Review of Graf/Johnston, Bacchic Gold Tablets

Just catching up with this: last week in BMCR 2007.10.15 a review of

Fritz Graf, Sarah Iles Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets. London/New York: Routledge, 2007. Pp. x, 246. ISBN 978-0-415-41551-4. £18.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Franco Ferrari, Università dell’Aquila – I

The reviewer gives a very thorough summary of this volume, which combines epigraphic editions of the known (and three new) texts by Graf, along with Johnston’s translations and commentary on the Dionysiac and Orphic myths. Ferrari for some reason seems offended by what he terms the “diplomatic” transcription of the lamellae (by which he means that it “retain[s] the exact spelling of words as they appear on the tablets in order to document the degree of literacy possessed by these local writers” and “could not admit any textual alteration”). But he otherwise praises this wide-ranging book intended for a broad readership, although he recognises that “Much remains to be done in order to understand both the mystery leaves and some elusive figures like Dionysus, Orpheus, Mnemosyne.”

Further, on the epigraphic front:

Lastly, an appendix of “additional Bacchic texts” (pp. 185-190) contains the Olbia bone tablets (no. 94a-c Dubois), the inscriptions from Olbia no. 92 e 95 Dubois, and the translation of col. i of P.Gurôb 1 and the edict of Ptolemy IV Philopator preserved in P.Berlin 11774. One could usefully have added Posidippus’ epigrams 43, 44, 60, and 118 A.-B., a very interesting witness to Dionysiac cults in Macedonia, and the contemporary epitaph (anon. 148 FGE) for Philicus of Corcyra, who was both a poet and a priest of Dionysus.

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One Response to Review of Graf/Johnston, Bacchic Gold Tablets

  1. There has been a second review of this volume in the same journal, by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, Bryn Mawr College (and one of the editors of BMCR). This is largely a more positive review, with the exception of Edmonds’ labelling of the chapter on the myth of Dionysus Zagreus as “the most flawed” for its simplistic assumption of a single date for the bricolage collection.

    I’m not sure how this ended up being reviewed twice, but the two reviewers seem to have had rather different agendas, so it made for an interesting comparison.

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