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An erotic epigram on an ostrakon from Rhodes

Love as a burden and other “daemons”. This is the theme of an epigram found on an ostrakon revealed in Rhodes and dating to the 2nd century BC. Scholars Anastasia Dreliosi-Irakleidou and Nikos Litinas (University of Crete) studied the epigram and published their finds in the current issue (10-12) of Eulimene periodical, where the complete publication can be found.

An erotic epigram on an ostrakon from Rhodes
Ostrakon from Rhodes inscribed with an epigram
[Credit: A. Dreliosi-Irakleidou, N.Litinas]
During excavations on a plot in the central cemetery of Rhodes, a deep filling of black earth with evidence of burning was explored. It contained disintegrated skeleton remains, clay urns, pottery fragments, stamped amphora handles, many small artifacts and a large number of inscribed potsherds. All seem to be transferred there from elsewhere to settle the area probably after a natural disaster. As far as the contents of the inscribed texts are concerned, apart from one literary ostrakon, which is edited in this article, all the other ostraka are documentary and their edition is under preparation.

Based on the palaeographical details the ostrakon can be dated to the end of the third and the first half of the second century B.C. The scribe does not write breathings, accents and other diacritics. Some phonological interchanges are justified as local linguistic characteristics. Lines 1-10 preserve two elegiac distichs and lines 11-14 contain one pentameter and one incomplete hexameter.

Two hypotheses can be advanced: (a) The epigram consisted of (at least) four elegiac distichs. The hexameter of the third elegiac couplet and the pentameter of the fourth elegiac couplet have been omitted, either deliberately or by mistake. (b) The epigram consisted of three elegiac distichs and the scribe wrote the pentameter of the last distich before the hexameter.

The content of the epigram(s) is that Glykera, perhaps a Samian hetaira, managed to be freed from her eros by vowing to dedicate a painting of a pannychis that had taken place on some occasion. Now a deity is asked that a thiasos already offered should also function as a lysis from eros for Papylides. However, the kind of the thiasos and the way it is dedicated are not clear. Also, there are some questions concerning the corresponding elements between the two stories of Glykera and Papylides. Since there are missing verses or the verses are reversed, as said above, it is uncertain whether the text constitutes one or two different epigrams.

In the first scenario, it is most likely that the epigram belongs to the category of erotic ones, in which the poet refers to a past event and now asks the deity to act likewise in a parallel situation. However, it is not certain whether Glykera and Papylides were involved in the past. The name Glykera is characteristic for hetairae, while the name Papylides, which derives from Papylos, is attested only in a Byzantine inscription in Bithynia. The deity involved in this story may be Dionysus (because of the thiasos) or Adonis (because of the pannychis).

The verses preserved on the Rhodian ostrakon are not included in the Anthologia Graeca. It would be tempting to assume that the surface of the ostracon was used for writing down a hasty and incomplete draft of a poet’s original creation. However, it seems more likely that we are dealing with the copy of an already existing text. The style and content of the Rhodian erotic epigram, which is written in the Ionic dialect, do not offer internal evidence concerning the poet’s identity.

Source: Archaiologia Online [October 26, 2013]

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