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«By Athena E. Kirk A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Classics in the ...»

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The List as Treasury in the Greek World

By Athena E. Kirk

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy



in the

Graduate Division

of the

University of California, Berkeley

Committee in charge:

Professor Leslie V. Kurke, Chair

Professor Andrew Garrett

Professor Nikolaos Papazarkadas

Professor Ronald S. Stroud

Fall 2011


The List as Treasury in the Greek World


Athena E. Kirk Doctor of Philosophy in Classics University of California, Berkeley Professor Leslie V. Kurke, Chair Some of the earliest written records in the greater ancient world are lists of objects: we find catalogues of gods, kings, jewels, archaic vocabulary items, and exotic birds in Sumerian, Egyptian, Akkadian and Hittite, and many scholars surmise that a penchant for this kind of record-keeping fueled the very invention of writing. The Greeks, however, have long been considered distinct from other literate peoples both for their innovations with regard to the writing system they borrowed from the Phoenicians and for their application of that system, as they (a) were the first to denote vowels with stand-alone symbols, and (b) seem to used the alphabet to record poetry, not archival information, before anything else. In fact, it is not until several hundred years after these first ‘literary’ texts that the alphabetic Greeks begin to produce the government inventories, war memorials, or tribute lists akin to those of their Near Eastern and Mycenean predecessors.

In this project, I study these kinds of official epigraphic written lists alongside lists from Archaic and Classical Greek literature in an effort to reorient the discourse surrounding the Greeks’ literacy and use of writing, and its purported uniqueness. I work specifically with those lists that enumerate physical objects, beginning from the assertion that we can trace a tradition of listing objects in the Greek world that exists independent of the literacy versus orality binary invoked by most scholarship for the last several decades. By looking at, e.g., a catalogue of gifts in the Iliad alongside an inventory of dedications from an Athenian sanctuary, I suggest that lists themselves are the salient phenomenon to be identified and analyzed, rather than the medium (written or oral) in which we find them.

My central thesis is that Greek object-lists in their disparate contexts—oral poetry, narrated prose history, publicly displayed records, performed drama—all share a 1 common function vis-à-vis the objects they represent, namely, that when they are presented to their various audiences, they serve as surrogates for the objects in question and in many cases take on an authority beyond that of any physical collection, which ultimately perishes. In their role as extant text-monuments, I argue, they embody and preserve the details of remote times and spaces.

I present four case studies of texts that contain lists from the archaic through the classical period, and one later example of the same tradition. The chronological progression emphasizes how the Greek literary and documentary traditions build upon and interact with one another, and by attending to the two together, I begin to build a more comprehensive portrait of the listmaking meme.

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quam innumerabilia variis artibus et opificiis, in vestibus, calciamentis, vasis et cuiuscemodi fabricationibus, picturis etiam diversisque figmentis atque his usum necessarium atque moderatum et piam significationem longe transgredientibus addiderunt homines ad inlecebras oculorum…

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This study stems from a desire to rethink and reframe some questions about Greek reading and writing. Many have posed and variously answered the first: “For what purpose did the Greeks adapt the alphabet?”1 While that inquiry has produced many fruitful results, without further explicit evidence it can result in no definitive account, and so it now seems equally and perhaps more pertinent to wonder instead why the Greeks wrote down what they did after they had learned letters, however they may 1 Among others: Goody and Watt (1963); Havelock (1982); Guarducci (1987); Harris (1989);

Jeffery (revised 1990); Powell (1991); Thomas (1992) chapter 4; Ruijgh (1998).

ii have done so. I propose to examine the Greeks’ application of the alphabetic system as a consequence of, not a motivation for, technological advancement. Another problem that has dominated the subfield concerns the number of literates in a given social group. In this case too, the general lack of quantitative evidence has yielded a surplus of accounts based on a diverse range of sources (inscriptions, epic poetry, papyri, vase painting, among others). Those who advocate early widespread literacy often find proponents of late orality fanciful, while the latter only occasionally engage with the technical, object-oriented work of the former. The study of literacy could stand to 2 benefit from more approaches that lay aside quantitative issues and concentrate instead on the fact that undoubtedly the majority of inhabitants of the Greek world, from prolific prose-writer to unlettered slave, interacted with written texts in some way or other. Moreover, as we may also agree that anyone spending time in public places would have come in contact with a great deal of writing, it seems all the more worthwhile to consider the range of reactions different viewers had to a given text.

–  –  –

These problems fall under the general rubric of representation and into the general domain of human memory. Writing, in turn, is characterized as one of many tools that organize sense perceptions. We might invoke the well-rehearsed discussion of 3

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2 A primary criticism of studies such as, e.g., Thomas (1992).

3 The hero of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound (460-461) mentions writing in his list of

inventions, all of which allowed ignorant mankind to make full use of his senses (442-444):

!"# $%&!&'( )* +,µ-!- | ".&/0-1’, 2( 03-( #4+5&6( 7#!-( !8 +%9# | :##&6( :14.-.-9 3%;## =+4$?&6(. Compare here Aristotle’s hierarchy of the levels of perception, where certain living things are capable of -@0140A( but not µ#,µ4, such that they cannot engage in 3%#Aµ- (Metaphysics A 980a-b).

4 Jakobson (1984/1959) especially makes several useful revisions to Saussure’s scheme, among which two are most applicable to this study: (1) far from being arbitrary, symbols and their interpretation are heavily dependent on context (28-29), and (2) “the signans must necessarily be perceptible whereas the signatum is translatable” (30).

iii !"#$%& 'µ$()*+,-..(##/ 0/1 23 4$5 463#! 073$(#$, 8!9 $"8 :3 ;$( !"#=3 +4+%3 $".+9& $".7#+1$3 '4?#+1?3 @A#( #B µC3 !"#?, #B.C D3$µ!.

–  –  –

Jowett streamlines the rather cumbersome prose: “But then how ridiculous would be the effect of names on things, if they were exactly the same with them! For they would be the doubles of them, and no one would be able to determine which were the names and which were the realities.” In his struggle to define objects using names, Socrates points us to a central tension between the physical world and the attempt to describe it verbally. Though his discussion remains fairly abstract, the passage serves as a useful point of departure for studying how the Greek world represents physical objects using words. In Socrates’ formulation, there exists a one-to-one correlation between concepts (or nameable things) and names, but the object and the label are distinct entities and separable. The label can in turn be manifested at a second level of representation—as text. The studies here work with the text both as a representation of the object and, subsequently, as an object to behold itself.


With a view to studying the connections between words and things, I take as my topic ancient lists of objects. While studies of ancient literacy unfailingly turn to a wide variety of texts to inform their analyses, they pause far less often to reflect on the genre, content, and purpose of that material. I maintain that a more focused corpus, chosen specifically on typological grounds, could reorient the discussion; thus I will include lists from varying historical periods, preserved in diverse media. Lists pertain to literacy not only on an analogical level. It is common knowledge that they tend to be one of the first applications of writing in early literate societies, yet no one has fully iv treated their relationship to oral and written culture in Greece. In particular,5 catalogues of objects deserve special attention for a few reasons. First, they embody three forms of communicative media: the physical or tactile (objects to be listed), the aural or audible (spoken or recited enumerations) and the visual or representational (written words). For the purposes of the ancient historian, then, they constitute at once material, traditional, and textual evidence, an unusually rich spectrum that can shed light on a large synchronic section of the population. Moreover, since they undoubtedly exist in some form in both pre- and post-alphabetic Greece, lists, unlike many other types of texts, are well suited to a diachronic study.

Working with a wide range of sources, I argue on the one hand that we ought to see the list of objects as a continuous cultural product in the Greek world from at least the archaic period on. At the earliest stages, it is realized orally in Homeric 6 poetry; later, it manifests itself in texts such as the prolific archival records of the fifth and fourth centuries. At intermediate moments, we may point, e.g., to Herodotus’ inventorying in his accounts. I see the list of objects, then, not as a creation of Athenian ‘document-mindedness,’ but as a singular tradition extant both orally and in writing, sometimes at once. On the other hand, I aim to show how the relationship between physical objects and the lists that describe them can reveal shifts in the literate population, and how analysis of such generic tendencies as the speaking object, textas-object, or archive-turned-monument ought to inform our understanding of representation as it occurs between the spoken and the written word. 7 5 Most frequently, lists crop up briefly in discussions of archives in general, thus Thomas’s Appendix on Early Greek Lists (1992: 287-288), Davies (2003) 323-324), or Sickinger (1999) 40.

6 It is tempting to adduce Mycenean evidence in this context, but I concentrate in the scope of this dissertation on post-Geometric Greece.

7 I find grounding for this in part in Foucault’s aemulatio, resemblance that takes place at a distance. As opposed to other forms of similitude that require an object to stand near its representation, “[t]he relation of emulation enables things to imitate one another from one end of the universe to the other without connection of proximity” (1994 [1966]: 19). Foucault provides as examples the stars in relation to the plants on earth, with humans as intermediaries, but we might consider here ancient lists of objects: the objects, like the plants, have a certain distant similitude to the larger, more audible or visible and more permanent text that lists them, but the relationship can function only through human interaction and specifically communicative behavior, whether oral or literate.



The project comprises a group of case studies, analyses of texts and text-objects that either have not traditionally entered into discussions of literacy, or that have but require a second look through a different lens. These texts cover a wide chronological and generic range. Some are epigraphic, some are literary; some are products of oral composition, while others arguably first appeared in writing. I contend that tracing the evolution of them in both their oral and written forms can provide both a more nuanced and a better holistic understanding of listmaking in general.

As the Greek corpus is replete with catalogues, it is useful to define what does and does not count as a list of objects for my purposes. Two recent studies have treated Homeric catalogues and Indo-European lists respectively, but this project is concerned chiefly with texts that enumerate groups of objects as collections. That is, 8 while the Athenian tribute lists or archon list, for example, are arguably catalogues of material things, they do not represent a unified physical reality inasmuch as their constituents never all stood together in one place at one time. The lists at issue here, in conception, provide verbal snapshots of grouped objects compiled in a particular place or on a certain occasion. Thus Iliad IX contains everything that would be presented to win back Achilles; a temple inventory shows what was at one point or another amassed in one precinct; and grocery lists or a catalogue of soldiers walking by or a burial inscription for the dead of a given battle behave the same way. In examining these documents, however, one finds that the relationship between list and collection is not as straightforward as it may seem. On the one hand, these snapshots do not always present an accurate portrait of the objects they purport to document, but on the other they rival them in importance.


If one judges from material evidence, it would appear that the inhabitants of the Greek world deemed it important to document their wealth from the Mycenaean period on.

While we may rightly conceive of the catalogue as an inextricable building block of the oral tradition, we can just as easily envision Agamemnon’s list of reparations for Achilles in Iliad IX documented on clay tablets. That the list resides comfortably in 9 8 Sammons (2010) and Galjanic (2007).

9 Its parataxis, especially, is reminiscent of the format of Mycenaean documents, which list objects, descriptions, and numbers.

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