- Archaic Greek Epigram and Dedication
Day’s book searches for the ritual function of dedicated objects by examining archaic dedications featuring dedicatory epigrams. The inclusion of epigram allows him to access an important vein of evidence, but he also allots ample space to the consideration of the objects themselves.
Day’s thesis is encapsulated by the book’s subtitle: “Representation and Re-performance.” He argues that epigram and object work together to bring the original act of dedication into the present before the viewer/reader, who then, by his engagement with the object, reperforms that dedicatory act. This reperformance is not literal; rather, Day wishes to show that dedicatory epigram associated the performance of dedication with certain effects, and that the viewer would experience those same effects and make the same associations (xiv–xv).
The first chapter is introductory; in his second chapter, Day endeavors to prove that inscribed epigrams were, in fact, read—a refutation of Peter Bing, “The Un-Read Muse,” in M. A. Harder, R. F. Regtuit, and G. C. Wakker, eds., Hellenistic Epigrams (Leuven 2002) 39–66. This response does not wholly convince. Day concedes, however, that many of the effects of reading can be gained without actual reading (75). He then divides the dedicatory act into parts. Chapters 3 through 6 address, respectively, the dedicated object, the recipient divinity, the dedicator, and the act of dedicating itself.
In chapter 3, Day shows that words with the stem ἀγαλ- or ἀγλα- point to an object’s effects in creating delight, especially for the recipient divinity. Two epigrammatic strategies connect this effect to the viewer. First is the use of deictic markers, which naturally position the object relative to the reader, thus involving him in the dedication. More directly, the epigram may include petitions to the divinity. It is more difficult to judge the success of the first strategy; to achieve real reperformance, readers must picture themselves as more than a borrowed voice. The second strategy seems clearer: by petitioning the god, the reader intervenes to cause the completion of the dedication. Epigrams featuring this language, however, are less common.
In chapter 4, Day argues that divine names connected the god to his or her myths and ritual functions, perhaps even resulting in an experience of epiphany. To achieve these effects in a brief epigram, the divine name must be assumed to [End Page 135] trigger the viewer’s recall of myth or cult. The epigram has help in this effort: while it is being read, the divinity, or a ritual of worship, is often visible in the dedicated object. In this chapter, Day successfully demonstrates that viewers may have felt themselves to be reperforming ritual; it is less clear that this ritual is specifically dedicatory.
In chapter 5 Day focuses on the dedicator presented as a member of a family or as an athletic victor. Family associations bring to mind ritual, Day argues, because the family was at the core of many Greek rituals. This argument is difficult to accept; the family is a fundamental societal unit, and thus could be placed at the center of almost anything. Day’s second contention is more solid: epigrammatic language and the pose of many images of victors tend to invoke the ritual proclamation of athletic victory. By speaking the epigram aloud and looking at the image, the viewer would make the same pronouncement. Again, this is ritual, but not specifically dedicatory ritual.
In chapter 6, Day emphasizes the word χάρις and its cognates. As he shows, χάρις points to the beauty of an object and the pleasure derived therefrom, but also strongly connotes reciprocity. All these aspects perfectly fit dedication. As the viewer sees the dedicated object, and thus experiences its beauty, he also reads the epigram that completes χάρις’s range of meaning by connecting the object to the delight or reciprocation of the divinity. This is Day’s most successful chapter; the frame of χάρις must have created a feeling of dedicatory reperformance. This chapter also gathers threads from the others.