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Revue des Livres
Comptes rendus et notices bibliographiques

Greek Epigraphy and Religion. Papers in Memory of Sara B. Aleshire from the Second North American Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy

Rebecca Van Hove
p. 398-401
Référence(s) :

Emily Mackil and Nikolaos Papazarkadas (eds.), Greek Epigraphy and Religion. Papers in Memory of Sara B. Aleshire from the Second North American Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy, Leiden/Boston, Brill, 2021, 1 vol. 15,7 × 23,6 cm, 376 p. (Brill Studies in Greek and Roman Epigraphy, 16). ISBN : 978-90-04-44253-5.

Texte intégral

1The significance of epigraphy to the study of Greek religion is so apparent that any volume presenting new insights into the religion of the ancient Greek world would inevitably make substantial use of inscriptions. Conversely, that a conference on ancient epigraphy had so many contributions dealing with Greek religion that they necessitated a second, separate volume of conference proceedings is equally not surprising. The chapters of Greek Epigraphy and Religion were originally presented at the second North American Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. The resultant volume is presented in memory of Sara B. Aleshire, whose legacy in the field of epigraphy continues through the Center at Berkeley set up in her name, which also sponsored the Congress. Structurally, the volume consists of 14 papers, divided into three parts: a small “Varia” section, a section on Attica and a section “Beyond Attica”. On a more interpretative level, we can recognize three types of contributions: some chapters present publications of new texts, quite a few chapters offer new editions or partial readings of singular (already known) inscriptions and a third category offers broader analysis of particular topics or dossiers.

2Three chapters offer first publications of new texts which relate to religion and ritual in various ways. Yannis Kalliontzis (Chapter 6) publishes a recently discovered inventory list and votive relief from the sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia. They were discovered in Oropos, where the stones had been re-used as covers for late antique graves. The inventory list is the first to be published from Brauronia itself, adding to our knowledge of the cult gained from such lists found at the Brauronian on the Athenian Acropolis. This new inscription offers details about a previously unknown exetasmos (examination of the contents of a sanctuary) carried out at the Artemision in Brauron in 353/2 BC as well as evidence for men as dedicants and worshippers in the cult of Artemis Brauronia. Andronike Makres (Chapter 8) publishes five new honorific inscriptions commemorating athletic victories from Messene. The inscriptions, all statue bases, were set up in the agora by the city of Messene and are dated by Makres to the second and first centuries BC. Placing these inscriptions in conversation with other honorific and dedicatory monuments erected for athletes in Messene, the article argues that they show how the city similarly appropriated individual athletic victories to propagate civic virtues. In the concluding chapter of the book, Michael Zellmann-Rohrer (Chapter 14) takes as his subject a portable inscribed stone object. He provides a first full edition of a hematite gem, the provenance of which is unknown and cannot be dated more precisely than between the late Hellenistic period and the third century AD. The gem has an inscribed Greek incantation on it which addresses the mythical Tantalus, pointing out his thirst and bidding him to drink blood. It also includes the traces of a female figure with the head of a lion. Zellmann-Rohrer compares the gem to other ancient gemstones with magic formulae, while also placing it in the continued tradition of similar incantations, in late antiquity, Byzantium and the medieval West. He argues convincingly that the depicted figure should be seen as an Egyptian deity and that the inscription is an incantation to help stop bleeding. Furthermore, Zellmann-Rohrer suggestively proposes that committing such an incantation to writing—instead of employing it as an oral performance—not only gives permanence to the formula but also signifies the claim of power over words “as an analogue for the power arrogated on behalf of the bearer of the gem to staunch bleeding”.

3Quite a few papers present new editions or partial readings of single inscriptions, some well-known and others less so. Kazuhiro Takeuchi (Chapter 3), for example, focuses in his chapter on four lines from a deme decree from Paiania which concerns ritual and sacrificial regulations for a number of Eleusinian festivals. His new reading of these lines provides evidence for the worship of Zeus Herkeios as part of the Eleusinian rituals celebrated by the deme of Paiania. Angelos Matthaiou (Chapter 4) examines the famous Sacred Orgas inscription (IG II3 1.292), supplying some epigraphical observations and suggestions for new restorations. This study is a highly learned and technical contribution, dealing, among other things, with the relationship between the inscription and the earlier boundary dispute between Athens and Megara. Stephen Lambert (Chapter 5) delivers a new analysis of an Athenian decree from the third century AD which makes provisions for the procession of sacred objects as part of the Eleusinian mysteries: one of the last inscribed decrees of the Athenian Assembly. Lambert highlights the convergence between the decree’s archaizing content and archaizing features of its language and letter forms, cogently demonstrating that the inscription should be understood as part of the cultural and religious archaism clearly present in Roman Greece. Georgia Malouchou (Chapter 12) gives a new edition of a sacred law found in Parparia in Chios. The rather short and fragmentary inscription—unfortunately of unknown provenance—appears to record a succinct sacrificial regulation. Based on the remoteness of the village of its discovery and the lack of any ancient remains found in the surrounding area otherwise, Malouchou proffers that the text was perhaps set up at an isolated sanctuary or altar, used primarily by local farmers and shepherds. Malouchou makes multiple new suggestions for readings on the basis of her autopsy of the stone. Finally, Fred Naiden (Chapter 13) examines a bilingual inscription established by Alexander the Great in Bahariya, Egypt, on his return from the oracle at Siwah. Naiden analyses the titulary in the hieroglyphic text and focuses on the short Greek text, which he sees as “a rare fragment of Alexander’s Alexander, his public self-definition”. He submits hypotheses as to the message Alexander might have tried to convey with the inscription—in particular about his relationship to Ammon as father—and to how contemporaries, Egyptian and Greek alike, might have read and experienced the inscription.

4The third type of chapter in the volume moves away from a philological focus and toward broader analytical investigations on various religious topics. Laura Gawlinski’s contribution (Chapter 1) presents a methodological and historiographical study of the categorization of “sacred law”, one of the most important types of religious inscriptions from ancient Greece. As she emphasises, the problems of defining sacred law have received much attention in recent scholarship. Whereas much of it has revolved around the “law” part of the term, Gawlinski zooms in on the “sacred” part. Through an analysis of the spoken and unspoken criteria used for selection-making by editors of collections of sacred law, she demonstrates a degree of arbitrariness in what is included in or excluded from the corpus of “Greek sacred laws”: not only does subject matter prove to be more important than genre or issuing body, but the primacy of ritual over the maintenance of sacred space in and of itself emerges in the frequent inclusion of sacrificial calendars—and, conversely, in the frequent exclusion of norms with more explicit divine authority (such as oracles and dreams). Her chapter persuasively suggests that the modern concept of sacred law should be adapted to better reflect the value placed on place in antiquity.

5Elena Martin Gonzalez (Chapter 9) likewise treats issues of categorization in an important study on the oracular tablets from Dodona. Showing how much work still remains for analysis of these texts—newly published in 2013—the chapter examines the complex question of the use of these tablets: specifically, whether they recorded only the questions posed to the oracle of Zeus or also the answers received from the god. Gonzalez dismisses many of the texts which previous editors had identified as oracular answers, arguing that in many cases they were in fact (part of) questions. For example, by highlighting the use of emphatic repetition in the phrasing of questions, as well as the occurrence of questions in the form of statements, Gonzalez contends we must be cautious in identifying texts as divine utterances, especially if the linguistic or orthographic evidence suggests otherwise. The chapter demonstrates how the interpretation of these often-fragmentary texts relies on our own assumptions about how the oracle operated and what role these documents had in the mantic process. As such reconstructions remain most uncertain, caution is needed to avoid relying too heavily on theories concerning the mantic procedure to interpret these complex, fascinating and fragmentary inscriptions.

6Questions of category equally play a part in the chapter by Maria Mili and Jenny Wallensten (Chapter 10). Mili and Wallensten analyse a dossier of inscriptions from Thessaly which sit on the border between dedicatory and funerary inscriptions. These funerary stelae, dating from the late fourth century BC onwards, include a dedicatory formula to Hermes Chthonios and/or a representation of the god. Narrowing in on the inscriptions with dedicatory formula, Mili and Wallensten argue they represent an example of local religious practice (Hermes Chthonios appears in monumental epigraphy nearly exclusively in Thessaly) which emphasises one function of the god at the expense of others. They further show the importance of taking the materiality of inscriptions into account, thus paying attention not only to the text and iconography of these stelae but also textual appearance and the placement of different elements on the stone in relation to the space they were set up in.

7The last three chapters discussed here deal with the practicalities of ritual. Adele Scafuro (Chapter 11) analyses a recently published inscription: a dossier from Telos which records how Koan judges were brought to the island to assist a reconciliation procedure circa 300 BC. Scafuro focuses on the pragmatics of how the Koan judges provided terms of reconciliation. She very convincingly argues that the judges modified the original penalties of men convicted of sacred and public offences so that they could be reintegrated into the Telian citizen body: by substituting portions of their original penalties with “community service”, providing sacrificial animals and repairing and cleaning an altar. Through a detailed investigation into how such services were normally contracted out, in Kos and elsewhere, Scafuro shows that in the Telean dossier the foreign judges made use of “fictions of reconciliation”, substituting the penalties not yet paid for useful services for the community.

8Francesco Camia’s contribution (Chapter 7) presents the author’s new research project on the prosopography of Athenian cult personnel during the principate. His chapter claims that mapping the religious personnel of a city, not only its recipients of cult, gives us a better understanding of the religious landscape of a polis. Primarily concerned with the social status of religious personnel, it selects the imperial cult as case study and ultimately confirms the well-known fact that religious offices became less “democratic” and more aristocratic in Roman Athens.

9Jan-Mathieu Carbon’s essay (Chapter 2) examines the practicalities of ancient Greek sacrifice, specifically the butchering of sacrificial animals. Through two case studies, he examines how the ancient Greeks butchered their animals. In the first, he argues that epigraphic evidence for “seam butchery” (cutting meat following the natural, anatomical divisions of the joints in the body of an animal) of the hindleg should be understood not as exceptional practice but rather as the regular way butchery for sacrifice was conducted. The second case study looks at the complex evidence for burning tails on altars, arguing the tail was sometimes split in two, with one part burnt for the gods, the other part reserved for human consumption. Usefully, and importantly, Carbon makes explicit why we should care about such minutiae. He shows that by reconstructing as accurately as possible what rituals such as sacrifice looked like, we can better understand what they meant. For instance, the concentration on seamless butchering and anatomical integrity reflects the importance of beauty and esthetics in such rites, while the division of meat shows the care with which the Greeks brought together the two different sides of sacrifice: a practice which both honoured the gods and provided for those people sacrificing.

10Each of the chapters in this volume easily fits under the umbrella of “Greek Epigraphy and Religion”, but largely because that umbrella is broad to begin with—so broad, in fact, that all can rest comfortably beneath it and yet at times quite distant from one another. The book does not impart a particularly strong sense of cohesion, that the chapters make more than the sum of their parts. The juxtaposition—less integration—of more analytical or methodological chapters alongside those devoted to detailed line-by-line epigraphical commentary further contributes to this impression. Notwithstanding this critique, which proves difficult to avoid for such collected volumes of conference proceedings, the majority of chapters, each on their own, make for fascinating reading and further constitute important contributions to our understanding of the realities of ancient Greek religion, its local variety, practical logistics, and connections to the broader social and political spheres of the ancient Greek world. The volume is very well produced and embellished throughout with plentiful and high-quality colour images which add much to the volume’s discussion of inscriptions as evidence for Greek religion.

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Rebecca Van Hove, « Greek Epigraphy and Religion. Papers in Memory of Sara B. Aleshire from the Second North American Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy »Kernos, 35 | 2022, 398-401.

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Rebecca Van Hove, « Greek Epigraphy and Religion. Papers in Memory of Sara B. Aleshire from the Second North American Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy »Kernos [En ligne], 35 | 2022, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2022, consulté le 01 avril 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Rebecca Van Hove

University of Groningen

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