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The Art of the Hekatompedon Inscription and the Birth of the Stoikhedon Style (review)

From: Classical World
Volume 105, Number 4, Summer 2012
pp. 556-557 | 10.1353/clw.2012.0031

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Judging a book by its cover may be unprofessional, but this one’s cover is informative: a title that announces the two chief topics and photographs of a fragment of the study’s object, IG I3 4. Focusing on its letterforms, stoichedon layout, and punctuation, Butz makes significant contributions on both topics, more successfully on the artistry of this important early fifth-century sacred law.

Butz locates her approach among newly reinvigorated efforts to consider inscriptions’ visual character and its contribution to the efficacy of monuments, though in this case the monument was the inscription. Formal visual analysis is grounded in accurate observation, which yields helpful quantification (as on 36–38) and illustrations (photographs and drawings), although prose descriptions can be hard to follow. Many findings are original: the first occurrence of serifs (on delta, epsilon, and lambda), proportionality among letterforms (comparable to that in architecture and sculpture), a recalculation of the stoichedon grid (a double grid with empty interlinear spaces).

Butz moves beyond formal analysis to consider form’s impact on readers and viewers. Especially in chapter 1 on individual letterforms, her aesthetic responses are too easily taken as universal: “authority” (12), “elegance” (35), “energy and motion” (33), “grace” (24), “status” (11). Nevertheless, discoveries of broader patterns—e.g., letters categorized by repeated geometric shapes and placed in stoichos units for optical effect rather than mechanically—suggest that original viewers appreciated the display of epigraphic artistry, as does this inscription’s superiority to others attributed to the “Hekatompedon master” (120–132).

Taking the next step, Butz argues that the inscription’s form enhanced its efficacy as religious law with aids to correct reading and symbolic reinforcement of the verbal message. For instance, the text’s three sections are marked by vacats, different letter sizes, and some shifting of vertical alignment. Although this book is neither a new edition (treatment of the Metope A fragments in appendices almost constitutes one) nor a historical study of content, such observations about form affect our understanding of content as well as efficacy. Building on B. Jordan’s suggestion, for example (Servants of the Gods [Göttingen 1979], 19–55), Butz maintains that the first section (A.1–15) is the republication of an older law. The old/new distinction is marked by section indicators and symbolized by letterforms combining contemporary and archaic features. More broadly, Butz demonstrates how the law’s authority was enhanced by monumentality (letters nearly 2.5 cm high, generously spaced stoichedon, the two metopes forming an inscribed wall) and punctuation that echoes sacred inventories (72–75, 117–120). In such ways, she brings a fine eye for form to bear on several “hot” questions such as whether inscriptions were read and how they functioned as authoritative symbols. On these matters, Butz cites some scholars, but more context would help, e.g., M. Gagarin, Writing Greek Law (Cambridge 2008).

On the origins of stoichedon, Butz reviews potential early examples (though she misses the Arta epitaph, SEG 41.540A) and traces the grid system’s origins to Egypt, an important suggestion that is not sufficiently argued or illustrated. Some early Greek texts cited as imperfect stoichedon (e.g., Phrasikleia’s epitaph, IG I3 1261) may have been designed on different principles; Butz’s readiness to find “the aesthetic sensibility of stoikhedon” (103) introduces some false teleology. Other texts (e.g., Isches’ dedication, IG XII.6 560) can be called purely stoichedon only according to Butz’s redefinition of the style, which encompasses what C. Keesling plausibly defines as a distinct style, “letter alternation” (in D. Jordan and J. Traill, eds., Lettered Attica [Athens 2003], 41–54). The Moschion inscription (SEG 8.464, E. Bernand, Inscriptions métriques [Paris 1969], no. 108) suggests that the stoichedon aesthetic included diagonal as well as vertical and horizontal alignment, an intriguing idea in light of the new Marathon casualty list (G. Steinhauer, Horos 17–21 [2004–2009] 679–692).

This book is not always user-friendly to nonspecialists, as in its assumption of familiarity with the Hekatompedon inscription. I note two important editions not cited: R. Koerner, Inschriftliche Gesetzestexte (Cologne 1993), nos. 4–5; and H. van Effenterre and F. Ruzé, Nomima...

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