Thursday, June 6, 2013


Benjamin W. Millis, S. Douglas Olson, Inscriptional Records for the Dramatic Festivals in Athens: IG II2 2318-2325 and Related Texts. Brill studies in Greek and Roman epigraphy. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012. Pp. xii, 238. ISBN 9789004229129. $163.00.

Reviewed by Stephen D. Lambert, Cardiff University and Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (

Version at BMCR home site


Much of our factual information about the dramatic competitions at the City Dionysia and the Lenaia, and the poets and actors who participated in them from the 5th century to the mid-second century BC, derives from three series of Athenian inscriptions conventionally known as the Fasti, the Didascaliae and the Victors Lists. Until now the authoritative texts have been Johannes Kirchner's IG II2 2318-2325, published in 1931, which were heavily dependent on the work of earlier scholars, especially that of Edward Capps, and Adolf Wilhelm's Urkunden dramatischer Aufführungen in Athen (1906). With the passage of time, however, and the discovery of new fragments, the IG texts have become outdated. In this welcome and scholarly book Millis and Olson present a complete re-edition of all of the known fragments, based commendably on fresh autopsy and a fundamental re-analysis of the relationship of the fragments to each other in their respective monuments.

Each of four main chapters (1, 2 and 4 on the Fasti, Didascaliae and Victors Lists, and the shorter chapter 3 on what seems to be a separate series relating to actors' competitions) is introduced by a helpful summary of the information supplied by the inscriptions, and an extensive discussion of the relationship of the fragments. The Greek texts (no translations are supplied) are supported by excellent photographs, and for the Fasti and part of the Didascaliae by a very helpful representation of the text in small print on a single page, with a schematic indication of the relative position of the fragments. For each fragment there is a technical description and bibliography; "epigraphical notes" (which serve also as an apparatus criticus); and prosopographical notes and comments.

Following Capps, Millis and Olson reconstruct the 13 fragments of the Fasti (IG II2 2318 + one added by Capps in 1943), mostly found on the acropolis, as belonging to a single wall, consisting of multiple blocks. They list, under archon dates, the victorious tribe and choregos in boys' dithyramb and men's dithyramb, the victorious poet and choregos in comedy and tragedy, and from ca. 450 the victor in the tragic actors' competition. The earliest preserved entry dates to 473/2, the latest to 329/8. The inscriber's hand changes at some point between 347/6 and 343/2, which Millis and Olson interpret as indicating that the original text was updated by later additions. Millis and Olson reconstruct the numerous fragments of the Didascaliae (IG II2 2319- 23a + SEG XXVI 203) as belonging to one, or perhaps a set of four, inscriptions recording performances of tragedy and comedy at the City Dionysia and Lenaia (poets and actors are listed, but not choregoi), including non- competitive events (satyr plays and "old" tragedies and comedies). Preserved entries date from 421/0 (tragedy at the Lenaia) to the 140s or 130s (comedy at the Dionysia). They reject Reisch's widely accepted theory of 1907 that these fragments were from walls which belonged to the same structure as the architrave blocks on which the Victors Lists are inscribed, on the grounds that the architrave would have been too small to cover the walls.

In Chapter 3 Millis and Olson present a small group of fragments (SEG XXVI 208 and IG II2 2324) which they interpret tentatively as third-century records of preliminary competitions for actors, the victor being entitled to stage a play of his choice at the City Dionysia.

Chapter 4 presents the 43 fragments of the Victors' Lists (IG II2 2325 + three additional fragments, two published by Peppas-Delmousou in 1977 and the third, SEG XLVIII 183, known only from a transcription by Pittakys and here associated with this set of inscriptions for the first time). They are inscribed on a set of architrave blocks from a monument reconstructed as hexagonal by Reisch, but as rectilinear by Millis and Olson, and (from the findspot of most of the fragments on the south slope of the acropolis) as having originally stood in the sacred precinct of Dionysos. On the exterior face of one of the fragments is an early-3rd-century inscription commemorating a victory in the boys' dithyramb (IG II2 3080); and Reisch associated with the monument a separate inscription commemorating a dedication to Dionysos by the agonothete in the archonship of Anaxikrates (279/8 BC, IG II2 2853). Whether or not Reisch's association is correct (not discussed by the authors), this whole monument seems to have had the character of an agonistic dedication. The fragments are inscribed with eight lists containing the names of victorious poets and actors in tragedy and comedy at the City Dionysia and the Lenaia, in the order of their first victory, each name followed by the lifetime total number of victories. The original lists seem to have been dedicated in (perhaps) 279/8, but there are additions in later hands surviving for some of the lists, taking them down to ca. 150s-140s BC.

An Appendix presents three fragments of inscriptions from Rome (IGUR 216, 215 and 218) which perhaps decorated the walls of an imperial library and gave the agonistic history of comic poets, listing them in the order in which they first competed.

The book is rounded off by a useful index of personal names mentioned in the inscriptions (but there is no index of plays).

As well as being fundamental to the authors' work on the reconstruction of the monuments, their autopsy of the stones has yielded worthwhile progress with the text (to take an example, the choregos for men's dithyramb in 376/5, it seems, was Moschos of Alopeke, Halai or Halimous, not Angele, p. 56); and the publication of excellent photographs of all of the surviving stones is a valuable advance. It would have been beneficial also to include one of Fourmont's transcripts of the lost fragment of the Didascaliae, IG II2 2319, as it might have corroborated the authors' prima facie quite persuasive arguments for a new interpretation of the arrangement of the columns in this and related fragments assigned to the same group.

A commendable effort has been made to improve on Kirchner's presentation of the texts, but the overall result is not entirely satisfactory. With the Fasti, for example, the reader must look for different information at three different reproductions of the same text. Only one text of the Victors Lists is presented. It is not, however, printed continuously, but split into multiple sections, divided from each other by commentary. These sections are cumbersome to refer to as they are not labelled, other than by the numbers assigned to the fragments in previous publications, and the different fragments that make up each section are not marked off in the text. The text of the Didascaliae omits an important feature altogether, the paragraphoi (inscribed lines marking off sections of text).

A topic of great interest with these inscriptions is the identification of the hands of different cutters. The study of hands is a highly specialised field, and the authors properly refer to the findings of the leading expert, Stephen Tracy (though p. 77, on the Didascaliae, while it duly cites Tracy's Attic Letter Cutters of 229 to 86 BC, gives no page references and misses Tracy's identification of "hand 4" as his cutter of Agora I 6006). In general, however, they might have done more to pin down more precisely the hands and their implications for the chronology of the monuments. For example, the obvious question as to whether a change of hand necessarily implies a subsequent update, or could merely represent more than one cutter working at the same time on a large monument, goes unasked. (It might have been helpful here to adduce parallels from some of the many other long inscriptions studied by Tracy).

The authors' epigraphical and prosopographical notes are good, clear and helpful. See for example the notes justifying [Θεόφιλο]ς, IG II2 2323a, col. 1, l. 15 (p. 74); Ἀσ⟨π⟩ίδι (Α̣ΣΤΙΔΙ Fourmont), IG II2 2319, col. 1, l. 1 (p. 109); Ἀρι[στοφάνης], victor with Babylonians in 427/6, IG II2 2325c, col. 2, l. 24, against Wilhelm's Ἀρι[στομένης] (p. 157); the note summarising Sophocles' victories (p. 147). Attic prosopography is a fast-moving field, enriched in recent years by much new information accruing from advances in epigraphy. The authors do not, however, engage in primary prosopography and are generally content simply to reference standard prosopographical works, including John Traill's excellent Persons of Ancient Athens, though it is not clear that they cross-checked Traill's data with the Attica volume of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names or, an even more sensible precaution, with Sean G. Byrne's superb Athenian Onomasticon website, which is the most complete and up-to-date Attic prosopographical resource of all, and deserves to be much more widely known and used.

The treatment of the many layers of earlier scholarship with a set of inscriptions such as these is not easy to manage. Millis and Olson's approach is to argue points from first principles, which is commendable, but sometimes leaves the reader uncertain as to where they are following earlier scholars, while the views of scholars with whom they disagree are sometimes dealt with (often in footnotes) a little dismissively or contentiously (as, e.g., Summa's view that the "actors' competitions" fragments present results from a contest of old plays at the Dionysia, p. 123 n. 3).

The authors' extensive discussions of the physical reconstruction of the monuments will undoubtedly be a useful point of reference for future epigraphists working on the stones. Armchair readers, without the stones before them, will be filled with admiration for the careful argumentation, but also some frustration, for the style of writing in these sections is not easy to follow, and the sentence structure is unnecessarily convoluted. They will also be left with questions about how firmly based some of the reconstructions are. It is somewhat disconcerting, for example, to discover that the authors' reconstruction of the Fasti "wall" (following Capps) requires the assumption of a missing year (p. 23) and that the only surviving fragment from the putative third course of blocks, fr. e, though taken to be from the left side of a block, apparently lacks anathyrosis (pp. 26-27). The distinction between what is reasonably certain reconstruction and what is merely possible could have been more clearly drawn and more attention could have been directed to alternative possibilities.

This important work of scholarship performs a major service in presenting full, up-to-date texts of these inscriptions and will be particularly useful to those interested in gleaning factual information about plays, poets, actors and choregoi. Epigraphically this will be a key reference for future work, even if it leaves many doors open to future work. For example, no attempt is made at broader explanatory or historical contextualisation. The authors do not even reflect on the rationale for the different sets of information presented by the different series of texts. The relationship of the inscriptions to archival records is explored only briefly, and there is no discussion of the purpose and function of the inscriptions, their broader monumental context (e.g. on the significance of the Victors' lists as an agonistic victory monument in the context of other victory monuments), and no attempt to elucidate the broader picture of Athens' developing relationship to her past in the Hellenistic period and the crucial importance of the theatre in general, and of these inscriptions in particular, in that context. This book will, however, be a valuable resource for those interested in pursuing these topics.1


1.   This review was written while I was a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. I gladly acknowledge the support there of the Patrons' Endowment fund and the Loeb Classical Library Foundation.

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