BMCR review of Epigraphy and the Greek Historian

Today’s BMCR distribution includes Claire Taylor’s review of the Philip Harding Festschrift (BMCR 2009.05.23):

Craig Cooper (ed.), Epigraphy and the Greek Historian. Phoenix Supplementary Volume, 47. Toronto/Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Pp. xvii, 197. ISBN 9780802090690. $75.00.

It is worth reproducing here the thoughtful last paragraph of this review, which, while not overly critical of the volume per se, does provide a challenge to epigraphers, and especially to historians in their perceptions of epigraphy:

What is clear from this book is that every Greek historian should also be an epigrapher. But it is equally clear that every historian should be able to interpret literary and archaeological evidence as well; this is as true of places like Keos or Thera where the epigraphic or literary evidence is meagre, as it is of larger cities like Athens. Isolating epigraphy to serve only the narrow confines of ‘what the literary sources leave out’ neglects its true value to the historian. Festschriften naturally look back to a scholar’s contribution to the field—and the honorand has contributed a great deal—and (quite rightly) are defined by that scholar’s interests; the discipline of epigraphy however needs to look forward to embrace a wider range of questions than those offered here.

The value of epigraphy is of course something that exercises all of us in this sub-discipline, and comments like Taylor’s are an important reminder that open-mindedness is a two-way street. As frustrating and damaging as it is to hear a historian ignore epigraphic evidence out of disciplinary short-sightedness, it is just as alienating to see epigraphers refuse to familiarize themselves with papyrological, ethnographic, art-historical, or digital discipines and conventions. We cannot all be masters of all trades, but no Classicist works in a vacuum.

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