Talking objects

 

In Ancient Greece people would write on almost any kind of object. For example, votes to send a politician to exile for 10 years were written on pottery sherds! This practice of the Athenian democracy was called ostracism because the name for “sherds” in Ancient Greek is ὄστρακα (ostraka).

 

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Fragments of ceramic with votes for ostracism. Picture taken by the author: Agora Museum, Athens.

 

But often the text inscribed on these objects was composed in the first person, so that the object talks to the reader. These texts were even more effective in Antiquity, as ancient sources suggest that reading was always done out loud (silent reading was not practised until Late Antiquity!). The result was that the object was actually speaking through the reader, who would say, for example, “I was dedicated by [name]”. So try to read out loud the following inscriptions, as an ancient Greek would do.

 

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Tataie’s aryballos ©Trustees of the British Museum.

 

We have many examples of objects claiming to have an owner. One of my favourites is this one, which also curses whoever dares to steal the vase: I am Tataie’s lekythos, may he who steals me go blind. (I feel especially attached to this one because they asked me to read it in the interview to become a member of the CREWS project).

 

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Text of the inscription. From LSAG pl.47.

 

But even more interesting are the talking statues. The most famous are those of Nikandre and Mantiklos. Both of them are dedications to the gods and in their inscriptions the statues tell us who dedicated them and to whom.

 

A cast of Nikandre’s statue can be found in the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the Cambridge Faculty of Classics (just outside the door of the CREWS office!). We invite you to come to see it and find the inscription on one of its sides, where we can read: Nikandre daughter of Deinodikos the Naxian outstanding amongst women, sister of Deinomenes and now wife of Phraxos, dedicated me to the far-shooting archeress.

 

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Original statue at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. https://www.flickr.com/photos/69716881@N02/19558548431

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Text of the inscription. http://farrago-cambridge.blogspot.com.es/2015/06/notes-on-inscriptions-nikandres-central.html

 

The other statuette has an amazingly small inscription on its legs that says: Mantiklos dedicated me to the far-shooter, silver-bowed god, as a tithe. Phoibos, provide charis in return!

 

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Picture from the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston http://www.mfa.org/

 

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Text of the inscription. From LSAG pl.7.

 

There are many other talking objects like these ones. Feel free to share any of them! You can get in touch with us via Twitter (@crewsproject) or via email to crews@classics.cam.ac.uk.

 

~ Natalia Elvira Astoreca (CREWS PhD student)

 

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