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"The inscription is a machine designed to produce kleos."

In this formulation, heavily indebted to Derrida, Svenbro sees the “language” of early epigram.  While I am nearly entirely sympathetic to this idea, I would like to take a tour of the kind of factory in which these machines themselves are produced—I’m sure the upper management would have some very interesting things to say about Greek poetics.

Svenbro’s definition is pronounced in the context of a discussion of the following epigram (CEG 429):

αὐδὴ τεχνήεσσα λίθο, λέγε τίς τόδ’ ἄ̣[γλμα] |

στῆσεν Ἀπόλλωνος βωμὸν ἐπαγλαΐ[σας]. |

Παναμύης υἱος Κασβώλλιος, εἴ μ’ ἐπ̣[οτρύνεις?] |

ἐξειπν, δεκάτην τήνδ’ ἀνέθηκε θε[ῶι].

Cunning voice of the stone, tell me, who set up

this monument, in adornment of the altar of Apollo?

Panamuês, son of Kasbôllis, if you bid me

speak, dedicated this tithe to the god. (trans. Elmer)

This little poem from Halicarnassus, dated to the first quarter of the 5th century BCE, offers an interesting glimpse into the way in which inscribed epigram creates a literary world.  Often, scholars see in this poem a kind of self-conscious middle ground between earlier and later epigrammatic conceptions of the communicative act.  In a recent article, David Elmer argues that the poem is a premier example of an Aufschrift, which, according to Raubitschek, “eine Inschrift ist die eng und einzigartig mit einem Denkmal verbunden ist.” Elmer argues that Aufschriften are characterized by an unrelenting egocentrism, an absolute orientation to the present, conditioned by the Hierheit of the monument as a whole.  In this inscription, he sees the use of tod’/tênd’ as an indicator of the lack of concern for encoding an appropriate deictic reference for each of the poem’s two speakers (one expects a tautên in the second couplet).  Elmer then argues that this lack of concern for the speakers is indicative of the egocentrism, from the monumental totality’s point of view, of the epigrammatic mode of communication—the monument (including it’s inscription) is the only point of reference—the utterance as a whole refers to the monument, thus the importance of the eternal presence of the monument.

This concern with the Hierheit has led scholars to a misunderstanding of the poetics of early epigram.  First, perhaps overly eager to fit this epigram cleanly into Raubitschek’s Aufschrift, Elmer misses an important detail that affects the interpretation of the demonstratives.  The referentiality of this epigram is already dual, that is, it refers integrally, as an Aufschrift, to the bronze statue which was attached to it, but, it also refers to the altar of Apollo, next to (and separable from) which this inscribed base and its statue presumably sit.  So, the use of tod’ and tênd’ here might simply be motivated by the differentiation of the statue and the altar.  Of course, this does not mean that Elmer’s claim that the two speakers are undifferentiated is wrong; in fact, rather, I think it highlights this divide even more.  Both voices are concerned with the context of the base-epigram-statue, and the use of tod’/tênd’ makes this quite clear—both voices are talking about this, as opposed to other visible works of art (like the altar itself or the other dedications sure to be found in and around that altar).  Thus, both speakers exhibit a shared assumption about the referent of the utterance.

The second point of disagreement has a similar implication, but necessitates a broader critique of the scholarly understanding of “reading” such a monument.  Elmer’s argument is built on “the simple fact … that both ‘voices’ emanate from the same stone” (11, emphasis his). What does emanate mean here?  I think it would be useful to return to Svenbro at this point, who has emphasized the role of the reader in the poetics of epigram.  As we have seen, according to Svenbro, this and other epigrams are “machines designed to produce kleos” in as much as they force readers to vocalize their text—this is why Svenbro interprets the opening of the poem as “Reading (=skillful) voice (in the service) of the stone, read ….”  As he says, the structure of the poem is one of command and its execution, but, who is the commander, or, perhaps more precisely, who created this structure? Who manufactured the machine?

While I think this is one of the most interesting questions one can ask of archaic epigrams, it does not seem that important to other scholars.  This lack of interest makes sense if reading aloud is conceived as basically akin to the modern process of silent reading, albeit with external vocalization (this essentially limits the actors I the speech event to two—the monument, which could include several voices, and the reader).  In fact, most scholars, Svenbro included, don’t really take seriously the implications of the process of reading aloud in the archaic Greek context of oral poetic performance. Elmer’s basic assumption, that the two voices emanate from the one stone, is essentially aligned with Svenbro’s argument in that both scholars see the kleos of the monument actualized simply in the act of enunciation and the concomitant sense of dependence on the monument that such enunciation entails.  Indeed, this is the case, but, I think we can push the implication of this public act of enunciation and the awareness it entails further, all the way into the center of archaic poetics.  In order for kleos to be effective, it is not enough for the poem to be recited, there must always be an audience to receive that poem.  In other words, there are always at least three actors involved in the archaic epigrammatic speech event: the monument, the reader and the audience.  Here, we can see the full importance of tod’/tênd’—the deictics clearly and strongly keep an audience focused on the right monument (perhaps it even provides a “stage direction” for the reader/performer).  In an environment full of competing monuments—a fact alluded to by this epigram—the winner will be the machine that most successfully produces kleos, which entails a focus on the Hierheit, but, with an eye toward the future; in other words, the demonstratives create an egocentric and present focus synchronically, but they do so in order to valorize the possibility of diachronic extension.  These machines that produce kleos are part of a larger “Fabrik der Zukunftheit,” whence, perhaps, all the orders emanate.  Unfortunately, it’s too late in the day for a tour.

2 Responses to "The inscription is a machine designed to produce kleos."

  1. Interesting stuff! I’m relying just on your summary here, but is the alleged problem with the demonstratives that the second couplet should use ταύτην because it’s referring (back) to something in the first couplet’s question, i.e., “that one you’re asking about”? The τήνδε seems entirely unproblematic to me. It’s certainly the pronoun you would use in a simple dedication. It makes sense to me that the second couplet would simply speak a “normal” dedicatory formula — as if the first couplet is what someone encountering the dedication might think or say to him- or herself, and then the second couplet is the dedication itself, announced by the object in the conventional way. Maybe the conventional language of dedications is influencing the choice of demonstratives here. (I won’t mention that ταύτην can fit where τήνδ’ is in the meter. If the poet wanted ταύτην, he’d have written a different poem, obviously.)

  2. I thank Don Lavigne for this rich reflection on the issues raised by the Panamuês inscription, which I touched on in my article on Iliadic “epigrams” (“Helen Epigrammatopoios,” Classical Antiquity 24.1, 2005). Lavigne is absolutely right to point out that I excluded from consideration two essential aspects of the ancient reception of epigrams: the monumental context (viz., the competition between proximate inscribed monuments in a given sanctuary, a subject which was explored by Ivana Petrovic in a very interesting paper presented at the 2011 APA meeting in San Antonio–see her abstract on the APA website), and the possibility of a performance context that includes not just readers but hearers as well. Lavigne makes the very good point that the very notion of kleos (as “hearing”) requires not just a performer but, just as crucially, an audience–and even a sequence of audiences projected into the future. I agree entirely that an adequate description of the poetics of this epigram (or any epigram) would have to take into account both of these factors. I find Lavigne’s comments on the implied diachrony of epigram to be especially compelling.

    The issue I meant to highlight by focusing on the deictic force of τόδ’ / τήνδ’ is a very specific one, having to do with the fact that ὁδε is the pronoun of “I-deixis” in Greek (as opposed to the “you-deixis” of οὗτος): hence the “egocentrism” explored by Svenbro. It strikes me that the deployment of deixis in this epigram is very different from what we would find in a real conversation between two real speakers (which is why I spoke of voices “emanating” from a single stone)–and perhaps different even from what we would find in the context of a strictly oral performance. In the context of a real dialogue, we would expect the second speaker to acknowledge the point of view encoded in the first speaker’s use of “I-deixis” by deploying “you-deixis” (i.e. οὗτος). On the other hand, if the deictic field were organized around the point of view of an audience distinct from the speaker, we might similarly expect to find some acknowledgment of that point of view–or at least a less insistent “egocentrism.” From my point of view, the most interesting thing about the demonstratives in this epigram is not that they focus attention on the dedication–οὗτος would serve just as well for that purpose–but that they do so from a uniformly first-person perspective, in spite of the fact that the epigram purports to transcribe a dialogue.

    All of this is, I think, very fruitfully complicated by the additional perspectives Lavigne brings to bear on the subject.

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