9780190626310

The Language of Ruins Greek and Latin Inscriptions on the Memnon Colossus

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780190626310

  • ISBN10:

    0190626313

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2018-05-01
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
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Summary

A colossal statue, originally built to honor an ancient pharaoh, still stands today in Egyptian Thebes, with more than a hundred Greek and Latin inscriptions covering its lower surfaces. Partially damaged by an earthquake, and later re-identified as the Homeric hero Memnon, it was believed to "speak" regularly at daybreak. By the middle of the first century CE, tourists flocked to the colossus of Memnon to hear the miraculous sound, and left behind their marks of devotion (proskynemata): brief acknowledgments of having heard Memnon's cry; longer lists by Roman administrators; and more elaborate elegiac verses by both amateur and professional poets. The inscribed names left behind reveal the presence of emperors and soldiers, provincial governors and businessmen, elite women and military wives, and families with children.

While recent studies of imperial literature acknowledge the colossus, few address the inscriptions themselves. This book is the first critical assessment of all the inscriptions considered in their social, cultural, and historical context. The Memnon colossus functioned as a powerful site of engagement with the Greek past, and appealed to a broad segment of society. The inscriptions shed light on contemporary attitudes toward sacred tourism, the role of Egypt in the Greco-Roman imagination, and the cultural legacy of Homeric epic. Memnon is a ghost from the Homeric past anchored in the Egyptian present, and visitors yearned for a "close encounter" that would connect them with that distant past. The inscriptions thus idealize Greece by echoing archaic literature in their verses at the same time as they reflect their own historical horizon. These and other subjects are expertly explored in the book, including a fascinating chapter on the colossus's post-classical life when the statue finds new worshippers among Romantic artists and poets in nineteenth-century Europe.

Author Biography


Patricia A. Rosenmeyer is Charles L. Paddison Professor of Classics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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