Greek in Italy

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Greek in Italy via Egypt: the Deification of Homer

Not all Greek in Italy came directly from Greece, as we would think of country nowadays. A case in point is the Apotheosis or Deification of Homer, a marble relief dated to the end of third century BCE and thought to have been made at Alexandria (the one ‘near’ Egypt) before it was brought to Italy and its findspot of Bovillae.

A cast of this relief can be seen, and read, in the Faculty of Classics’ own Museum of Classical Archaeology and the artefact itself is not so far away at the British Museum. ( has some discussion.). The subject of the relief was taken up by Ingres for the ceiling of the first room in the Musée Charles X in the Louvre.

The presence of a cast so close to home is the occasion not only for this blogpost, but also for sharing a resource relating to the Greek inscriptions in (and around) the Museum of Classical Archaeology.

About this time last year, as the first years were about to sit their exams, I prepared a different kind of supervision in anticipation of such a request as ‘Sir, can we have a fun lesson, please, now that we’ve done our exams?’. Of course, I would say, ‘All my supervisions are fun!’.

The plan was to tour the Cast Gallery of the Museum of Classical Archaeology and to discuss its Greek inscriptions, which range from the end of the seventh century BCE to the Hellenistic period. As such, they illustrate some of the array of local alphabets that were in use until the emergence ‘the Greek alphabet’ as we might think of it: an Ionic script of twenty-four letters that was officially adopted at Athens in 403/402 BCE and taken as far as the Indus River by Alexander.

To prepare myself, I compiled a spreadsheet of links to the Cast Gallery’s records, the Packhard Humanities Searchable Greek Inscriptions, Poinikastas, and other online resources, as well as a comparatio to the epigraphic corpora and handbooks on the Greek dialects.

There is no need to compile such a spreadsheet for the inscriptions of the Fitzwilliam Museum. As a collection of originals, not casts, there is an entry in Trismegistos.


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Which Greeks in Italy?

‘Greek in Italy’ should not be understood to mean that there was (ever) an ethnically- and dialectally-homogenous Greek population in Italy. As shown in the map below (from Wikipedia, s.v. Magna Graeciamap caveats duly noted), there were Doric, Ionic, Northwest Greek, and ‘Achaean’ coastal ‘pockets’.


The concern of this post is how we can associate with a particular dialect group a specific Greek individual that we can identify in Italy. One answer is features of that person’s name. Since the whole point is that people travel, it is not enough to say that since a name happens to be well-attested in a particular region, that particular name belongs to the dialect of that region. Put differently, I am not a car because I stand in a garage; or, just because I am named Patrick, it doesn’t mean I’m Irish.

While tracking down a paper about Egyptian loanwords in Greek, I found a fascinating piece by A.S. McDevitt entitled ‘A Thessalian in Magna Graecia’ (Glotta 46.3/4 [1968]: 254-256), about a Greek inscription in Achaean script on a bronze tablet found at Francavilla Marittima and dated to the middle of the 6th c. BCE.

The inscription was published by A.D. Trendall in ‘Archaeology in South Italy and Sicily (1964-1966)‘, Archaeological Reports 13 (1966-1967), 39 (and fig. 17):

AR 1967 p. 39 and fig. 17

The retrograde inscription (LSAG) contains the name ΚΛΕΟΜΡΟΤΟΣ, ‘Mr Famous Mortal’ (the photo confirms that there was no room for β, pace the supplement in LGPN and the transcription that marks [β] as filling a damaged space: <β> would be an editorial insertion).

The giveaway that this name originated in the Thessalian dialect (of the ‘Aeolic’ ‘group’) is the sequence -ΜΡΟ-. Other dialects would have Κλεόμβροτος (as the editor and LGPN assume). That name is attested and demonstrates how all other Greek dialects eased the sequence -μρ- by the insertion (epenthesis) of β. (The same phenomenon is seen in the genitive singular ἀνδρός alongside the nominative ἀνήρ and in much later spellings of the name ‘Israel’ as Ἰστραήλ or Ἰσδραήλ and it explains why the Hebrew book named Ezra formed part of 1 Esdras in Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible.) In a compound, such as Κλεόμβροτος the sequence -μ-βρ- could be preserved between syllables, but since a word could not start μβρ-, the familiar, but poetic, βροτός ‘mortal’ arose.

That gets us as far as the -ΜΡ-. There is also the -ρο- to consider. Most Greek dialects have syllabic r reflected as -αρ- or -ρα-, but the ‘Aeolic’ ‘group’, like Latin and Arcado-Cypriot, has -ρο-: so, Attic καρδία (the same in origin as English heart), Ionic καρδίη (epic κραδίη),  and Latin cor. (Aeolic is said to have had κάρζα, but it is καρδία that is transmitted in the famous poem of Sappho (31.6) that begins φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἰσοθέοισιν.) Cypriot is said to have had κορζία (perhaps, κόρζα). An army is a στρατός, but a στρότος for Sappho (16.1). Here, *mr-tos gives Latin mortuus ‘having died, dead’, various Lesbian-Aeolic names in -μορτος as well as μορτός known from Callimachus and Hesychius.

All that is to say that mortals should have been brats or barts in non-Aeolic and non-Arcado-Cypriot dialects and that the poetic word βροτός found in Classical Attic poetry was imported from another dialect.

It seems then that we have a Thessalian in Magna Graecia, betrayed by the phonological features of his name.

The remaining puzzle is why there is no digamma in Κλεϝόμροτος when it is plain to see in between vowels in Δεξιλάϝο, and ἀϝέθλον and at the start of ϝίσο(ν), although not after a consonant: ϝίσο-, not ϝίσϝο-). [At this point, some helpful Boeotians can be named to spell out the history of ϝισϝο- (regarded by Buck, sect. 54.d, as ‘secondary’): Ϝισϝόδικος (early seventh-century, complete with a qoppa! LSAG) gives way to  Ϝισοδίκω (genitive singular: in this mid-third-century BCE inscription initial ϝ- abounds).] Since, such secondary (-)σϝ- can only be cited from (early) Arcadian, Boeotian, Cretan (the Gortyn Law ‘Code’), and Sicyonian, its absence here is not a cause for concern.

The solution is easy enough: Thessalian, the dialect of the man’s name, lost the digamma between vowels earlier than other dialects, such as that of the rest of this inscription. Buck (The Greek Dialects, pp. 48-49) could cite only fifth-century Δάϝο̄ν (DGE 563 / IG IX 2, 236), which is thought to be a Thracian name anyway, and had ἔσο̄σε (fifth-century: DGE 557 / IG IX 2, 257.10 /  Buck, no. 35) as evidence for the loss of digamma between vowels and the contraction that ensued (originally: σαϝο-, as in Σαϝοκλέϝης, a Cypriot personal name). The latter inscription has ϝ|οικιάταις, unproblematically, and, curiously, κε̄υϝεργέταν (lines 3-4 and 5), but ἐποίε̄σαν (lines 5-6: cf. epigraphic (-)ποιϝεσ(-)).

Of course, all this collapses if the editor of the inscription and LGPN were right to regard the lack of a <β> as an error to be corrected. That is possible, but Κλεομρο- has the support of two other names in two early fifth-century Thessalian inscriptions, this time from Thessaly. McDevitt had earlier reported (Glotta 45 3/4 (1967): 161-163) a gent called Φιλόμροτος (attested as a genitive Φιλομρότοι, an ending peculiar to Thessalian: cf. -οι-ο in Homer) and a lady called Μροχώ (apparently followed by Ιℎερ̣[ογ]ενέ̣α̣, the patronymic adjective of Ἱερογένεις [-ης] as used in Thessalian, the rest of the Aeolic group, and in Homer…, in Αἴας Τελαμώνιος). The inscriptions are SEG XXIV 405 (text) and 406 (text).

So, we have a Greek named with Thessalian dialect phenomena, and perhaps extraction, in Italy.

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‘Greek in Italy’ in Norfolk


Although a two-week family holiday in North Norfolk was not going to be an epigraphic extravaganza on the same scale as Nick’s visit to Naples, it did provide a reminder to blog about Greek in inscriptions now in Norfolk and some online resources. That said, we happened to see the famous dialect roadsigns that instruct ‘Slow you down!’ (with thanks to the Daily Telegraph).


Some months ago, a friend and colleague asked me about Latin manuscripts at Holkham Hall, of which there are many. At that, I searched Trismegistos, the database of databases for Greek, Latin, and Demotic texts from Egypt (to say the least) for Holkham Hall, as a Trismegistos Collection. The Latin manuscripts fall outside the coverage of Trismegistos, but two Latin inscriptions were reported.

Both are from Rome, both are funerary inscriptions, and both date to early in the second century AD (one may be slightly earlier).


CIL VI 2 14155

CIL VI.3 24008

Thanks to Trismegistos’ own data and its links to Clauss-Slaby (14155 and 24008) and the Electronic Archive of Greek and Latin Epigraphy/the Epigraphic Database Roma (14155 and 24008), full details of the two marbles and the images above can readily be accessed.

Neither inscription involves any Greek sentence, phrases, or script, but there is ‘Greek in Italy’ here nonetheless in the names. 14155.3-5 mentions a Calpurnia Chrysis mater. 24008 reads in full:

D(is) M(anibus) / Petronio / Hedychro / vix(it) an(nos) XXXV m(enses) VI d(ies) VII / Petronia Trophime / conliberto idem / coniugi suo b(ene) m(erenti) fec(it).

‘To the Spirits of the Departed: for Petronius Hedychrus; he lived for 35 years, 6 months, and seven days. Petronia Trophime made <this> for her fellow freedperson and “spouse” alike, who was well-deserving’.

Chrysis is a Greek name (the <ch> and <y> are classic giveaway indications of non-Latin words), as are Hedychrus (<ch> and <y> again – Ἡδύχρους; LGPN omits this bearer) and Trophime (<ph> is one indicator). In Trophime we see also a non-Latin ending. The first-declension nominative singular ends in –a (as in Petronia), but here we have –e as a transliteration of Greek <η>, the equivalent ending for the Greek first declension. One Τροφίμᾱ with -α, the Greek first-declension dialect ending, is also known to the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names.

These three – Goldie, M(aste)r Sweet-Fleshed, and Miss Foster(ed) or Miss Plump – look like slave names, a suggestion corroborated by conliberto ‘fellow freedperson’.

The name Ἡδύχρους (or -χροος) looks like a poetic epithet, as, indeed, it was: GVI 1595.13-14 [Rome, perhaps second century AD]; cf. IG XII, 1 781.4 [Rhodes; second century AD], which has a dative -χροι from a by form in -χρως. However, it was also the name of a perfume. As such, it is also a Greek word known first from a Latin text: Cicero, Tusculan Disputations III 46.

The manuscripts there all have hedyc(r)um (one has aedicrum). Although the <h> and the  <y> were preserved, there is no trace of the <ch>. Whether Cicero spelled it with <c> or with a <ch> that has been lost in transmission, we cannot know. OLD printed the headword as hedycrum with <c>, not <ch>; some texts have the <ch> restored, as LSJ gives it.

Also, –crum indicates that the substantive (like the personal name) was borrowed into Latin from a variety of Greek that has the contraction -χρους, not the uncontracted form -χροος. (Galen has both -χροον and -χρουν).

So much, for now, for Greek in Italy via Norfolk and this experiment with ‘linked data’. I’ll leave it to James to tell the story of the Norfolk clergyperson who argued that the topography of the Iliad was based on his own – and Nelson’s – county.

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Allusions of grandeur

On Friday night I had a nice chat with Helen Zaltzman about alphabets, Oscan, Greek etc. She recorded it for her podcast, The Allusionist, which is about all things to do with language and languages. The conversation lasted about an hour, but she’ll be editing it down significantly, so hopefully I’ll sound a lot more articulate than I really was. That will take a while, so I think the podcast won’t be released for a couple of months – I’ll let you know when it’s available. In the meantime, keep an ear out for other editions featuring friends of ‘Greek in Italy’: Rachele De Felice and Lynne Murphy talking about politeness in British English and American English, and Miriam Wagner on the differences between German in East and West Germany.

An interesting Greek inscription from Cumae

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Since Nick and Katherine have been blogging about our recent trip, I thought I should get in the act as well. I was invited by Ulrike Roth to give a talk on Epigraphy and Language at the British Epigraphy Society Summer School in London earlier in August, and I decided to talk about some of the inscriptions we had seen on our Italian trip in order to illustrate different Greek dialects and letter forms. I chose to discuss this text, inscribed on a large stone slab from Cumae and dating to the second half of the sixth century, and now residing in the splendid Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei (thanks again to the wonderful Ludovica for taking us round!)

2015-07-29 12.54.28
I initially thought that the letters and short length of the text would make it a fairly simple one for the neophyte epigrapher to get to grips with, but the more I looked into it the more difficult it became.

Reading the Greek letters is quite easy, and gives a text as follows:

The text has no word-dividers, though, and splitting this up into separate words is not as easy as it might first appear. The first three words divide as hυπυ τει κλινει, and this might be recognisable to those with some Greek as what would be in Attic Greek ὑπὸ τῆι κλίνηι. The preposition ὑπὸ is written hυπυ, with the letter H still used for the aspirate, which means that they only have E to represent both the long and short e of Greek. But ὑπὸ τῆι κλίνηι would mean ‘under the couch’ in Attic Greek, and here κλίνη must refer to the ‘grave-niche’, a meaning that the word also has in another Greek inscription from South Italy.

After this, the division of words and their interpretation gets a bit more tricky. The word hυπυ occurs again at the end, here acting as a preverb, with the verb itself, ἐστί, ‘is’ missed out.

But how to divide up ΤΟΥΤΕΙΛΕΝΟΣ? You might at first think that this is a genitive phrase with a personal name, something like, τοῦ Τειλενος ‘of Teilen’, but there are two problems with this. Firstly there is no name Teilen or similar known from Greek sources, and secondly this would leave the whole sentence without a subject: ‘under the grave-niche of Teilen there is …’ So it makes sense to break it up differently, as τουτει λενος. Now τουτει is a dialectal form for ταύτηι and belongs with the preceding ὑπὸ τῆι κλίνηι: ‘under this grave-niche’, and λενος is the subject of the verb, presumably. Earlier experts on Greek dialects and archaic inscriptions, including Buck and Ann Jeffery  had suggested that λενος is a man’s name, so the whole line would then mean ‘Lenos is under this grave niche’ (which might be englished as ‘Here lies Len’).

But here again there is no Greek parallel for the name λενος. So perhaps it is a noun? There are two possible Greek nouns that it could be, neither of which are particularly common, nor particularly promising. First there is ληνός, which basically means a ‘tub’, and can be used of anything from a wine-vat or water trough to a bath-tub; then there is λῆνος, probably related the Latin word lana and other words for ‘wool’ in IE languages, which is used as the name for a fillet or headband made of wool, or a flock of wool. Why on earth would anyone write on a grave that there was a tub or wool underneath?

With the Epigraphy Summer School talk fast approaching, and realising I couldn’t yet give a definitive translation of this text, in desperation I looked in the Revised Supplement to the Liddell and Scott dictionary. To my immense relief, I found that they had given there a whole new entry for a third word λῆνος, occurring only in this inscription, and meaning ‘someone who had been inducted into the Bacchic mysteries’. In a fragment of Heraclitus there is a reference to female Bacchants as λῆναι, and, moreover, there is another inscription from the necropolis at Cumae that says that only those initiated in the Bacchic rites can be buried there, so this interpretation of λῆνος seems quite plausible. The whole inscription would then mean something like ‘An initiate lies here’. Not everyone at the BES talk was convinced: one learned epigrapher in attendance wondered whether ΤΟΥΤΕΙΛΕΝΟΣ should actually be read as τουτει (hε)λενος, with the very common man’s name Ἕλενος losing its first syllable after a preceding vowel.


Tile Stamps


‘Linguists just aren’t interested in tile stamps.’ I remember making that point years ago to Michael Crawford when collaborating on the Imagines Italicae project, and now my words come back to haunt me. It turns out that tile stamps, imprinted on wet clay during the manufacture of roof-tiles, can be more interesting —linguistically, epigraphically, and for social history—than I had imagined. On our recent trip to Calabria, the Greek in Italy project members spent quite a lot of time looking at tile stamps, most memorably in the deposito of the Museo Regionale Interdisciplinare di Messina (thanks to the extraordinary kindness of Dottore Agostino Giuliano and his colleagues, who gave up their Saturday morning to let us in and to show us around). The Messina collection includes Greek, Oscan and Latin tile stamps alongside each other, but most publications separate out the material into different languages. Seeing all the stamps together, it is not always easy at first glance to be sure which language they are in, particularly if the stamp is well-worn or broken. We spent an excited 15 minutes thinking that we had found a new tile stamp with Oscan written in the Greek alphabet, since it ended in the letter M. Greek words don’t end in M, but Oscan genitive plurals do, and one way of saying that the tile is the property of a particular community is to use a genitive plural—the name of the Mamertini, the mercenaries who captured the port of Messina at the beginning of the third century BCE, appear on tile stamps in the genitive plural, both in Greek (Μαμερτίνων), and in Oscan written in Greek (Μαμερτινουμ). But then Nick pointed out that we were reading the text upside down, and it was a familiar Greek text after all. Jpeg

Some of the other Greek tile stamps were also puzzling. One clearly reads ΡΗΠΙΝΟΝ ΟΡΘΟΝ – the first word can be corrected on the basis of other stamps to ΡΗΓΙΝΟΝ, i.e. Ῥηγίνων ‘of the Rhegians’, showing that someone had got a tile from Rhegium (modern Reggio Calabria) on the other side of the straits of Messina, but what of the second word? At first sight this appears to mean the ‘true’ Rhegians, as opposed to outsiders or imposters, but the Greek word ὀρθός isn’t used of people without further specification like this, and it is probably better to think that this is the name, Orthon, of the tile manufacturer.

What were tile stamps for, and who read them? It seems that stamps could have different audiences and functions. Latin tile stamps from Veleia and Oscan tile stamps from Bouianum, for example, include the name of magistrates, and Crawford argues that this is so that the purchaser of a tile would know its age, since a tile that had lasted over winter was more valuable. In other areas of the ancient world, stamps indicated that the tiles belong to a sanctuary or a public building. The marking of tiles with the genitive plural, as in ‘of the Rhegians’ or ‘of the Mamertini’ is limited (in Italy) to Greek texts from the south, and the only peoples of Italy who adopted this practice are the Mamertini and the Tauriani (whose bricks and tiles have been found in several areas just north of Reggio). So did the Mamertini abandon Oscan as they became Greek speakers, or did they start stamping in Greek and then switch to Oscan? Or was no one that much bothered about which language to use? Going to the trouble of making a stamp and marking tiles is unlikely to have been a trivial matter, and it seems to me that adopting the Greek alphabet and using the Greek style genitive plural shows that the Mamertini took a conscious decision to make the Greek practice their own. There is more to tile stamps than you might think.