CIEGL XIII: Plenary Session 4, ‘Epigraphy and Government’

John Ma (Corpus Christi College, Oxford), “Greek Epigraphy and the Representation of Authority”, offered a refreshingly ‘outside the box’ lecture revolving around the intricate ways inscriptions represent authority. Authority in inscriptions may be specified (the demos, the body politic, the ruler, an hierarchical chain of command of officials [as in SEG 37.1010], divine power), implied, or even be internal, when the inscribed text poses as a self-fulfilling demonstration of power. The effect is amplified by the choice of an ἐπιφανέστατος τόπος where the inscribed monument is erected. The presence of the inscribed text in a place of preexisting high status and the preeminence and visibility thus achieved entrenches power in two ways: it confirms the power the text evokes and it confirms the power of the text itself. However, one must not forget that this is a power to which the reader may or may not yield. The inscribed text, therefore, is often best seen as a form of social magic, a contract with the eventual reader; in other words, a magic of consent. The inscribed text, naturally, attempts to hide its actual impotence by concentrating on its projected authority; this is another reminder for epigraphers that philological expertise is hardly enough to help us understand inscriptions without the use of our sense of historical realities and our sense of discourse.

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