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The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Inscriptions

The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Inscriptions

By Ronald S. Stroud (Corinth 18[6]). Pp. xxiv + 179, figs. 99, plans 4. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Princeton 2013. $150. ISBN 978-0-87661-186-9 (cloth).

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This volume is part of the series Corinth, which publishes the results of the excavations conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens on the site of the ancient city since 1986. It covers most of the more than 170 inscribed objects found on the site, with the exception of inscriptions on stamped architectural terracottas, which appeared in Corinth 18(3) (N. Bookidis and R.S. Stroud, The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: Topography and Architecture [Princeton 1997] 448–73); Roman lamp signatures and potter’s stamps, published in Corinth 18(2) (K.W. Slane, The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Roman Pottery and Lamps [Princeton 1990] 158); and stamped amphora handles and stamped loomweights, which will be included in later fascicles of Corinth 18. In this volume, Stroud presents the inscriptions on stone, metal, bone, and a mosaic (ch. 1), dipinti on pottery (ch. 2), graffiti on pottery (ch. 3), inscribed clay pinakes (ch. 4), and magical lead tablets (ch. 5). This material represents a very long span of time that corresponds to the shrine’s period of use from the seventh century B.C.E. until the end of the fourth century C.E.

In the introduction, Stroud points out that he carried out autopsy and transcription of all the texts (except for no. 87) and notes that—with the exception of four stone inscriptions (nos. 1–4), which are still in situ—all the inscriptions are now in the Archaeological Museum of Corinth and are “available for study” (1). This is not the only occasion where the eminent epigraphist invites his readers, more or less explicitly, to engage in the study of the material published in this volume. Despite the difficulties posed by the decipherment of texts on lead tablets or by the interpretation of puzzling documents such as the inscribed clay pinakes, it is nonetheless remarkable, especially in the case of a scholar of Stroud’s caliber, that the editor of a new corpus of inscriptions affirms (regarding the magical lead tablets of ch. 5): “My transcriptions can in no sense be regarded as definitive.... It is now time for others to try their hands at deciphering and restoring passages whose correct reading and plausible meaning have eluded me” (83).

Each chapter opens with introductory remarks regarding the corresponding epigraphic category; catalogues of inscriptions follow. Entries are numbered serially and are assigned a label describing both the epigraphic media and the type of inscribed object. A photograph and often a drawing are provided for each of the 135 inscriptions published in the book. Also included are the Corinth inventory number, measurements, physical description, findspot with grid reference (with reference to plans 1–4; further, large-scale plans of the excavated area showing the site divisions, i.e., Lower, Middle, and Upper Terrace, are also available in Bookidis and Stroud [2007] plans 1–8, 11), indication of relevant previous publications or of the object’s unpublished status, date, Greek text (the only Latin text is the lead tablet no. 135), and translation. A section called “Notes on Readings” offers a thorough description of the physical appearance of letters, with a special emphasis on doubtful readings.

A “Commentary” section follows, which discusses at length each document’s content and context—with respect to the actual findspot and to the sanctuary as a whole—and provides valuable reflections on further related topics.

In total, only 10 inscriptions on stone were found in the sanctuary, of which only one is a probable dedication (no. 1). This situation is consistent with that of other sanctuaries in the Corinthia. As Stroud aptly observes (3), the large number of inscriptions on pottery (it is noteworthy that in terms of quantity, Corinthian graffiti and dipinti on pottery are second only to Attic vase inscriptions; cf. 17, and more generally, chs. 2–3) demonstrates that the relative dearth of dedications on stone in the region cannot be explained by assuming a low literacy level or a general backwardness; instead, it clearly denotes a local preference.

Interestingly, four of the 10 inscriptions on stone are archaic–classical boundary markers displaying an abbreviated form of the word horos (nos. 2–5). This is an epigraphic category that is not particularly well represented in the Greek world (to the examples mentioned on p. 8 n. 17, one may add rock-cut inscriptions from Attica both in abbreviated form and displaying the full word “horos”; see I. Bultrighini, “Gli horoi rupestri dell’Attica,” Center for Hellenic Studies Online Publications [2013]

Chapter 2 (“Dipinti on Pottery”) is subdivided typologically into “Dedications,” “Labels of Figures,” “ΚΑΛΟΣ Inscriptions,” “Commercial Inscriptions,” “Imitation Inscriptions,” “Incerta,” and “Dedicatory Tray?” Similarly, chapter 3 (“Graffiti on Pottery”) comprises the subsections “Dedications,” “Ownership Inscriptions,” “Personal Names,” “Miscellaneous,” “Incerta,” and “Other Examples,” the last including archaic to Roman sherds carrying very fragmentary graffiti, of which scarcely a single letter can be identified.

Chapter 4 deals with 20 inscriptions on clay pinakes, which form a homogeneous group of inscribed objects apparently bearing a series of divine/heroic names and epithets and which have been dated on paleographic grounds to the Early Hellenistic period. Despite Stroud’s comprehensive treatment, no satisfactory explanation of the function of these objects has thus far been achieved.

Chapter 5 (“Magical Lead Tablets”) alone occupies approximately half of the book, and understandably so, as these 18 inscribed lead tablets, which represent the largest total of defixiones found in a sanctuary in the Corinthia, are a treasure trove of information on a variety of subjects. As they all date to the Roman Imperial period, they offer valuable evidence for activity in the sanctuary during this phase of its history. Likewise, they contribute to the rapidly expanding field of research in Greek (and Latin) defixiones, and they shed light on further related topics such as the practice of magic at Corinth and more generally in the Graeco-Roman world, the condition of pagan women in Roman Corinth and the question of their literacy, and the coexistence of and interplay between what we may define as magical practices and “more canonical forms of religious worship” (157) in Greek sanctuaries, among others. For this chapter, Stroud wisely consulted a number of leading experts in this field (e.g., David R. Jordan and Henk S. Versnel), and despite being a “neophyte,” as he defines himself (81 n. 1), he has produced an excellent edition of these tablets as well as a comprehensive and cogent discussion attached to it. There are full concordances and indexes, including a general index, an index of ancient sources, an index of Greek and Latin names, and an index of Greek and Latin words. A minor flaw in this otherwise impeccable publication is a misspelled Italian quotation (85 n. 12).

In sum, this book is an excellent piece of scholarship that will be of great interest to anyone concerned not only with Corinthian epigraphy and religious life from the Archaic to the Late Antique period but also with a multiplicity of subjects and questions raised by the 135 inscribed objects published in the volume and brilliantly discussed by the author.

Ilaria Bultrighini
Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies
University College London

Book Review of The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Inscriptions, by Ronald S. Stroud

Reviewed by Ilaria Bultrighini

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 119, No. 4 (October 2015)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1194.Bultrighini

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