusses, are the use of ἐνέργειαι rather than ἔργα in the sense of ‘works’, and the use of σύν ‘with’ as a conjunction – which is not unheard of, but is uncommon. This use of σύν could be influenced by the Latin use of cum as a connective, but the person who wrote the Latin clearly wasn’t a native speaker either! Olga suggests that the writer was a Punic-speaker, in whose language the preposition ‘et ‘with’ could also be used as a conjunctive. She has various other ingenious suggestions of how the other oddities can be explained by being written by a non-native speaker – you can read the article yourself if you want the details.