Greek in Italy

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Codebreakers and Groundbreakers

The Fitzwilliam Museum and the Museum of Classical Archaeology in the Classics Faculty are jointly hosting an exhibition called Codebreakers and Groundbreakers.

The Fitz’s exhibition focusses on the decipherment of Linear B (by the architect Michael Ventris aided by John Chadwick, then a newly appointed lecurer in Classics at Cambridge), and, a little earlier, the cracking of German codes during the Second World War at Bletchley Park by Alan Turing and others.

The Classics Faculty includes items from the archive of Alan Wace, who was the archaeologist who excavated Mycenae and discovered tablets written in Linear B, and features displays by current Faculty projects which rely on both ‘codebreaking’ and ‘groundbreaking’: the CREWS (Contexts of and Relations beween Early Scripts) project, the Greek Lexicon, the Myceneaen Epigraphy Group, and us at Greek in Italy!

Greek in Italy
Above you can see our panel at the exhibition. We think it’s pretty cool, and recommend that you go and see it and the rest of the exhibition in both venues (it’s on until the 3rd February, so there’s still plenty of time).

Thanks to Francesca Bellei, who designed the panel and wrote the text!

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Remembrance and Greek Lyric in Italy

The approach of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and the association of poppies with the fallen is an opportunity to comment on that association in the poetry of Stesichorus (c. 630-555 BCE), ‘the first great lyric poet of the West‘. He was born in Calabria in South Italy and died on Sicily.

A papyrus published in 1967 preserves some of the Geryoneis of Stesichorus, a lyric narrative of Heracles’ Tenth Labour: stealing Geryon’s cows. This takes Heracles to the far west of the Greek known world and on his return to the Aventine Hill (in Rome to be).

Column ii lines 14-17 of S15 are pictured below, the point at which Herakles kills the giant Geryon with an arrow poisoned with the blood of the Lernaean Hydra (Greek δρα is cognate with English ‘otter’, a ‘monster’ on a much smaller scale…).

P.Oxy. 2617 epode Stesichorus S15

ἀπέκλινε δ’ ἄρ’ αὐχένα Γ̣α̣ρ̣[υόνας
ἐπικάρσιον, ὡς ὅκα μ[ά]κ̣ω̣[ν
ἅτε καταισχύνοισ’ ἁπ̣α̣λ̣ὸ̣ν̣ [δέμας
αἶψ’ ἀπὸ φύλλα βαλοῖσα̣ν̣[

‘and Geryon dropped his neck
to one side, like a poppy,
which spoiling its tender beauty
suddenly sheds its petals…’.

The eighth book of Homer’s Iliad also contains such a comparison, when Priam’s son, Gorgythion, died from an arrow wound (Iliad VIII 306-308):

μήκων δ’ ὡς ἑτέρωσε κάρη βάλεν, ἥ τ’ ἐνὶ κήπῳ
καρπῷ βριθομένη νοτίῃσί τε εἰαρινῇσιν,
ὣς ἑτέρωσ’ ἤμυσε κάρη πήληκι βαρυνθέν.

And he dropped his head to one side like a poppy that in a garden
is laden with its fruit and the rains of spring;
so bowed he to one side his head, laden with his helmet.

The fields of FlandersThe fields of Flanders, strewn with poppies, might remind epigraphers and dialectologists of the poppy ‘plantations’ of Hellenistic Pharsalus in Thessaly (IG IX, 2 234 / C.D. Buck, The Greek Dialects, no. 36), later the battlefield where Pompey the Great was defeated (09.08.48 BCE).

Similes that have fallen warriors and/or youths in correspondence with poppies continued in Latin literature, whether directly from Homer and/or Stesichorus or not: famously the weary poppy weighed down by rain in Vergil, Aeneid IX 435-437 (drawing also on Catullus 11.21-24, itself thought to have ‘echoes’ of Sappho 105c) and Ovid, Metamorphoses X 190-193.

 


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Greek literature in Italy

Last year, I taught the Classics Faculty’s Intensive Greek reading classes on Bacchylides 5 (as also in 2015-2016) and Aeschylus’ Persians. Just like Simonides (Bacchylides’ uncle) and Pindar, these two celebrated Greek poets were associated with the court of Hieron of Syracuse. Earlier, there was Stesichorus (late 7th – mid 6th c. BCE), who lived, composed, and died in Magna Graecia, and Ibycus (fl. mid. 6th c. BCE), who was from Rhegion, but was active at the court of the Samian tyrant Polycrates. (Guides to the ‘biography’ of Greek and Latin poets and Collections of sources in their original languages and in translation are freely available via Living Poets at Durham).

That was all by way of a pretext to share two of my favourite journal articles on Bacchylides and highlights from the history of journal publishing. The first compares Bacchylides fr. 20  B 6-16 with a Martini label and, for a similar purpose, the second quotes Callimachus, Aetia (fr. 1.32), Pindar fr. 124 ab 5-7, and Teiresias’ words from Odyssey X 495 in an oft-quoted form independent of their context.

Merkelbach, R. (1973). Zum Trinklied des Bakchylides. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 10: 228-229.
— (1975). Der Triumph der Nüchternheit oder Die Widerlegung des Martini-Trinkers. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 17: 97-100.

ZPE 10 1973 229

ZPE 10 1975 98

In those days, ZPE was prepared on typewriters and these (colour) Martini labels were glued in copy by copy…

Bacchylides was fond of compound adjectives involving colours. One of my favourites is κυανο-πλόκαμος: ‘(of Victory) with blue or dark braids (of hair)’. That is, Victory was ‘blue rinse’.

My real reason to mention colours, though, was to reference another article.
Gipper, Helmut (1964). Purpur. Glotta 42.1./2: 39-69.

Blue hair may not have been the key notion in κυανοπλόκαμος and the identity of the colour whose adjective is πορφύρεος  (whence, our ‘purple’) has been a subject for some debate, given its range of applications (LSJ s.v.).

Helmut Gipper concluded his study with a colour swatch, again individually glued into each copy of that issue of the journal.

Gipper Purpur


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Tile Stamps

Jpeg

‘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.


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Calabria and Sicily

As those of you who follow us on Twitter will know, the project has been in Italy this last week. Not because we fancied a holiday just before term starts again (although the weather was very nice indeed, and we did manage to have lunch on the beach at Nicotera Marina), but because part of the point of our project is to see the inscriptions we rely on for our work for ourselves. Even when an inscription is fully published, with good pictures and information about provenance, context and problems in the reading, it’s astounding what a difference it can make to see the object itself. All of a sudden you can discover that an apparently obvious stroke is caused by accidental damage rather than an intentional chisel, or that if you turn the object to catch the light differently an otherwise invisible indentation appears.

Messina. At work 5

On the other hand, it’s easy to get carried away when you see an inscription ‘in the flesh’. Here’s a picture of the team hard at work over an exciting new Oscan inscription. Shortly afterwards we realised we had it upside down and it was really Greek. On this trip we were predominantly looking at Oscan inscriptions, as both mine and Katherine’s books on Oscan are in the final stages. We found some pretty exciting new readings, which we’ll have to take account of (watch this space). Among the museums we visited were the Musei Nazionali Archeologici of Crotone, Vibo Valentia and Reggio Calabria in Calabria, and the Museo Regionale Interdisciplinare in Messina, Sicily. We were overwhelmed by – and very grateful for – the helpfulness of the staff at all the museums, especially in finding things that we didn’t have inventory numbers for, letting us into the museum deposits, and giving up their time to help us out. Our limited edition project keyrings were but little recompense for their kindness. Planning for the next trip starts soon!