The Dedicatory Monuments: An Interview with John Traill
March 8, 2012
Inscriptions: The Dedicatory Monuments (Agora XVIII), by Daniel J. Geagan, published in December, is the fifth and final volume on Agora stone inscriptions for the School’s venerable Athenian Agora “blue book” series.
Inscriptions: The Dedicatory Monuments presents inscriptions on monuments commemorating events or victories, on statues or other representations erected to honor individuals and deities, and on votive offerings to divinities. Most are dated to between the 4th century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D., but a few survive from the Archaic and Late Roman periods. A final section contains monuments that are potentially, but not certainly, dedicatory in character, and a small number of grave markers omitted from Agora XVII. Each of the 773 catalogue entries includes a description of the object inscribed, bibliography, a transcription of the Greek text, and commentary. There are photographs of each piece of which no adequate illustration has yet been published, including newly joined fragments.
John Traill, Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Toronto, served in the author’s stead after Geagan passed away in 2009, and he worked tirelessly with the ASCSA’s Publications Office and staff of the Athenian Agora to see the volume appear. In an email interview, Traill explains the nature of the dedicatory monuments found in the Athenian Agora.
“Of epigraphical monuments, dedications are the most varied. They are regularly divided into public and private, and Dan has respected this division. Within those general classifications there is enormous variety: there are 14 classes under Commemoratives and Niketeria, 24 under Votives, which is a ‘Who’s Who’ of Athens’s popular deities. The Agora was the center of all aspects of Athenian public life and a good deal of the private—death was centered in the Kerameikos—and dedications reflect all these facets,” Traill said.
And why is there such a wealth of inscriptions in the Athenian Agora?
“The Athenians were simply obsessed with writing, especially public writing,” Traill explained. “They loved to see their names in print, and they contrived to get them there by one means or another. Democracies write. William Wallace used to speak of Athens’s enemies, the Corinthians: ‘The Corinthians were oligarchs, and oligarchs don’t write.’ Hence the relative paucity of inscriptions at Corinth compared to Athens.”
While many readers of this book will be epigraphers, Traill notes the wide appeal of the inscriptions found on these dedicatory monuments. “Historians, including art historians, will also put [this book] to good use,” Traill said. “There is much of interest to scholars of religion, law, social history, onomastics, prosopography, linguistics, topography, architecture, and so on.”
When asked about the most interesting inscription covered in Agora XVIII, Traill responded, “Most people will say A1, the Harmodios and Aristogeiton inscription. It’s very famous, and justifiably so. [But] to me, the most interesting inscription is the Praxiteles text H320, in which Dan has gently led us to the correct reading of Praxiteles’ colleague’s name. Dan was cautious, as a good epigrapher is supposed to be, and the evidence he has given us makes the suggested reading of Lysikles very probable.”
Traill came to the Agora series of inscription volumes and ultimately to Geagan’s book through a long, impressive history of study with some of the greatest names in Greek epigraphy.
“When I was an undergraduate in Toronto, Mary White at a Classics Club meeting talked about epigraphy and passed around a squeeze,” Traill recalls. “Instant love! My thesis advisor at Harvard, Sterling Dow, introduced me more formally, and then sent me to the ASCSA where Gene Vanderpool and Ben Meritt fostered the love. The Agora is riddled with inscriptions. They are everywhere. You trip over them. You really can’t—some people try—ignore them. Ben Meritt wanted help on Agora XV and asked me to supply that help. He was a wonderful teacher and colleague, always leading, yet always asking my opinion, criticism ever constructive.”
With Traill’s guiding hand, Geagan’s life’s work has now been published.
Inscriptions: The Dedicatory Monuments, is available for purchase from the David Brown Book Company and Oxbow Books. Click here for more information and to download sample content.
456 pp, 80 bw pls
9” x 12”
Cloth, ISBN: 978-0-87661-218-7