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The Signature of the Muses: Epigram as Everyday Miracle?

In a recent article on artists’ signatures in antiquity, Osborne has argued that such signatures reveal the socially embedded nature of pots, sculpture, gems etc., a collaboration between artist, object and end-user.  As Osborne states, “What they all [plastic arts and literature] share is the sense that there is an ‘author,’ that the identity of the creator of these works is something worth knowing—and worth knowing because these are works that demand, and establish a relationship with, ‘readers.'”  This is a very interesting point, and one that brings into stark relief the difference of epigram whose readers seem to have no such need to know.  Why?

As should be no surprise to those of you who have been religiously following my blog, I would like to propose that the answer lies in both the very anonymity of such voices and the multiplicity of voices, showcased in performance. In my previous posts—all too long ago now—I have been thinking about the way in which performance can be seen to impact the interpretation of archaic epigram.  So far, I have argued that the anonymity of the author of epigram guarantees its authority and that the multiple voices within the poems themselves highlight the divide between the voice of the performer and that of the author, thereby enhancing that anonymity.  The example I cited from my last post, CEG 429, illustrates both points well.  The poem consists of two separate voices, the second responding to first’s command to tell who set up this dedicatory statue.  Both voices claim the same deictic space in relationship to the statue and thus confound the audience as to which voice represents that of the author.  Also, by referring to the altar of Apollo, around which we should imagine other similar monumental inscribed dedications, the deixis of the poem makes a play to secure an audiences’ attention on this (as opposed to that) monument.

One might wonder why this is the case, for, presumably, the mention of such a context hardly enhances the dedicator’s prestige, presenting a momentary opportunity for a distracted eye to wander to a nearby glimmer of brilliance (same goes for a distracted ear, to a degree).  This opening up of the context, the placement of this statue and its two voices into an implied dialogue with the other monuments there suggests the importance of the relationship between the dedications as a whole—a this implies a that. It is not one dedication, but many, that actualizes the power of and honor due to the god.  Similarly, Panamyes gains honor from his individual dedication, but also, through association and competition with those other great men of Halicarnassus who are sure to have left their mark there as well.  The context actualizes the honor of the god hinted at in the epigram, which itself focuses upon the honor of Panamyes; but, both external and internal honorand are inseparable and mutually reinforcing.

As I see it, the space of dedication functions in a way similar to the catalogue, which offers a list whose totality suggests an externally oriented comparison while its details suggest an internally oriented comparison.  Interestingly for my purposes, in the most famous example of the archaic catalogue, that of the ships in Iliad 2, the authorial voice self-consciously sets up an implied external comparison (to all other such expeditions) under the spell of the Muses and utters what it should take more than ten tongues and mouths to say.  In other words, part of the magnificence of this piece of the poem (in fact, one could extend this idea to the whole of the poem) is the miracle of one voice doing the work of so many (à la Richard Martin).  So, Homeric practice subsumes multiple voices into that of one author whose authority (and special relationship to the Muses) is demonstrated and guaranteed internally, and then externally by the special class of performers charged with the timeless embodiment of this tradition.

So, are epigrams to be conceived as individual utterances of the Muses, uncontained by any one author’s voice, everlasting by virtue of their monumental contexts rather than their organization under the power of a monumental poet and actualized by whomever happens upon them rather than by a professional bard in a ritual context?  I am not sure, but this may be one way to conceptualize their authority in a context of multiplicity and anonymity.  Surely, an audience would be impressed as a crony becomes a double-voiced singer of Panamyes’ tale.  No doubt, such an impression would be enhanced by the lack of social embeddedness of an “unsigned epigram, especially in contrast to the collaborative relationships Osborne argues are engendered by the signatures of artists (authors included).  But, still, I am not so sure that such an audience member would hear the signature of the Muses in these everyday “miracles.”

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