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  • Introduction
  • Rebecca Nagel

Given the physical conditions of survival, classical archaeology and art history has long been dominated by the study of funerary and honorific monuments. Classical poets compete with orators and builders of monuments to immortalize their subjects. Written texts and physical monuments often depend on each other in complex ways to preserve, revise, or even fabricate memories for contemporary use. The papers published here are revised versions of papers delivered at a conference of the Classical Association of the Canadian West, March 14–15, 2008, at the University of Alberta. The theme of the conference was "Commemoration in Antiquity." The University of Alberta celebrated its centennial in 2008 and it was a natural time to think about our relationship to the past: what we choose to remember or forget and how our understanding of the past affects the way we live today.

While memory is most often anchored (or sometimes created) by physical monuments, there are less tangible methods of recollection as well. Calendars and chronological records are a common way of organizing memory and both Greeks and Romans were in the habit of marking anniversary dates, just as we do. The creation of a calendar is a political process and the complexity of political organization in ancient Greece created many chronological problems for Greek historians. Catherine Rubincam explains the origin of a rare and paradoxical formula of dating: "in the xth year approximately." The popularity of the conventions of commemoration can also be exploited for ironic and humorous effects. Frances Pownall shows how Critias can use even the memory of great events such as the battle of Marathon in his poetic mock praise of Athens. David Mirhady describes two more aspects. There is a practical exercise of memory in exetasis, the analysis of contradictions between what an opponent says in the lawsuit and what he has said or done in his life. Secondly, after the prominence of exetasis in Plato's Apology of Socrates, rhetoricians avoid it until memory of its philosophical application fades.

Inscriptions are the most common means of public commemoration. There are many layers of time in any inscription: the times of the recorded events as well as the time of the creation of the monument. The Oath of the Ephebes is an old text on a new monument and the Oath of Plataia is a later forgery on the same monument. Danielle Kellogg argues that both texts on the Acharnai stele are responses to the threat of Philip of Macedon. The stele and contemporary orators use the past for inspiration, but the stele has the added dignity of being a physical monument. Sometimes [Begin Page i] the past recorded in inscriptions did not really exist. Michael Snowdon describes how a second-century inscription recalls an idealized past when Greeks had liberty and celebrates its restoration by Roman rulers without needing to say exactly when it was lost. At other times words may substitute for a missing monument. Lauren Kaplow examines how Roman men without ancestor portraits adapt the motif of imagines to legitimize their personal power. At times, a brief dedication may be the only writing on a monument which communicates chiefly through its location, form, and decoration. Kimberly Cassibry takes us around and through some arches to experience how a viewer interacts with the physical presence of a monument.

The keynote lecture of the conference, a meditation on the presence and absence of monuments, was delivered by Alain Gowing. As modern tourists and scholars we are familiar with many noble ruins of ancient Rome, but the ruins we can no longer even identify are melancholic reminders of how tenuous memory is. We may take comfort, however, in the fact that Rome has been in ruins for a very long time. After the Gauls sack Rome in 396 BCE, Livy's Camillus argues that Rome is eternal because the gods live in the physical location of Rome: the hills, the fields, the Tiber, the sky. These survive the destruction of buildings and even the loss of memories of those buildings. Although we no longer have the gods in whom Camillus placed his trust, we do have not only the land on which...


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