February 15, 2018

Winds and Antigone's Madness

In this entry, I would like to explore some of the functions of wind in Sophocles’s Antigone, especially in its relationship to madness. I believe that this natural phenomenon is consciously deployed by the poet to stage not only some external forces such as nether deities, but also mental states, such as madness and irrationality, which is similar to Aeschylus’ use of wind in the Oresteia. Since its functions develop in complexity throughout the play, I will offer a reading of some passages in chronological order, focusing on the connections between wind and Antigone’s state of mind.

In the scene of the second burial, reported by the Guard, Antigone's appearance is preceded by a violent storm, which forces the guards to close their eyes and wait for it to cease (ll. 417-421):

καὶ τότ᾿ ἐξαίφνης χθονὸς

τυφὼς ἀγείρας σκηπτόν, οὐράνιον ἄχος,

πίμπλησι πεδίον, πᾶσαν αἰκίζων φόβην

ὕλης πεδιάδος, ἐν δ᾿ ἐμεστώθη μέγας

αἰθήρ· μύσαντες δ᾿ εἴχομεν θείαν νόσον.

«And then suddenly a whirlwind on the ground raised up a storm, a trouble in the air, and filled the plain, tormenting all the foliage of the woods that covered the ground there; and the vast sky was filled with it, and we shut our eyes and endured the god-sent affliction»

This storm comes not from above, but from the earth and is marked as a chthonic phenomenon: this is made clear by the choice of the word τυφώς, derived from the name of the chthonic monster Typhaeus, who is connected to stormy winds. This storm acts as Antigone's complement and its violence continues through Antigone's cursing and yelling. In light of its chthonic and violent connotations, the forces involved in this passage must not be seen as the heavenly forces of the Olympian gods, but as more obscure agents, which will become more concrete in the following passages.

In the second stasimon, the chorus dwell on the Labdacids' misfortunes. Their vicissitudes are understood as a consequence of ἄτη, the moral blinding that prevents one from understanding that they are behaving in a ruinous way. The chorus describe the condition of the whole house through the image of the sea shaken by winds from Thrace; they focus then on the last generation, represented by Antigone and Ismene, mentioning nether gods, folly, and an Erinys of the mind (ll. 601-603):

κατ᾿ αὖ νιν φοινία

θεῶν τῶν νερτέρων ἀμᾷ κοπίς,

λόγου τ᾿ ἄνοια καὶ φρενῶν Ἐρινύς.

«It too is mown down by the bloody chopper of the infernal gods, folly in speech and the Ernys in the mind»

Thus, the chorus see Antigone as mad and her madness is conceived as an Erinys of the mind. The Labdacids’s turmoil is like a terrible wind, capable of dragging its victims back and forth without them realising. Much like the previous passage, there are strong connections between Antigone, the chthonic dimension, and wind, on which the rest of the play will shed more light.

Other passages show more clearly how winds are connected to madness. As for Antigone herself, in 929-930 the chorus comment on the persistence of her mental distress, saying that she is still possessed by the same blasts:

ἔτι τῶν αὐτῶν ἀνέμων αὑταὶ

ψυχῆς ῥιπαὶ τήνδε γ᾿ ἔχουσιν.

«The same blasts of the same winds of the spirit still possess her»

Ἄνεμος is here exceptionally used in the metaphor of breath as strong emotions, which is usually expressed with different words (an example of a more common formula with a verb for breathing, ἐπιπνέω in this case, is found in a similar tragic passage, Ae. Sept. 343-344, μαινόμενος δ᾽ ἐπιπνεῖ [...] Ἄρης, “Ares breathes in folly”). Ἄνεμος is used in this way only on one other occasion in this play: in 135-137, the same metaphor applies to Kapaneus, who was like a maenad in his madness:

πυρφόρος ὃς τότε μαινομένᾳ ξὺν ὁρμᾷ

βακχεύων ἐπέπνει

ῥιπαῖς ἐχθίστων ἀνέμων.

«the torchbearer who in the fury of his mad rush breathed upon us with the blast of hateful winds»

In view of Padel's insights about the interconnection of external and internal phenomena, the storm of the second burial scene might be re-interpreted as the outward expression of Antigone's state of mind. Thus, the chorus' diagnosis of her inner turmoil is not to be seen as a partisan judgement aligned with Creon's politics, but as a sincere, truth-revealing observation.

In conclusion, wind is a multifaceted symbol for disturbing forces and for mental turmoil. In particular, wind is connected to Antigone as a concrete representation of her imbalanced state of mind. Though her interpretation of the events is certainly sharper than the ones of most other characters, Antigone is so radical in her fight that she is bound to abandon any more balanced and inclusive point of view. On the contrary, she devotes herself to one side, the maternal, natural, chthonic, and deathly dimension, failing to reconcile it with the opposite sphere of the rational and of human conventions.

Selected References

Primary texts

Sophocles, Antigone: Greek text and English translation by H. Lloyd-Jones, Cambridge, MA and London, 1994-1996

Sophocles, Antigone: Greek text and commentary by M. Griffith, Cambridge, 1999

Secondary literature

Coppola, D. (2010). Anemoi: morfologia dei venti nell'immaginario della Grecia arcaica. Napoli

Cullyer, H. (2005). «A Wind That Blows from Thrace: Dionysus in the Fifth Stasimon of Sophocles' Antigone». Classical World 99.1: 3-20.

Goheen, R. F. (1951). The Imagery of Sophocles’ Antigone: A Study of Poetic Language and Structure. Princeton

Padel, R. (1994). In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self. Princeton

Segal, C. P. (1963). «Nature and the World of Man in Greek Literature». Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics 2.1: 19-53.

Segal, C. (1995). Sophocles' Tragic World: Divinity, Nature, Society. Norman Press.

Segal, C. (1999). Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles. Cambridge MA

Bianca Mazzinghi Gori is an Italian MA student at Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa. She studied at Warwick in 2017 during an Erasmus placement. Her main interest is ancient Greek Theatre. She has carried out research especially on Aristophanes and Menander, focusing on topics such as the emotions of the ancient Greeks. Warwick email: B.Mazzinghi-Gori@warwick.ac.uk. SNS email: bianca.mazzinghi@sns.it.

January 15, 2018

Expressing Identities in Graeco–Latin Bilingual Inscriptions

In the Roman world, Graeco-Latin bilingualism was a frequent and acknowledged phenomenon, as shown by expressions such as lingua doctus utraque, ‘learned in both languages’ (used by Martial in Book 10, epigram 76) and eruditissimus et Graecis litteris et Latinis, ‘most skilled in Greek and Latin letters’ (in Cicero’s Brutus, 205). Analysis of the epigraphic record allows us to observe that such a phenomenon was not only common in the élite, but that it was also widespread amongst non-élite individuals and freedmen. Inscriptions are written evidence; they do not represent a spontaneous act but require more thought than the spoken word: therefore, the use of bilingualism in epigraphic texts always reflects a choice, whether it is personal or communal (Bauzon, 2008: 111).

In bilingual inscriptions, it is often the case that the Greek and Latin versions have content in common and overlap, at least in part. There are also instances where we can observe code-switching, which is the practice of switching from one language to the other within the same discourse, in order to express a single piece of information (Rochette, 2010: 287).

The number of individual and communal identities expressed in bilingual inscriptions in Greek and Latin vary greatly from one text to the other, especially in the funerary context. The analysis of the following epitaph will shed some light onto some of the elements encountered when tackling bilingualism in the ancient world.

The inscription IGUR 972 (CIL VI 27246), dated to the end of the second century A.D. and set up by Terentius Zoticus, reflects the dual identity of the individual:

D(is) M(anibus)/ T(erentiae) Marciae coiugi/ dulcissime Ter(entius) Zoticus/ dignae et merite fecit cum/ qua vixit m(enses)/ XI hec que vi/ xit ann(os) XXI et m(enses) VI λέγει δὲ/ Ζωτικὸς ὀμνύων ἀληθῶς/ Μαρκία μόνη καλὴ καὶ σεμ/μνὴ καὶ πρὸ πάντων σο/φή et Myrineti liberte eius/ dignissime fecit

[Latin] To the spirits of the departed, Terentius Zoticus made [this] to Terentia Marcia, his sweetest, worthy and well-deserving wife, with whom he lived eleven months and who lived twenty one years and six months.

[Text code-switches to Greek] But Zoticus says, swearing truly, [that] Marcia [was] the only beautiful [one] and honourable and, before all things, wise.

[Latin] And he [also] made [this] to Myrine, his most deserving freedwoman.

Zoticus dedicated the epitaph to his wife, Terentia Marcia, and his freedwoman, Myrine. The first five lines and the last two lines are in Latin, whereas in the sixth line, the text code-switches to Greek. We notice that the ‘official’ information about Terentia Marcia is written in Latin and this part of the inscription is quite formulaic: we encounter the famous dis manibus, found at the beginning of almost all epitaphs, as well as other formulaic expressions, such as coiuge dulcissime. The biological information of Terentia Marcia is also present and, again, this element is seen very often in funerary inscriptions.

However, at the time of complimenting his wife, Zoticus code-switches to Greek: the introduction of the verb λέγει clearly emphasises that these are his own words (Adams, 2003: 365). The phrase ὀμνύων ἀληθῶς is not formulaic and probably indicates that Zoticus himself commissioned this part to be written in Greek. Zoticus’ name reveals indeed his Greek origin and he possibly felt more at ease with this language rather than with Latin to compliment and commemorate his wife. Latin was considered the language of power and authority, and often used in bilingual inscriptions to express official information (Montiel, 2014: 127). The fact that Zoticus switches back to Latin at the end of the inscription to mention his freedwoman, Myrine, clearly demonstrates this: he has only saved the most affectionate, personal and Greek words for his deceased wife.

Zoticus’ bilingualism is not only caused by the desire to express his grief at his wife’s loss: his words in Greek are introduced by λέγει δὲ Ζωτικὸς which reveals that he actually wished to be perceived as a bilingual individual. Although he set up the inscription for his wife, he does not give this dual identity to her, but only to himself. Zoticus’ code-switching to Greek could then be considered as a reflection of his bilingual identity and expresses a desire to convey this mixed identity to other readers.

In conclusion, this epitaph demonstrates how complex Graeco-Latin bilingualism can be in inscriptions: in some cases, individuals used bilingualism to simply convey information about the deceased to passers-by, in order to reach a broader audience (this was especially the case of Romans living in Greek-speaking areas and Greeks dwelling in Latin-speaking areas). In other cases, the use of Greek and Latin in one single inscription actually reflects how the individual wished to be remembered. Therefore, the use and choice of bilingualism in the funerary context is always significant for all the individuals involved.


CIL Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Inscriptiones urbis Romae latinae (Vol. VI), ed. Henzen, W., Rossi, G. B., Bormann, E. and Hülsen, C. (Berlin, 1894)

IGUR Inscriptiones Graecae Urbis Romae, ed. Moretti, L. (Rome, 1968)


Adams, J.N. (2003) Bilingualism and the Latin Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Bauzon, E. (2008) ‘L’épigraphie funéraire bilingue des Italiens en Grèce et en Asie, aux IIe et Ier siècles av. J.-C.’, in Bilinguisme gréco-latin et épigraphie : Actes du colloque organisé à l'Université Lumière-Lyon 2… les 17, 18 et 19 mai 2004, eds. F. Biville, J-C. Decourt and G. Rougemont (Lyon: Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée) 109-128.

Montiel, J. F. (2014) ‘La influencia griega en el léxico érotico latino’, Agora. Estudos Clássicos em Debate 16: 105-136.

Rochette, B. (2010) ‘Greek and Latin Bilingualism’, in A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language, ed. E.J. Bakker (United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell) 281- 293.

Paloma Perez Galvan is a PhD candidate in the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance (with joint supervision in the Classics and Ancient History Department) at the University of Warwick. Her research looks at syllogai of classical inscriptions in the sixteenth century, exploring how these evolved over the course of the century. She is particularly interested in analysing the change from manuscript to print collection and how it affected the production of these epigraphic corpora and also how it influenced the way in which inscriptions were perceived.

Email: P.Perez-Galvan@warwick.ac.uk

December 15, 2017

Prudens Simplicitas: The Decline of Simplicitas

Simplicitas rudis ante fuit: nunc aurea Roma est

Et domiti magnas possidet orbis opes

(Ov. Ars 3, 113-4)

In Latin literature simplicitas was considered one of the most important features of elite Roman citizens. Romans were proud of their simplicitas (Lucr. 1, 548; 1, 574; 1, 609; 2, 157; Ov. ars. 3, 113; Val.Max 2, 5, 5; Plin. Nat. 35, 67).

Simplicitas, which appears for the first time in Lucretius may be translated as simplicity, or, in a moral sense, as frankness, innocence, and honesty. Ovid in Tristia 1, 5, 39-42 asserts that his simplicitas caused his exile:

Saepe fidem adversis etiam laudavit in armis,

Inque suis amat hanc Caesar, in hoste probat.

Causa mea est melior, qui non contraria fovi

Arma, sed hanc merui simplicitate fugam

Often faith even among his enemies in arms has been praised by Caesar; when it exists among his own, he loves it; in an enemy he approves it. My case is still more favourable since I did not nurse strife against him, but earned this exile by my simplicity.

The mistake(s) which led Augustus to exile Ovid has been endlessly discussed. Ovid often refers to it, but he is so vague that finding out the real cause is unrealistic.

In Ovid, as well as in the majority of Augustan poets, simplicitas has a negative and unforeseen outcome: it is responsible for his exile. In Horace (Sat. I, 3) simplicitas has a positive meaning only when it corresponds to the ideal of moderatio; Livy (40, 8, 2) admits that in his day only children could display sincerity.

Honesty and frankness make Ovid weak and exposed to the anger of Augustus. Despite Suetonius (Aug. 71, 1) once defining Augustus as simplex, Augustus did not appreciate this quality in the poet. Ovid is overly naïve and does not consider the effect of his disposition. In doing this, he is comparable with the female heroines of his myths. Despite her malignant attitude, Ovid defines Medea (alongside with Cidippe and Phillys) as simplex because she believes in Jason and subsequently loses everything.

Tacitus himself seems aware of the perils resulting from simplicitas (hist. 3, 86). Speaking of Galba, the historian describes the emperor as a man in possession of simplicitas et liberalitas, qualities which, Tacitus remarks, will prove the ruin of their possessor, if unchecked. Tacitus’ words here echo Seneca’s earlier advice: simplicitas is a double-edged sword.

In the preface to the fourth book of Naturales Quaestiones, Seneca identifies simplicitas as one of the strategies used by those who want to put on a pretense.

Seneca summarizes this ambivalence and develops the potential risks implicit in this concept: simplicitas is a weapon in the hand of adulators. In De Tranquillitate Animi (15, 1; 17, 2) the philosopher, aware of how difficult it is to find traces of simplicity, seems to miss the old simplicitas. The times are so degenerate as to be unable to find traces of simplicity. Ovid had already complained about the absence of simplicitas in Rome. According to Ovid (Ars 1, 237-242) what rare appearances of simplicity there were, were due to wine:

Vina parant animos faciuntque caloribus aptos:

Cura fugit multo diluiturque mero.

Tunc veniunt risus, tum pauper cornua sumit,

Tum dolor et curae rugaque frontis abit.

Tunc aperit mentes aevo rarissima nostro

Simplicitas, artes excutiente deo.

Wines give courage and make men apt for passion; care flees and is drowned in much wine. Then laughter comes, then even the poor find vigour, then sorrow and care and the wrinkles of the brow depart. Then simplicity, most rare in our age, lays bare the mind, when the god dispels all craftiness.


The idea that “in wine there is truth” is a topos, already observed in Plato (leg. I, 649 a-b) and recurs also in Horace (sat. I, 4; epist. 1, 18) and in Diodorus Siculus (XX, 63, 1) (Ferrero, 1979: 56).

However, in Seneca’s view, it would be anachronistic to reintroduce simplicity: the philosopher is conscious that simplicitas would be unsafe (parum tuta simplicitas) at the imperial court. In his writings simplicity is on the opposite pole to dishonesty: ideally, simplicitas must be preferred to simulatio, nevertheless at the imperial court it is better to put on an act than to be frank. In De Ira Seneca refers to the historical exempla of men who, refusing honesty (simplicitas), don a mask in order to be disingenuous, nevertheless the Stoic philosopher justifies them.

Martial (epigr. 10, 47) identifies a series of specific features that make life happy: amongst them, he includes the ability to purposefully adopt simplicitas (prudens simplicitas).

Simplicitas went from being one of the most well-respected hallmarks of the ancient Romans to a sign of questionable moral character; a good quality which came to imply pernicious consequences. Due to this, if people still possessed a natural predisposition to simplicitas, they had to be able to moderate it. In the Roman Empire simplicity was allowed only if checked.

Select Bibliography:

Barchiesi, A. The prince and the poet: Ovid and Augustan Discourse (Berkeley-Los Angeles-London, 1997)

Ferrero, A.M. Simplicitas in Cicerone (AAT, 110, 1976b: 53-69)

Ferrero, A.M. Il concetto di simplicitas negli autori augustei (BStudLat 9, 1979: 52-59)

Ferrero, A.M. La simplicitas nell'età Giulio-Claudia (AAT 114, 1980: 127-154)

Rudich, V. Political Dissidence under Nero: The Price of Dissimulation (London, 1993)

Rudich, V. Dissidence and Literature under Nero: The Price of Rhetoricization (London, 1997)

Roller, M.B. Constructing Autocracy: Aristocrats and Emperors in Julio-Claudian Rome (Princeton-Oxford, 2001)

Currently, Martina is a PhD candidate in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick sponsored by the Wolfson Association. Her project investigates the discourse of flattery in Seneca’s philosophical texts, and analyses the extent to which Seneca developed a theory of adulation. More broadly, her interests within Classics focus on the Latin literature of the first century A.D. Along with Seneca, she works on Petronius and Lucan. She has a strong research interest in the connection between literature and history in Imperial Literature.Email: M.Russo@warwick.ac.uk

November 15, 2017

(Un)dressing Eteocles: A performative approach to the Labdacids' Curse

This entry examines the conventions of performance and their symbolic meanings in the central scene in Aeschyus’ Seven Against Thebes. Specifically, I am interested in the physical and mental transformation of Eteocles when he dons his armour.

Until the central scene, the plot of the play revolves around the efforts of a powerful leader to save his city from his brother’s army. Suddenly, his mind changes: Eteocles decides to die in order to satisfy the conditions of his family’s Curse and equips his armour and weapons resisting the Chorus’ pleas to reconsider. Claiming that he can see the Curse giving him orders, he eventually leaves for the 7th gate where he and his brother Polyeneices find a mutual death.

Theatre of Dionysos, Athens

This sudden change of mind has been the centre of most of the academic works that look into the Seven. Indeed, scholars have been trying for years to find an explanation and they usually conclude that Eteocles is either losing his mind or he is simply realising the power of the Curse (Kirkwood 1969: 9-25, Lawrence 2007 :335-353 and Brown 1977:300-318). There is, however, one thing that most scholars seem to be overlooking: the importance of the metallic weapons and their appearance onstage. Indeed, the importance of the metallic element in the play is only fully revealed when we examine the text from a performative perspective. Specifically, this piece of research argues that metals are the materialised form of the Curse that dominates Eteocles’ body from within and leads him to his destruction.

Right after Eteocles hears that his brother is standing on the 7th gate, he requests that his greaves are brought to him (l.675). From that point onwards, the audience witnesses Eteocles’ change of mind taking place at the same time that he is equipping his weapons and putting on the pieces of armour one by one, following the fixed Iliadic arming sequence (Sommerstein: 2008:220-221, Bacon: 1964:36). What makes this action so important is the symbolical value of the costuming procedure as an onstage transformation of Eteocles into a metallic warrior.

Wherever metallic weapons had appeared previously in the play, the result had been destructive for Thebes: in the first episode, the sound of the enemies’ shields was used to infuse terror to the soul of the Chorus causing a conflict between them and Eteocles. This scene was followed by a 300-line long description of the crestsof the shields by the Messenger, where each crest served as a reflector of their owner’s personality (Zeitlin 1982:33, Chaston 2010:74-85). Thus, when in this scene the metals appear in front of the eyes of the audience and Eteocles suddenly decides that he should die next to his brother, we are led to interpret the arming as much more than mere war preparation: Eteocles is turning into a metallic warrior, a servant of the Curse.

It is during his arming that both the spectators and the Chorus witness Eteocles’ change and this change is linked to his armour more than once. “Why this mad passion child? Don’t let yourself be carried away by this spear-mad delusion”, the Chorus say in l.687-689 (All translations by Sommerstein: 2008). To their suggestion that he is being led by a harshly-stinging lust, Eteocles responds:

φίλου γὰρ ἐχθρά μοι πατρὸς †τελεῖ† Ἀρὰξηροῖς ἀκλαύτοις ὄμμασιν προσιζάνει...

"Yes, for the hateful <black[?]> Curse of the father who should have loved me sits close by me with dry, tearless eyes”.. (Sept. 695-697)

Eteocles resists the Chorus’ final attempts to bring him back to his senses claiming that he is τεθηγμένον (whetted), a word used to describe iron later in l.944. He also states that the Chorus are saying words a ‘ὁπλίτην’ (man-at-arms) should not listen to. The fact that he is using weapon terminology to describe himself reveals an inner sense of identification with the metal that has now become one with his flesh.

Indeed, after Eteocles’ death, iron will be identified as the executioner of the family’s Curse when we find out that Eteocles had had a dream about a Scythian stranger that would divide the land between him and Polyneices (Thalmann 1978:77-79):

ἄγαν δ᾿ ἀληθεῖς ἐνυπνίων φαντασμάτωνὄψεις, πατρῴων χρημάτων δατήριοι.

it was too true, what I saw in those dream-visions about the dividing of our father’s property.


πικρὸς λυτὴρ νεικέων ὁ πόντιοςξεῖνος ἐκ πυρὸς συθείς, θηκτὸς Σίδαρος· πικρὸς δὲ χρημάτων κακὸς δατητὰς Ἄρης, ἀρὰν πατρῴ-αν τιθεὶς ἀλαθῆ.

A harsh resolver of disputes is the visitor from the sea, who comes out of fire, whetted Iron, and harsh too is Ares, that evil divider of property, who has made the father’s curse come true. (Sept. 709-711 and 941-946).

Just like the dream had predicted, iron divides the land of the two brothers. The Curse Eteocles talks about is real and it makes a strong appearance onstage only to take Eteocles away with it.


Primary Sources:

SOMMERSTEIN, A.H. (2008), transl. Aeschylus; Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Suppliants, Prometheus Bound, Rev. ed. Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press).

Secondary Sources:

BACON, H. (1964), ‘The Shield of Eteocles’, Arion 3, pp. 27-38.

CHASTON, C. (2010), Tragic Props and Cognitive Function (Brill: Leiden).

THALMANN, W.G. (1978), Dramatic Art in Aeschylus's Seven Against Thebes (Yale University Press).

ZEITLIN, F. (1982), Under the Sign of the Shield (Lexington Books).

Emmy Stavropoulou is a second year PhD student in the department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. Her research looks into the ways in which imagery and metaphors of metals and metallurgy are employed in Archaic and Classical Greek literature, focusing on their connotations and significance in Greek culture and religion. At the moment, Emmy is working on the shield scene in l.375-675 of the Seven Against Thebes and the way in which the description of the shields compares to the creation of Achilles’ cosmic shield as described in Il.18.478-18.608.

October 16, 2017

Inscriptions on Inscriptions

Nestor’s Cup is a black figure Rhodian skyphos that dates to around 740-20BC and was found on Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples and a colony of the Greek peoples of Euboea. This cup was most likely used as a wine cup at the ancient Greek all-male drinking party called a symposium. But what is relevant about this cup to Classical Texting is the inscription on the cup’s side. Like many pots and potsherds from the ancient Greek world, the inscription was scratched onto the surface of the cup after firing; this is known as a ‘graffito’ and has been dated to as late as 600BC. What is interesting about this inscription is that it uses the formulae and conventions of two different types of inscription and turns them on their head. Those two types of inscription are the ownership inscription and the curse formula, which I will treat in turn.


First of all, here is the Nestor’s Cup inscription:

Νέστορός : ε[ἰμ]ι : εὔποτ[ον] : ποτέριο[ν].|
hὸς δ’ ἂν τõδε π[ίεσι] : ποτερί[ο] : αὐτίκα κενον |
hίμερος αἱρέσει καλλιστε[φά]νο : Ἀφροδίτες. (CEG 454)

I am Nestor’s cup, good to drink from,
whoever drinks from this cup, immediately
the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize him. (own translation)

Line one adopts the generic formula for an owner’s inscription, which normally follows the pattern of “I am/ this is [name in the genitive]”, such as this eighth century inscribed pottery from Mount Hymettos:

…εἰμὶ τõ Διὸς τõ… (Langdon: 1976, no.4a)

“I am of Zeus…” or ‘I belong to Zeus’

What this object’s inscription does is to make reference to the famous cup of Nestor mentioned in Iliad 11.632-7. This cup is described in the Iliad as studded with golden nails, with four handles, and two doves decorating it - a far cry from the ceramic, geometrically decorated cup before the reader’s eyes. By evoking the Iliadic cup through its reference to the mythical character Nestor, the inscription plays with contemporary practices of marking ownership and exaggerates them to make outlandish claims about the object’s identity. By juxtaposing the humble ceramic Nestor’s Cup with the lavish Iliadic golden cup, the inscription satirises claims of ownership by compelling the reader to knowingly make false statements while speaking in the voice of the cup: “I am Nestor’s cup”.

Lines two and three play with the standard formula of curses: “If X happens [normally to do with the violation of the associated object], Y will happen as a [negative] consequence.” Faraone also identifies the hexametric meter and the deictic tode in line two as further signs of performative curse language (1996: 96). Considering that it is a sympotic vessel - a drinking cup no less - it is virtually unavoidable that at some point during its use in the symposium someone would have drunk from it. Thus it is likely that the composer created a curse that he intended to be fulfilled as opposed to more conventional curses which are created for the very purpose of actually preventing their own fulfilment, such as this inscription on a small flask from seventh century Cumae: “whoever steals me shall be blinded.” (IG XIV.856). In this example, the curse is designed to prevent its own fulfilment, whereas the curse of Nestor’s cup has chosen a condition so likely to be fulfilled that it inverts the very concept of a curse inscription.

In sum, the inscription of Nestor’s Cup toys with ideas concerning the power of writing - whether these be assertions of the ownership, identity, or power of an object. It uses the performance context of the symposium to subvert the expectations the reader, making for highly self-conscious and playful interaction. As holder of the cup, the reader is compelled to adopt the false identity of the cup and to make the incorrect assertion that “I am Nestor’s cup” aloud before his audience, comprised of his fellow symposiasts. It also used the formula and attributes of a curse inscription within the context of the symposium to have fun with the idea of cursing and a curse’s fulfilment. This playful deployment of epigraphic precedents to subvert and amuse shows the sophisticated way in which Archaic Greeks were reading and thinking about the epigraphic material around them and treating it much like the way in which their contemporaries were treating material we would consider to be more ‘literary’. The self-consciousness of epigraphic material and its engagement with concurrent literary culture shows how Greek epigraphy, from a very early period, had the potential to be highly complex and self-aware of its own status as epigraphy.


CEG Carmina Epigraphica Graeca, ed.Hansen, P.A., (Berlin and New York 1983, 1989).

IG XIV Inscriptiones Graecae XIV Italiae et Siciliae additis Graecis Galliae, Hispaniae, Britanniae, Germaniae inscriptionibus, ed. George Kaibel (Berlin, 1890)


Langdon, Merle K. (1976) “A Sanctuary of Zeus on Mount Hymettos” Hesperia Supplements, vol.16, (The American School of Classical Studies at Athens)

Faraone, C. (1996). 'Taking the "Nestor's Cup Inscription" seriously: erotic magic and conditional curses in the earliest inscribed hexameters,' Classical Antiquity 15: 77-112.

Nick Brown is a PhD candidate in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. His research looks into the ways in which early Greek sculptures and their inscriptions interact with one another. In particular, he is investigating the significance of the body of the sculpture being the site of inscription. More broadly, his interests within Classics focus on the theme of art and text from Greek pottery to ekphrastic literature.

September 18, 2017

Divine Humour and Disability: The Curious Case of Iliad Book One

Within Book One of Homer’s Iliad, there is a scene that has been widely interpreted as “…evidence for Greek bias against the crippled.” (Bragg: 2004 p.28) Until very recently, I had thought the same. However, having performed a closer analysis of the text, I believe that this interpretation is misguided. In the following article, therefore, I will outline the literary context ofthe scene in question, along with its current interpretation, before proposing a different reading, one which may have very little to do with disability after all.

Hephaistos and Thetis, Foundry Painter. Attic red-Figure kylix tondo, c.490-80BC.

In the concluding passage of Iliad Book One, an argument breaks out between Zeus and Hera. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, which had begun to cause anxiety amongst the gathered immortals, Hephaistos, the lame god, intervenes. First, he implores Hera not to provoke Zeus further, reminding her that it was Zeus’ temper which had driven him to disable Hephaistos, throwing him from the summit of Mount Olympus and permanently twisting his feet upon impact. Hephaistos’ story successfully dissuades Hera from further provoking the tempestuous Zeus. After this oratory success, Hephaistos concludes his achievement by serving wine to the gathering of gods who had witnessed the scene. As he does so, however, the following description appears:

Άσβεστος δάρένώρτο γέλως μακάρεσσι θεοΐσιν, ώς ϊδον ‘’Ηφαιστον διά δώματα ποιπνύοντα.

And laughter unquenchable arose among the blessed gods, as they saw Hephaistos bustling through the palace. (Iliad 1:580-600)

It is this laughter, at the expense of the lame god Hephaistos, which has led scholars to label this moment as an example of Greek bias towards the disabled.

The assumption that scholars make is that the god’s laughter is a direct reaction to Hephaistos’ disability. That, having heard the origin story of Hephaistos’ impairment only moments before, the gods are then unable to contain themselves when they are presented with its supposedly hilarious visual consequences as “…Hephaestus, limping, goes on to distribute wine.” (Rinon: 2004 p. 3) The gods supposedly laugh because Hephaistos’ movement is inherently laughable, an affront to the graceful beauty which is usually expected from the immortals. (Ebenstein: 2006) However, this understanding is slightly misleading. After all, Hephaistos is not actually described ‘limping’ through the palace serving wine, as Rinon suggests. What he is actually described doing is 'ποιπνύοντα', (bustling) which, instead of indicating impaired motion, describes the energetic or busy completion of a task. This is the action which causes the gods to laugh so heartily at Hephaistos. The idea that the gods are simply laughing at Hephaistos’ impairment, therefore, is no longer so convincing. Instead, the question we ought to be asking is: why is the bustling Hephaistos so funny to the gods and what, if anything, does this have to do with his disability?

One potential explanation of the hilarity of 'ποιπνύοντα', is that elsewhere within Homeric literature, the subject of this bustling motion is always said to be an attendant. When Eurycleia orders her maidens to prepare the hall for a feast, for example, they do so by bustling. (Homer Odyssey 20: 245-60) Likewise, when Hephaistos instructs his automated handmaidens to aid him, they come busting to his call (Homer Iliad 18: 417-424). It is a motion usually consigned to the lower echelons of Greek society and is not, therefore, a befitting nor dignified activity of a god. To see the immortal Hephaistos bustling about the palace, impaired or not, would then surely arouse laughter amongst the gods that he served.

Another potential reason why the gods laugh at Hephaistos within this scene, however, is that this is the reaction Hephaistos himself wants to elicit from them. Rather than being the victim of divine laughter, he can also be viewed as its orchestrator. After all, before Hephaistos’ intervention, the gods were said to be in a state of tension. (Homer Iliad 1: 570) After his intervention, however, this tension is replaced by laughter. What was previously a scene of conflict turns to a scene of feasting and Zeus and Hera end Book One retiring to the same bed, tension forgotten. Without Hephaistos’ comic relief, it is easy to imagine Book One ending very differently indeed. When his actions are viewed as choices rather than acts of circumstance, the scene becomes less an indicator of Greek bias towards the disabled and more an indicator of the intelligence of the lame god. He acts in a way which will deliberately cause the gods to laugh. Whether or not this act plays upon his impaired movement is, of course, still ambiguous but the fact that the language is not focused specifically upon his disability leads me to speculate that it is not the sole driving force behind the comedy.

What this analysis has hopefully shown is that the comic reaction to Hephaistos at the end of Book One cannot be so simply explained as bias towards the disabled. The use of 'ποιπνύοντα'rather than, for example, a more straightforward term such as 'χωλός' (limping) makes such an assumption immediately problematic. The power that is then afforded to Hephaistos, who completely alters the trajectory of the narrative, only serves as further proof that he is no mere symbol for the ridicule of the disabled. There is much more to be unpacked within the laughter of the gods.


Bragg (2006) Oedipus Borealis: The Aberrant Body in Old Icelandic Myth and Saga (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press)

Homer Iliad Translated by Lattimore (1961) in ‘The Iliad of Homer’ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)

Homer Odyssey Translated by Rieu Revised Edition Jones (2003) ‘Homer: The Odyssey’ (London: Penguin Books)

Ebenstein (2006) Toward an Archetypal Psychology of Disability Based on the Hephaistos Myth in ‘Disability Studies Quarterly: Volume 26, No. 4’ (The Society for Disability Studies)

Rinon (2004) Tragic Hephaestus: The Humanized God in the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" in ‘Phoenix,Volume 60, no. 1/2' pp. 1-20.

Annie Sharples is a first year PhD candidate in the department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. Her research interest is the study of impairment and disability within Ancient Greek culture and society. Annie is currently investigating the language of disability and how it has been used, or more often misused, within modern discussions and translations of ancient texts. Her wider academic interests include the unideal body within Greek art, aging within Greek society, and the relationship between ancient medicine and the gods.

Email: A.M.Sharples@warwick.ac.uk

August 15, 2017

Writing and Reading in Ancient Greece

Two central factors that affect the significance of any text is how it was written and how it is read. In a world where word processing, animation, and moving images are not only possible, but in fact quotidian, the process of writing is often forgotten. Similarly, the act of reading is done so automatically in a society with high levels of literacy that we are rarely conscious of the fact we’re doing it: just think how quickly and without thought we read road-signs, billboards, and the time on our digital watches or phones. However, for the Greek people of the early Archaic period, the technology of writing and the ability to read were not accessible to many and would have entailed a far higher level of self-consciousness to utilise than either does today. In each section below I will outline and discuss just one brief reason why, as modern scholars, we need to think more about both writing and reading in ancient Greece.


The act of writing is the graphic representation of language, it is not purely the visualisation of language, as that would then include sign language, and body language. It may have been noted that my use of the term “graphic” is rather clumsy, given the fact that it is derived from the Greek word for writing, grapho. But, much like the ancient word grapho, the modern English word ‘graphic’ refers to both image-making and writing (Elsner, 2004). Students of the literary trope ekphrasis will immediately recognise this play on words used by such authors as Philostratus, as in his Imagines, 1.24.1-2:

Ἀνάγνωθι τὴν ὑάκινθον, γέγραπται γὰρ καί φησιν ἀναφῦναι τῆς γῆς ἐπὶ μειρακίῳ καλῷ

“Read the hyacinth, for there is writing on it which says it sprang from the earth in honour of a beautiful youth;” (trans. Fairbanks)

Just as authors of ekphrases were playing off of this dual meaning of grapho to mean both write and draw, the Archaic Greeks were similarly blurring the lines (or perhaps simply expressing that their own conceptual lines were blurred) through the deployment of writing on painted pottery. Many Geometric vases have writing in bands running horizontally, occupying the space that would otherwise be filled with a key pattern. Similarly, black and red-figure vases have their mythological characters and their names echoing one another or dancers interacting with the inscription, as on the Pyrwias aryballos, as discussed by Osborne and Pappas (2007). Thus it seems that the visual aspect of writing has been central to its deployment throughout antiquity, from the decorative writing of Archaic and Classical pottery, the calligrammatic poems of Simmias (such as the ‘Wings of Eros’), all the way through to the ekphrastic texts of Imperial Rome.


One of the most important aspects of reading in ancient Greece is that it was read aloud (Svenbro, 1993). This may seem a rather mundane and insignificant point to make, but it actually reveals a great deal about the Greek language. At the most basic level, this collection of Greek letters was the first ever alphabet. That is, it was the first writing system from which you could entirely reconstruct the spoken language for which it was designed (Powell, 1991). Furthermore, the fact that Archaic Greeks read aloud has great significance for Archaic Greek reading, as written words cannot exist simply in a verbal context. As Ong (1982) points out, when read aloud, writing is lifted from its page and included within a spatial context as well as affecting, or being affected by, the position of the reader’s body. Movement around a statue base, the turning of an inscribed object in the hands, or craning one’s neck to see a monumental inscription of a treasury’s contents all have an effect on the way the text is perceived. Similarly, by reading aloud, the reader has no option but to perform for the people around them, announcing the name of the deceased or donor, declaring the ownership of an object to a man or a god, and causing them to publicly assert these statements for themselves. It is also possible that the act of reading aloud would cause the reader to adopt the voice of the writing’s person, ventriloquizing the reader or perhaps allowing them to play the role of the deceased or some other absent person.

We can see then, that that with only just two simple facts: writing is ‘graphic’ and reading was done aloud, that the acts of reading and writing in Archaic Greece were far more complicated than we might first think, sparking a greater degree of self-consciousness in their enactors than those quotidian acts do for us today.


Elsner, Jas (2004) ‘Seeing and Saying: A Psychoanalytical Account of Ekphrasis’, Helios 31.1: 157-86.

Ong, Walter J. (1982) Orality and Literacy: Technologizing the Word, London and New York, Methuen.

Osborne, Robin and Pappas, Alexandre (2007) ‘Writing on archaic Greek pottery’ Zahra Newby and Ruth Leader-Newby, Art and Inscriptions in the Ancient World, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 131-155.

Philostratus (2014) Imagines, trans. Arthur Fairbanks, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press.

Powell, Barry (1991) Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Svenbro, Jesper (1993 [1988]) Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece trans. Janet Lloyd, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press.

Nick Brown is a PhD candidate in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. His research looks into the ways in which early Greek sculptures and their inscriptions interact with one another. In particular, he is investigating the significance of the body of the sculpture being the site of inscription. More broadly, his interests within Classics focus on the theme of art and text from Greek pottery to ekphrastic literature.

July 17, 2017

Tortoises and Fish–Scales: A Chinese Legend of Rome

A section of the Chien Hanshu by the Chinese historian Ban Gu has provoked much discussion. It describes the defence of the city of Li-jien, before it fell:

… more than a hundred foot-soldiers, lined up on either side of the gate in a formation as close as scales of a fish, were practising military drill (Gu: 259).

When translating this section for The History of the Han, Professor Homer Dubs translated the words yü-lin-jen as “fish-scale formation”. According to Dubs, a yü-lin-jen would be an unfamiliar battle formation to the Chinese, and he claimed it was the Roman formation testudo. He claimed the city defenders learned this as former Roman legionaries, who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Carrhae (Dubs 1957: 140-146). Today, most agree when Visetti calls the theory “a legend” (Visetti 2010). However, it still captures the imagination of people today, leading to a rejection of other theories that these Romans were there for other reasons, such as trade (Spencer 2007). This “legend” is most influential on those who claim their ancestry from these soldiers in the modern village of Zhelaizhai.

Ancestors are important in modern China, because it is believed they directly affect the living. (Wood 2016; Hessler 2006: 85; Hessler 2010). Zhelaizhai villagers intently started to consider their Roman ancestors after China opened to the West (Spencer 2007). A shared ancestry establishes individual and collective identity in Zhelaizhai. By accepting Dubs’ theory, the community romanticised their ancestors as heroes who protected the traditional social organization of Li-jien (Hsu 1971; 19). They did not seek their own fortunes like a merchant would (Min 2014; 94). This positive perception ties the community together. On an individual level those who look the most like the Romans have an easier time finding work in the tourist trade (Yong 2011), demonstrating the belief that worshipping the ancestors brings good fortune.

Their supposed Roman heritage distinguishes the people of Zhelaizhai from the Han majority and other minority groups in modern China by explaining why they look a certain way (Hessler 2006: 34, 208). One tells how possible European ancestry explains his daughter’s patch of blonde hair, “Before we were told about the Romans, we had no idea about this. We are poor and have no family temple, so we don’t know about our ancestors” (Spencer 2007). Some people adopted a name reflecting their believed Roman heritage; one villager who did this is named Luo Ying, which means “Roman hero” (Yong 2011).

Their possible heritage opens doors for Western contact that many towns in the interior of China do not have. A villager by the name of Cai Junnian who has green eyes and a hooked nose, got fame because of his Eastern and Western looks. He appeared in numerous newspaper articles and documentaries, and visited the Italian consul in Shanghai on invitation (China Daily 2010). The legend fascinates Westerners and caused interest in travel to the village. Locals who look European use their looks to build this interest by dressing as Romans and acting like soldiers near a reconstructed Roman pavilion (Yong 2011; Yuanyuan 2015).

It does not matter if Roman soldiers actually came to China, the possibility is captivating enough to continue interest in Dubs’ theory. In other places in China, they are used as tools for fostering Western ties and advertising products by romanticising the West. In Zhelaizhai the link is more than social status, it composes their identity and influences their lives by providing explanations as to their uniqueness from the general image of the Chinese. Dubs’ theory may be incorrect but it has a major impact on the residents of parts of modern China.


Primary Sources

Gu, Ban Ch’ien Han-shu, trans. J.J.L. Duyvendak (Leiden: Brill: 1939) from ‘An Illustrated Battle-Account in the History of the Former Han Dynasty’ in T’oung Pao 34:249-264.

Secondary Sources

Dubs, H. H. (1957) ‘A Roman City in Ancient China’, Greece & Rome 4:139-148.

Hessler, P. (2006) Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China (New York: Harper Perennial).

Hsu, F.L.K. (1971) Under the Ancestors’ Shadow: Kinship, Personality, and Social Mobility in China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press)

Min, T. (2014) ‘The Chinese origin of Physiocratic economics’, in The History of Ancient Chinese Economic Thought ed C. Lin, T. Peach, and W. Fang (New York: Routledge) 82 -97.

Internet Sources

China Daily, News Article: ‘Hunt for Roman legion reaches China’ -- http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-11/20/content_11581539.htm (20 Nov 2010). Accessed 5th June 2015.

G. Visetti (2010) ‘Quei legionary romani che abitavano in Cina’. Available at: http://ricerca.repubblica.it/repubblica/archivio/repubblica/2010/11/23/quei-legionari-romani-che-abitavano-in-cina.html (Accessed: 28 June 2017)

N. Squires (2010) ‘Chinese Villagers’ descended from Roman soldiers’. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/8154490/Chinese-villagers-descended-from-Roman-soldiers.html (Accessed: 21 May 2017)

P. Hessler, (2010) ‘Restless Spirits’, Available at: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2010/01/chinese-afterlife/hessler-text (Accessed: 29 June 2017)

R. Spencer (2007) ‘DNA tests for China’s legionary lore’. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/dna-tests-for-chinas-legionary-lore/2007/02/02/1169919531024.html (Accessed: 5 June 2015)

W. Yuanyuan (2015) ‘Top 5 Distinctive Ancient Villages in China (II)’, Available at: http://szdaily.sznews.com/html/2015-06/22/content_3259745.htm (Accessed: 26 June 2017)

Y. Yong (2011) ‘Lost Roman Legion in China’, Available at: http://english.cri.cn/7146/2011/10/20/1481s663586.htm (Accessed: 21 May 2017)


http://www.bbc.co.uk/staticarchive/5ea3e7590d674d9be4582cc6f6c8e86070157686.gifMichael Wood, Michael Wood: The Story of China: Ancestors: Documentary (2016; London: BBC).

Katrina Anderson is a former student who studied for the Master's in Ancient Visual and Material Culture of Ancient Rome at Warwick University. She is now living in China teaching English. Her interests are in Classical Art History and its reception.

June 15, 2017

Female Sexuality: the ‘Problem’ that Spans Millennia and the Myth of Social Progress.

This blog will examine The Bacchae by Euripides in 405 BCE to illustrate the position of female sexual agency in ancient Greece. Using sociological analysis, the significance of this text in relation to contemporary society will be demonstrated by comparing ancient Greek beliefs to the ideology of ‘purity’ culture; a movement largely endorsed in conservative Christian movements in the US. This is from the perspective of demonstrating the similarities between both an ancient society and a contemporary society in terms of the inadequacies when dealing with victims of sexual violence.

In The Bacchae, Pentheus expresses his disgust with female participation in a ‘new’ religion spearheaded by Bacchus (Dionysus):

...I learned

Of fresh evils throughout the city,

That the women have left our homes

For counterfeit Bacchic revels (215-218)

...They pretend

To be maenads performing sacrifices,

But follow Aphrodite before Bacchus. (223-225)

The emotive use of kaka, "evils" when referring to women participating in Bacchic revels such as drinking, dancing, and promiscuity illustrate Pentheus’ feelings towards the worship of Bacchus. Bacchic revelry is discussed throughout the text and implies that female sexuality may run rampant if left unrestrained. Pentheus is also critical of the suggestion that these behaviours are a consequence of worshipping Bacchus. Rather, Pentheus considers Aphrodite a euphemism for engaging in socially unacceptable sexual behaviour due to an uncontrollable desire for sex. When Aphrodite is used sardonically, it condemns whilst simultaneously denies female sexual agency through continual references to external behavioural influences, to which it can be inferred that women’s sexuality is always controlled and exercised by another, rather than her own agency. Resistance against female sexuality may be considered by many to be an archaic preoccupation and not an issue in contemporary, post-feminist, western societies. Yet growing support for a ‘purity’ culture echo many of the arguments put forth in ancient Greek texts and should be analysed when attempting to understand contemporary arguments. More worrying is the implication of female sexuality within fears for moral decline.

‘Purity’ culture is an ideological movement heavily influenced by conservative Christian teachings and is widely endorsed in the US with growing support (Moslener, 2015). Beliefs are based on the premise that a girl should remain ‘pure’ and offer her virginity as a gift to her husband upon marriage. Organised events such as ‘Purity balls’ celebrate the valuableness of virginity and emphasise the economic and moral worth of women for marriage in those terms. As such, a woman’s moral centre resides in her sexual purity - to be penetrated is to be devalued. Female sexuality as a metaphor for morality thus becomes implicated in debates concerning moral decline.

Tiresias responds in a way that may appear to defend female agency:

But where chastity is in her nature,

You may rely on it. For a modest woman

Will not be corrupted by Bacchic rites. (316-318)

Upon closer inspection, phrases like ‘modest woman,’ (317) and ‘chastity is in her nature’ (316) are duplicitous in their insinuations in that women who are overtly sexual are therefore not feminine or female, even. Bacchic rites, including drinking and sexual behaviour, are implied as corrupt when the expectation of the ancient Greek woman (and in modern conservative Christian contexts) is to be pure. Consequently, this renders women into one of two camps - modest, chaste, and good versus vulgar, promiscuous, and evil. Furthermore, not only is immodesty therefore ‘evil’, it is considered an inversion of the very values according to which society operates. Hence, these ‘evil women’ pose a threat to the very axioms upon which cultures are built.

Of greater concern is the link between female sexual purity and sexual violence. Since value is placed on virginity, and devaluation equated with sexual activity, where does this leave rape victims? The cultural emphasis on sexual purity may result in rape victims feeling too ashamed to report victimisation for fear of ostracism from a community like the purity culture, or worse, being considered as partially to blame for their rape (Valenti, 2009). Placing ‘chaste’ women on a pedestal above the immorality of women following Bacchus is comparable to women in the ‘purity’ movement and the immorality of women who engage in sexual activity before marriage. A dichotomous view such as this may make invisible victims of sexual violence (Kerr et al, 2004; Brown & Walklate, 2012). For example, Pentheus argued that all women may be considered sexually rampant if given the opportunity and this remains a common myth disputed in contemporary feminist research into the disbelief of rape victims and accusations of false rape claims based upon a victim’s clothing, behaviour, sexual history, and religious beliefs (Kelly et al, 2005; Rape Crisis, 2013).

The continuing relevance of ancient Greek perceptions of female sexuality within contemporary society demonstrate that despite various social movements, legislative changes that support social progress, and the impact of feminism, female sexuality remains a contentious issue. This brief examination of an ancient text in relation to a contemporary social movement demonstrates a far cry from social progress. The dichotomisation of women as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in an attempt to control female sexuality continues to be prevalent in contemporary and historical accounts and must be considered critically in order to adequately protect victims of sexual violence in modern society.


Brown, J. & Walklate, S. (2012) Handbook on Sexual Violence. Routledge.

Kelly, L., Lovett, J. & Regan, L. (2005) "A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases." Home Office Research Study 293. London: Home Office.

Kerr, J., Sprenger, E. & Symington, A. (2004) The Future of Women’s Rights: Global Visions and Strategies. Zed Books.

Moslener, S. (2015) Virgin Nation: Sexual Purity and the American Adolescence. Oxford University Press.

Rape Crisis (2013) ‘CPS confirms false rape allegations are very rare’. Available at: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/news/cps-confirms-false-rape-allegations-are-very-rare (Accessed: 30 May 2017).

Valenti, J. (2009) The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. Hachette UK.

Georgina Riggs holds a Master’s degree in Criminology from the University of Leicester and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Warwick. She is currently working on applications to study a PhD in Criminology. In particular, she is developing a research proposal to study sexual violence in higher education using a multi-sectoral approach in the context of post-feminist and neoliberalist ideological positions. More broadly, her interests within the social sciences stem from a social constructionist approach and range from the relationship between gender, politics, sexuality, and the law. Email: gclaire18@gmail.com.

May 15, 2017

Martial’s Erotion in the epigraphic landscape

Critics have been deeply engaged with research into the interdependence of classical literature and verse inscriptions. Their connection and mutual influence is revealed by verbal coincidences (i.e. hexametric-dactylic clausolae, entire verses) or more general similarities in phraseology and content. The literature-epigraphy relationship is, however, anything but easy to determine and not always unidirectional (elite literature influencing metrical epigraphy). The genesis of CLE (carmina latina epigraphica) itself, without underestimating the crucial role of canonical literature as model for the metric-stylistic use, (Thévenaz, 2008: 170) reminds us that epigram, elegy and epikedion are “literary genres that, before influencing inscriptions, took inspiration, in many aspects, from those” (Hernández-Pérez, 2001:287). More specifically, the comparison between literary funerary epigrams with their inscribed counterparts gives compelling clues. The lexeme “epigram” first of all indicates an epigraphic object: a funerary, honorific, or votive inscription; its semantic extension indicates a new literary genre, occurring during the third century BC, with Callimachus, Posidippus and Asclepiades (Puelma, 1997: 190). Particularly noteworthy is the case of Martial’s obituary epigrams, which are ideal for illustrating to what extent and how the epigrammatist played a role in shaping the contemporary and later epigraphic landscape. Scholars generally over-emphasise the debt of Martial’s obituary production - where the epigraphic origin of the genre is disclosed - towards the epigraphic context, specifically with reference to some lexical and structural features. The research of correspondences in phraseology and content between Martial and inscriptions (loci similes), however, tends to discredit this claim. Therefore, through the use of a case study, that of Iulius Aptus (CLEHisp 82), Iwill explore an instance of direct quotation from Mart. 10.61 (Berger, 1959: 259-260; Cugusi, 2007: 178), a poem dedicated to the young slave Erotion.

L(ucio) Iulio Apto Gallio patronus

Itala me genuit tellus Hispania texit

lustris quinque fui sexta peremit hiemps

ignotus cunctis hospesque hac sede iacebam

omnia qui no[b]is hic dedit tumulum.

“To Lucius Iulius Aptus Gallus Patronus.

The Italic land gave me birth, Spain covered me.

I lived for twenty five years, the sixth winter snatched me away from life

I lie here unknown to everyone and a foreigner.

The one who offered to me everything, also gave me this burial.”

This elegiac couplet epitaph of the second century AD found at Mértola, in the ancient province of Lusitania (now Portugal), is mimetically structured as an autobiographical speech delivered by the dead freedman Iulius Aptus to recall the attention of the passer-by. The first distich reflects a literary dependence from two models: on the one hand, the first hexameter that illustrates Aptus’ birth-place (Itala tellus) and burial-place (Hispania) exploits a well-known epigraphic tόpos expressed in the canonic formula tellus x me genuit. The phrase clearly emulates the popular pseudo-epitaph of Vergil (Svet. - Don. vita Verg. 17, p. 9 Hardie = p. 81):

Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc

Parthenope; cecini pascua, rura, duces.

Itala me genuit tellus, Hispania texit.

On the other hand, Iulius Aptus, recreating a common feature of epitaphs remembering the death of immaturi (young people), claims his age through a periphrasis intended to increase pathos in the reader: he died at 25 years old, (lustris quinque), extinguished on his sixth winter (sexta peremit hiems). A closer examination of the sentence, reveals a logical inconsistency: how is it possible for Aptus, who died at 25 years old, to have been snatched away from life in his sixth winter (sexta hiems)? The answer to this misleading logical gap lies in Martial 10.61.2:

Hic festinata requiescit Erotion umbra,

crimine quam fati sexta peremit hiems. (Mart. 10.61.1-2)

lustris quinque fui sexta peremit hiemps

Berger (1959: 265) noticed how the final pentametric clausola resembled Martial’s line on Erotion: it is probable, then, that the composer of the inscription, willing to imitate a literary formula, mnemonically adapted the line by Martial without considering the resulting logical inconsistency of the pentameter. This direct borrowing from a literary model shows a typical technique of the “epigraphic memory”, here responsible for a mistake at the level of logic. The epitaph of Iulius Aptus is relevant for two reasons: on the epigraphic side, it is crucial to have an insight on how epigraphists composed verse inscriptions, pointing out a functional use of Latin authors; from a literary perspective, it allows us to argue that Martial’s Epigrams circulated in Portugal at least during the second century AD.


Primary sources

Martial, Epigrams, ed. and trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press 1993).

Secondary sources

Berger, C. (1987) ‘Virgile et Martial dans un épigramme de Mértola’ in Epigraphica 49, pp. 264-265.

Cugusi, P. (2007) Per un nuovo Corpus dei Carmina Latina Epigraphica. Materiali e discussioni (Roma: Accademia Nazionale Dei Lincei).

Cugusi, P. - Sblendorio, M. T. (2007) Studi sui carmi epigrafici. Carmina Latina Epigraphica Pannonica (Bologna: Pàtron Editore).

Hernández-Pérez, R. (2001) Poesía Latina Sepulchral de la Hispania Romana: estudio de los tόpicos y sus formulaciones (Valencia: Universitat de València).

Puelma, M. (1997) ‘Epigramma: osservazioni sulla storia di un termine greco-latino’ in Maia 49, pp. 189-213.

Thévenaz, O. (2001) ‘Flebilis lapis? Gli epigrammi funerari per Erotion in Marziale’ in

Materiali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici 48, pp. 167-191.

Alessandra Tafaro is a prospective doctoral student in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. Her interest is in the interaction of Latin Literature with Roman epigraphy, particularly focusing on the Imperial Age. Her research focuses on the influence of Martial’s Epigrams upon the contemporary and later epigraphic context. A.Tafaro1@warwick.ac.uk

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