Skip to content

Andrej Petrovic's "Even Further Greek Epigrams"

About the Workshop

This workshop explores from a multidisciplinary standpoint how oral literature stands alongside and engages with texts in literate societies. While the study of oral literature has transformed many disciplines in the last century, the label of “true” orality was originally granted only to pre-literate traditions. We bring together a variety of perspectives as to how different disciplines have bridged the perceived gap between verbal art and artistic text. To that end, the workshop builds an ongoing conversation on
topics such as the transmission and textualization of folk literature, the interplay between spoken word and written text, and the sociology of reading and performance. 

Our aim is to broaden participants’ perspectives of oral literature in a literate society by encouraging a methodological dialogue across disciplines. Each session features an invited speaker who gives a short introduction to a pre-circulated paper followed by a respondent who will open the discussion. We warmly invite anyone who is interested in questions surrounding orality and literacy to join us for food and fellowship.

Please join our mailing list to receive notices about events and pre-circulated papers. 

Andrej Petrovic's talk "Even Further Greek Epigrams" was a fascinating look into the world of Greek poetry inscribed on stones and some of its most important recent discoveries. Petrovic did a great job of introducing us to the recently discovered ‘New Marathon’ and Ambrakia epigrams (SEG 56.430 and 41.540a respectively), as well as a an unpublished epigram (you should have been there if you want to know more!), all of which seem to incorporate casualty lists into the epigram or accompanying text. The workshop provided a fascinating chance to explore the interaction of written texts with modes of performance and transmission more commonly associated with oral poetry in Greece. Three key examples emerged:


 It's pretty clear that we shouldn't think of epigram as exclusively a written text. On the contrary, Petrovic showed that the Athenians were able to reerect an epigram (FGE ‘Simonides’ III) a generation after its destruction by the Persians and arguing therefore that there must have been channels of oral performance independent of the inscription. The evidence here is necessarily tentative, but it would be really interesting to know more about the interaction between these written epigrams and other modes of transmission. If epigram is performed, what function does the inscription serve?


 The Ambrakia epigram ends with several lines commemorating particular individuals who were killed in an ambush in what looks like an attempt to preserve individual names. In particular these lines resemble the Homeric catalogues of fallen warrior in their onomastic density (i.e. the number of names per line) although the Homeric catalogues seem to be glorifying the killer rather than commemorating the dead (or should we rethink these catalogues?). Richard Martin made the intriguing speculation that if we take seriously the parallels between Homeric catalogues and the casualty lists on the Ambrakia epigram and the new Marathon epigram then perhaps the apparently random order of the dead on the new Marathon epigram is an attempt to capture the order that these individuals died at Marathon.


Finally, drawing on Herodotus’ remarks that he had taken care to learn the names of all of fallen at Thermopylae (Hdt 7.224) and a Hellenistic inscription from Thessaly (IG IX 2 531) which hints at the performance of καταλογαί in a festival context, Petrovic closed with the suggestion that the names of the fallen were preserved not only in inscriptions but also by public performance. The talk closed with an intriguing parallel to a Serbian war memorial where the names of the dead were read aloud every year on the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo as well as being inscribed on the memorial.