This post will be about Greek epigraphy. You can be reassured, therefore, that there will be no Rude Language in it….
Last week, Peter Liddel and I went to Oxford to give our first (and, we think, the first) presentation of a new inscription. ‘New’ is, of course, a slightly misleading term here: the inscription itself is not new (more on its date below), nor is it a new arrival in the UK — it has been in the collections of the World Museum, Liverpool, since 1901. But the inscription has never been published, and, as far as we can tell, had been lying completely forgotten in the storerooms of the Liverpool Museum until last spring, when Dr Georgina Muskett (the museum’s Curator of Classical Antiquities) brought it to our attention.
Peter and I have been working on the inscription since then, with the assistance of many people. Dr Muskett and her team have been unfailingly helpful (and, as the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images show, have done an excellent job of cleaning and conserving the inscription). Prof. Daryn Lehoux (now at Queen’s University, Canada, but a former colleague in Manchester) visited in the summer, and helped us to produce a set of enhanced digital images of the stone, using RTI (reflectance transformation imaging) and photogrammetry. We have bombarded our colleagues (in Manchester and around the world) with questions about the language of the text, the nature of the institutions which it describes, the plausibility (or otherwise) of our reconstructions and supplements. So although we tend, rather protectively, to talk about this as ‘our’ inscription, this is really one of the most genuinely collaborative pieces of research either of us has ever embarked on.
We are now at the point of having an (almost) complete text of the inscription, and – perhaps more importantly – having a fairly confident theory about its nature, origin and date (none of which were immediately clear from either the text itself or the museum’s accession records). This is a decree (it describes itself as a gnome) of a private organisation (koinon), who call themselves the Phrikyladai. The decree honours three men for their work for the association – work which has something to do with the provision of wine (the men held the office of oinones, perhaps to be translated as ‘wine buyer’). The honour comes in the form of an inscription – that is, this (our) inscription. In other words: the koinon indicate their gratitude by allowing these men to set up, on stone, a copy of the decree in which the indication of gratitude is expressed. Various features of the text (the terminology used; some of the names which appear in it; some stylistic features) lead us to believe that it originates from the city of Erythrae (a Greek polis on the coast of Asia Minor), and was created some time in the middle of the third century B.C.
There is much more to be said about this inscription (not least the story of how it might have made its way from Turkey to Liverpool), and we hope to return to it in future blogs (and in future papers: we will be talking about the inscription again in Copenhagen next month and, we hope, in Manchester next May). We close this post with one of the remaining mysteries of the text, and invite our readers’ ideas on how we might resolve it: what is the meaning, or significance, of this organisation’s name? Who are the ‘Phrikyladai’?
This word is unattested anywhere else in extant Greek, and does not appear to have any immediate meaning: there’s probably nothing in the association with the words phrike (shudder) or hule (timber). We cannot identify any city or toponym with which it could obviously be connected (our attempts to find associations with the Aeolian city Larisa Phrikonis were ultimately fruitless). Many associations took their names from mythical founders – but no Phrikylos is known in any mythical account; indeed, as a name it is attested, according to the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, only on a Hellenistic roof-tile from Illyria. Should we then assume that our ‘Phrikyladai’ got their name from a mortal – perhaps even a living mortal — named Phrikylos? And, if they did, what sort of story should we tell about this individual, and his role in the association? Was he a member of the city elite of Erythrae? Or just a man who was particularly fond of wine? Suggestions would be very welcome…