19. Posidippus’ Iamatika [1]

Peter Bing, Emory University
The Milan papyrus confronts its modern readers with many surprises, among them—due to its singular subject matter—the short section entitled ἰαματικά (AB 95–101). To help us get our bearings in the terrain of this extraordinary new text, I want in this paper to pose some rudimentary questions such as the following:
  1. What are the epigrams about?
  2. Do they function as an ensemble?
  3. Where should we seek their generic antecedents or models?
  4. and finally,
  5. What kind of reader-response do they elicit?
To begin with the most basic: What are these epigrams about? The ἰαματικά comprise only seven poems, all four verses long except the first, which is eight, [2] and all concerning cures, ἰάματα. These cures are sudden and miraculous; they appear as testimony to the beneficent power of the healer-god, Asclepius. [3] With the exception of AB 95, the poems consistently invoke Asclepius, [4] or have to do with his cult. [5] Indeed, even the doctor of poem 1, who discovered a cure for the bite of the Libyan asp, owes his success to having received “all the panacea of Asclepius’ sons” (AB 95.5–6). [6]
Proceeding to our second question we ask, in light of so unified a subject matter, whether the poems comprise an artfully arranged set, i.e. a deliberately planned sequence with marked beginning and end. Let us assume as a working hypothesis that they do. Given the section-heading ἰαματικά this is an inherently plausible hypothesis. The title, like that of almost all the other sections, calls attention to the process of editing and classification, in that it consists of the substantivized neuter plural with the denominative suffix -ικά, indicating a collection of things classed together, in this case things having to do with cures, ἰάματα. [7] Whether the editorial hand belonged to the poet himself or to a somewhat later compiler we need not say. In any case, the hypothesis allows us to ask potentially useful questions about the ways in which the poems may work together to form a meaningful whole. What, for instance, can we say about the topics covered in the epigrams? Do they signify as a group? I believe they do. For the god is portrayed in the poems as curing an impressive range of illnesses. Taking the epigrams in order, we find—in addition to the snakebite of the first poem—cases of paralysis, epilepsy (the sacred disease), an infected wound made by a metal weapon, deafness, and blindness. It is striking that there is no overlap in these illnesses, that they are each quite different in kind. I think we may thus plausibly conclude that they were intended to be a representative assortment, to stand collectively for the entire spectrum of disease.
That exemplarity squares well with another consideration, namely the identity of the doctor who is the subject of the initial poem, Medeios of Olynthos, son of Lampon. It is highly probable that this doctor was the man of identical name and patronymic known to have held the prestigious position of eponymous priest of Alexander and the Theoi Adelphoi at Alexandria in the year 259/8 BCE, and attested in the following year as overseeing the proceeds of the royal tax for medical services, τὸ ἰατρικόν. [8] He was, in other words, a V.I.P., a player in the upper reaches of Philadelphus’ court. The section thus opens in a distinctly Ptolemaic key. But more, considering the first poem’s markedly greater length (double that of any other in the section) and emphatic position, we may reasonably wonder whether the Ptolemaic note carries over into the remaining six poems, and whether that representative assortment reflects the medical interests of this courtier, and was perhaps even compiled in his honor. [9]
Further signs of unified design appear when we ask if the epigrams collectively evoke a particular social context? Again we can answer in the affirmative, they clearly do. The context is that of sanctuaries of Asclepius such as Epidaurus, the most famous, where pilgrims flocked from throughout the Greek world to seek the god’s aid in overcoming illness. In the shrine, they offered sacrifice and prayers, and—most strikingly—underwent incubation in the hope that the god would appear to them in their sleep, either to cure outright or show them the road to health. Taken together the epigrams echo the rhythms of life at precisely such a shrine: Patients journey to the god. [10] They sacrifice and pray, [11] they experience the god’s power in the night, [12] and make thank-offerings. [13] Finally they go back home again when they’re done. [14]
Still other meanings emerge from these poems if we view them as an ensemble. I would suggest that the section offers readers the impression, as they turn from poem to poem, of strolling through a shrine of Asclepius. It allows them to play the part of imaginary pilgrim, or—in a more detached mode—uninvolved observer. In fact, as we shall presently learn, the official testimonials collected and inscribed by the authorities at Epidaurus themselves provide the model for such a reading of the Iamatika: they repeatedly envision visitors to the shrine strolling about and perusing inscriptions. [15] In this guise, Posidippus’ reader encounters diverse monuments—a cross-section typical of what a pilgrim might actually have seen at a healing-shrine—and pauses to read about them, as the pilgrim might have done through inscriptions: There is the statue in AB 95, the votive phiale of Coan Soses (AB 97), numerous testimonies recounting the wondrous cures of the god, like those on the countless pinakes that filled the shrine (AB 96, AB 98, AB 99, AB 100), or finally a worshipper’s prayer (AB 101). [16]
The evocation of such a setting in these poems leads to our third question: To what genre do Posidippus’ ἰαματικά belong? What is their model? There are notably few epigrams about cures in the Greek Anthology, and the handful we possess are mostly late in date. [17] Among inscribed epigrams there is a comparable dearth. [18] Those that we have, most datable in the fourth century BCE and after, are strikingly reticent about anything miraculous in the cures. Take for example the hexameter epigram by the orator Aeschines, which survives both in the Greek Anthology and as an inscription at Epidaurus (and happens to be our earliest acrostic):
[Αἰσχίνης Ἀτρο]μ̣ήτου Ἀθηναῖος | [Ἀσκληπιῶι ἀ]νέθηκεν.
θνητῶν μὲν τέχναις ἀπορούμενος ἐς δὲ τὸ θεῖον
ἐλπίδα πᾶσαν ἔχων, προλιπὼν εὔπαιδας Ἀθήνας,
ἰάθην ἐλθών, Ἀσκληπιέ, πρὸς τὸ σὸν ἄλσος,
ἕλκος ἔχων κεφαλῆς ἐνιαύσιον, ἐν τρισὶ μησίν.

Aeschines, son of Atrometus, from Athens dedicated (this) to Asclepius.
Despairing of mortal skill, and putting all hope
in the divine, I left Athens of the fair youths
and coming to your grove, Asclepius, was cured
in three months of a sore I’d had on my head for a year.
Here there is neither a spectacular illness (a headsore), nor sudden miraculous cure. It takes three months for the sore to heal. A comparable reticence appears in other fourth-century inscriptions. [19] None of them sound like what we find in Posidippus, where the sudden, miraculous cure, which may include paradox, is the rule.
Interestingly, what the marvelous tales in Posidippus’ Iamatika most closely recall, by contrast, are the prose inscriptions set up by temple authorities in the second half of the fourth century BCE at the sanctuary of Epidaurus (IG IV2, 1, nos.121–124). [20] Four large, carefully incised stelae survive, [21] containing accounts of some 66 miraculous cures. [22] They are entitled not ἰαματικά but [Ἰά]ματα τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος καὶ τοῦ Ἀσκλαπιοῦ. You could just as well call them “Asclepius’ greatest hits”: They were evidently culled from the great mass of votive tablets (pinakes), which filled the shrine, and were periodically cleared and buried by temple personnel so as to make room for more. [23]
We catch a glimpse of the transition from private votive to that official, collective text, as well as the addition of a notably miraculous element in the process, in the very first narrative on the stele, for here the private and relatively modest votive inscription is quoted within the text: [24]
[Κλ]εὼ πένθ᾿ ἔτη ἐκύησε. αὕτα πέντ᾿ ἐνιαυτοὺς ἤδη κυοῦσα ποὶ τὸν | [θε]ὸν ἱκέτις ἀφίκετο καὶ ἐνεκάθευδε ἐν τῶι ἀβάτωι· ὡς δὲ τάχισ | [τα] ἐξῆλθε ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐκ τοῦ ἱαροῦ ἐγένετο, κόρον ἔτεκε, ὃς εὐ | [θ]ὺς γενόμενος αὐτὸς ἀπὸ τᾶς κράνας ἐλοῦτο καὶ ἅμα τᾶι ματρὶ | [π]εριῆρπε. τυχοῦσα δὲ τούτων ἐπὶ τὸ ἄνθεμα ἐπεγράψατο· Οὐ μέγε | [θο]ς πίνακος θαυμαστέον, ἀλλὰ τὸ θεῖον, πένθ᾿ ἔτη ὡς ἐκύησε ἐγ γασ | τρὶ Κλεὼ βάρος, ἔστε ἐγκατεκοιμάθη καί μιν ἔθηκε ὑγιῆ.
Cleo was with child for five years. After she had been pregnant for five years she came as a suppliant to the god and slept in the Abaton. As soon as she left it and got outside the temple precincts she bore a son who, immediately after birth, washed himself at the fountain and walked about with his mother. In return for this favor she inscribed on her offering: “Admirable is not the greatness of the tablet, but the divinity, in that Cleo carried the burden in her stomach for five years, until she slept in the Temple and he made her sound.”
(IG IV2, 1, no.121, 3–6). [25]
The only miraculous element in the quoted tablet is the five-year pregnancy— and even here one may wonder whether the original votive truly concerned childbirth, as it describes what Cleo carried simply as βάρος, and makes no mention of delivery. The framing narrative embellishes this nucleus with Cleo’s urgent departure from the temple and immediate birth. It has her deliver, moreover, a child of incredible maturity, who washes himself in the fountain as soon as he is born, and is able to walk around—and presumably home, as well—with his mother. The modest votive is thus transformed from a personal commemoration into a wonder-tale celebrating the god’s miraculous benevolence—an aretalogy, in other words.
We see here how the texts selected for preservation were exceptional and wondrous in character (or capable of being made so), able to fulfill an ongoing aretalogical function that set them apart from workaday commemorations of less spectacular illnesses. Four of Posidippus’ epigrams (AB 96, AB 98, AB 99, and AB 100) share this aretalogical character, apparently not conforming to any other epigrammatic type (though see the discussion of AB 100 below).
I would suggest that inscriptions such as those at Epidaurus provided Posidippus with a model for these poems, particularly with regard to his content. In general, the maladies enumerated in those poems concerned with Asclepius find close parallels in the Epidaurian inscriptions, as do the character of the cures. [26] Recent scholars have explored how the early Hellenistic poets display in their epigrams a keen awareness of their genre’s inscriptional roots, and often play—as epigrammatists of later generations do not—on contemporary epigraphic topics and style. [27] Posidippus was well-positioned to indulge in such play, for in addition to being a master of the literary tradition—ἐν βύβλοις πεπονημένη, as he describes his soul in a previously known epigram (AP XII 98.3 = 6.3 GP)—he also knew his way around monuments, winning acclaim at particular shrines as a poet of inscribed verse. An inscription at Thermon from 263/2 records that the Aetolian league granted him proxeny in his capacity as ἐπιγραμματοποιός (IG IX2 1, 17 A = Testimonia 3 AB), and he also seems to appear in a proxeny list from the 270s at Delphi (Fouilles de Delphes III 3 no.192 = Testimonia 2 AB). As to the Iamatika, we need not think exclusively of Epidaurus. I wonder whether Posidippus’ work in Egypt exposed him to the cult of Imouthes/Asclepius at Memphis where, as D. J. Thompson (1988:210) notes, “the prayers and expectations of the Egyptian stelae with tales of miracles the god performs are indeed similar in tone and content to contemporary Greek inscriptions from the shrine of the god Asklepios at Epidaurus.” Poems by Posidippus certainly made it to Memphis, as we know from the Firmin-Didot papyrus, so why not the poet himself? In the ἰαματικά Posidippus used his familiarity with such settings to draw on an epigraphic model that scholars had not previously contemplated. Yet in principle it is a typically Hellenistic move: The poet here translates the subject matter of a prose-genre into poetic form, and shifts it from its inscriptional medium onto the scroll. [28]
This brings us to our final question, regarding reader-response: How should a reader evaluate the miraculous cures in Posidippus’ epigrams, situated as they are at a remove from both their generic model (the prose inscription, already remote from its source in private votives) and its physical setting in a shrine? [29] Do the poems endorse the cures or subvert them? In inquiring thus, we implicitly ask as well how Posidippus, an erudite and sophisticated reader, evaluated the cures he encountered on stone at shrines like Epidaurus, and how his literary reworking of such material reflects his response, as mediated for his readership. Indeed, it is well to bear in mind the multiple layers of interpretive mediation in play here, for in experiencing the Iamatika an audience is reading Posidippus’ readings of the sanctuary authorities’ readings of the personal votives. In any case, to contemplate the Iamatika on the scroll is to have an altogether different experience from that of the stricken pilgrim encountering engraved Iamata at a shrine, and the distance between these experiences may incline the poet’s readers toward a more detached, perhaps even skeptical stance—an inclination no doubt even stronger for a modern scholar/ reader with the added distance of time, the attendant change in mentality.
Leaving the epigrams aside for a moment, it is useful to recall that in ancient times people could be quite skeptical of what went on in healing-sanctuaries. While the archaeological record leaves no doubt that a sanctuary like Epidaurus enjoyed enormous popular esteem, particularly from the mid-fourth century onwards, [30] nevertheless the cult did not elicit universal trust. There is the story that tells how Diogenes the Cynic once saw a woman prostrate herself before the god. “Wishing to free her [and those like her] of their superstition, . . . he dedicated to Asclepius a fierce ruffian who, whenever people prostrated themselves, would run up to them and beat them up.” (βουλόμενος αὐτῆς περιελεῖν τὴν δεισιδαιμονίαν . . . τῷ Ἀσκληπιῷ ἀνέθηκε πλήκτην, ὃς τοὺς ἐπὶ στόμα πίπτοντας ἐπιτρέχων συνέτριβεν, Diogenes Laertius VI 37–38). Now one might consider the skepticism of a Diogenes an extreme case, but we find similar sentiments voiced among the inscribed Epidaurian Ἰάματα themselves. One text in particular, IG IV2, 1, no.121.22, placed near the start of the first stele, and so perhaps intended programmatically, presents starkly conflicting assessments of the god’s miraculous cures. Perhaps it can also help us set interpretive parameters, and provide a baseline for evaluating possible reader-response to Posidippus’ Iamatika:
Ἀνὴρ τοὺς τᾶς χηρὸς δακτύλιους ἀκρατεῖς ἔχων πλὰν | ἑνὸς ἀφίκετο ποὶ τὸν θεὸν ἱκέτας· θεωρῶν δὲ τοὺς ἐν τῶι ἱαρῶι | πίνακας ἀπίστει τοῖς ἰάμασιν καὶ ὑποδιέσυρε τὰ ἐπιγράμμα | | [τ]α. ἐγκαθεύδων δὲ ὄψιν εἶδε· ἐδόκει ὑπὸ τῶι ναῶι ἀστραγάλίζον | [τ]ος αὐτοῦ καὶ μέλλοντος βάλλειν τῶι ἀστραγάλωι, ἐπιφανέντα | [τ]ὸν θεὸν ἐφαλέσθαι ἐπὶ τὰν χῆρα καὶ ἐκτεῖναί οὑ τοὺς δακτύ<λ> | λους· ὡς δ᾿ ἀποβαίη, δοκεῖν συγκάμψας τὰν χῆρα καθ᾿ ἕνα ἐκτείνειν | τῶν δακτύλων· ἐπεὶ δὲ πάντας ἐξευθύναι, ἐπερωτῆν νιν τὸν θεόν, | | εἰ ἔτι ἀπιστησοῖ τοῖς ἐπιγράμμασι τοῖς ἐπὶ τῶμ πινάκων τῶν | κατὰ τὸ ἱερόν, αὐτὸς δ᾿ οὐ φάμεν. “ὅτι τοίνυν ἔμπροσθεν ἀπίστεις | αὐτο[ῖ]ς οὐκ ἐοῦσιν ἀπίστοις, τὸ λοιπὸν ἔστω τοι,” φάμεν, “Ἄπιστος | ὄν[ομα].” ἁμέρας δὲ γενομένας ὑγιὴς ἐξῆλθε.
A man whose fingers, with the exception of one, were paralyzed, came as a suppliant to the god. While looking at the tablets in the Temple he expressed incredulity regarding the cures and scoffed at the inscriptions. But in his sleep he saw a vision. It seemed to him that, as he was playing at dice below the temple and was about to cast the dice, the god appeared, sprang upon his hand, and stretched out his [the patient’s] fingers. When the god had stepped aside it seemed to him [the patient] that he [the patient] bent his hand and stretched out all his fingers one by one. When he had straightened them all, the god asked him if he would still be incredulous of the inscriptions on the tablets in the Temple. He answered that he would not. “Since, then, formerly you were incredulous of the cures, though they were not incredible, for the future,” he said, “your name shall be ‘Incredulous’.” When day dawned he walked out sound. [31]
I believe that we have here one potential roadmap for interpreting the Iamatika of Posidippus. For this is a text about how to read accounts of miraculous cures. In it we are presented with two models of reader-response, twin poles marking the end-points along an axis of belief, the one skeptical, the other favoring credence. Of course, the narrative strongly endorses the latter: readers should believe wholeheartedly in the powers of the god. That conclusion should not surprise, given the document’s setting at the god’s chief shrine. On the other hand it scarcely compels Posidippus’ readers, who operate under quite different circumstances, to discard whatever skepticism they may have had. Posidippus does not stage as a guide for his audience any comparable encounter with divinity (nor even provide them an authoritative voice or point of view), and so their experience must a fortiori remain open to both poles of interpretation set out on the Epidaurian stele, and all gradations in between.
Consider the case of Soses of Cos in AB 97:
ἰητήρια ϲοὶ νούϲων, Ἀϲκληπιέ, Κῶιοϲ
     δορεῖται Ϲωϲῆ<ϲ> ἀργυρέην φιάλην,
οὗ ϲὺ τὸν ἐξαετῆ {α}κάματον <θ>᾿ ἅμα καὶ νόϲον ἱ{ε}ρήν,
     δαῖμον, ἀποξύϲαϲ ςιχεο νυκτὶ̣ μ̣ιῆι.

In payment to you for curing his sickness, Asclepius, Coan
     Soses dedicates a silver libation bowl,
he whose six-year illness, together with the sacred disease,
     divinity, you came and wiped away in a single night.
Nothing in this epigram militates against our considering it a stock expression of popular piety. To be sure, a silver phiale is a particularly handsome gift, but ἰητήρια (= ἴατρα), “thank-offerings for cure”, are attested in numerous inscriptions at Epidaurus (cf. LSJ s.v. ἴατρα). Similarly epilepsy, the sacred disease, is well known in the Epidaurian stelae (IG IV2, 1 no. 123, 115). Six years is a conventional duration for an illness (IG IV2, 1 no.121, 95, Hippocrates Epidemics 5.46, and AB 98). And the traditions of the god’s healing hand, which here “wipes away” the disease, and also of his nocturnal appearance to the pilgrim, are likewise quite common, as Weinreich has shown in detail. [32]
But Soses turns up again in a starkly different light after just five poems, in the second epigram of the section entitled τρόποι (AB 103): [33]
οὐδ᾿[{ε}] ἐ̣περωτή̣ϲαϲ̣ με νόμ̣ου̣ χάριν οὔτε πόθε<ν> γῆϲ
     εἰμ̣ὶ παραϲ̣τείχειϲ ο̣ὔ̣τ̣ε̣ [τίϲ ο]ὔ̣τε τίνων·
ἀλλὰ ϲύ μ᾿ {ε̣} ἡϲ̣υ̣χ̣ι̣[ωϲ ἴδε κείμεν]ο̣ν, εἰμὶ δ᾿ ἐγὼ παῖϲ
     Ἀλκαίου Ϲωϲ̣ῆ̣ϲ̣ Κ̣ῶ̣[ιοϲ, ὁμόϲ, ποτ]ε, ϲοῦ

You didn’t even ask, for custom’s sake, what land I’m from;
     no, nor who I am, nor descended from whom. You just walk by.
Come on, [look at] me [lying] peaceably. I’m the son
     of Alcaeus, Soses of Cos, [alive once, same] as you.
Though he had appeared cured of both epilepsy and his unspecified six-year illness in the third Iamatikon (AB 97), poor Soses is envisioned here as having suffered a grave setback—the gravest: he is dead! Might the title τρόποι refer among other things to such sharp “turns” of fortune as we see between these two poems (LSJ s.v. I)? In any case, it is hard retrospectively not to find humor in the earlier poem. For, despite his pious gratitude before, Soses has become a cranky old corpse. That silver phiale, precious as it was, did not ensure happiness. Now Soses makes no allusion to prior blessings, no reference to divinity at all. He just berates the passerby for his breach of decorum in not inquiring about his identity. The four-fold repetition of negatives in metrically emphatic positions—including verse-start, bucolic diaeresis, and following the caesura of the pentameter—is a humorously over-the-top way of having Soses express his indignation. One thing is certain: Nothing about the way he lies in his tomb is “peaceable” (ἡϲυχι[ωϲ . . . κείμεν]ον)! On the contrary he makes darn sure that, willy-nilly, the passerby will hear his full provenance, patronymic included (which had been omitted from the first poem), especially as he had so rudely failed to ask about it. In light of this unexpected reversal in fortune, the first poem—and with it, Soses—appear tinged with comic irony. [34]
An epigram that permits a comparably double reading is the sixth Iamatikon (AB 100), about the elderly blind man, Zenon:
ἡνίκ᾿ ἔδει Ζήνωνα τὸν̣ ἥ̣ϲυχον ὕπνον ἰαύειν,
     πέμπτον ἐπ᾿ εἰκοϲτῶι τυφλὸν ἐόντα θέρει,
ὀγδωκο̣ν̣τ̣α̣έ̣τ̣η̣ϲ ὑγιὴ̣ϲ γένετ᾿ ἠέλιον δέ
     δὶϲ μοῦ̣[νον βλέψαϲ τὸ]ν̣ βαρὺν εἶδ᾿{ε} Ἀίδην.

When Zenon had to sleep that gentle sleep,
     in blindness for the twenty-fifth summer,
at age eighty he was cured. But glimpsing
     the sun only twice, he beheld oppressive Hades.
A pious reading (which can certainly be justified given the epigram’s location in the Iamatika) might construe this poem as conventionally aretalogical. When Zenon, elderly though he was and blind for a quarter century already, sought divine help for his affliction through incubation (“When [he] had to sleep that gentle sleep”, line 1), the god gladdened his final days by miraculously restoring his sight. If, according to the proverb, one should count no man happy till he dies, then surely (that pious reading suggests) Zenon may be accounted such.
But the poem also allows a darker construction: on a purely formal level it could just as well be an epitaph. One would not have been surprised to find it in Book VII of the Greek Anthology. [35] Indeed, I believe one could assign it to a well known, presumably epideictic sepulchral type, the “paradox in death”. Unique among the poems of the Iamatika, this one contains no mention of the healing god. That, of course, could be supplied from the context within the section. Thus it was obvious to read the first verse as referring to incubation. In itself, however, the phrase ὕπνον ἰαύειν in the first verse could just as well refer to death (as at GV 455, 1874.7, AP XVI 375; for death as a “sleep” cf. LSJ s.v.). That is, when Zenon was going to die, his sight was suddenly restored—a bitter blessing, as it turned out. For with its pointed final words, εἶδ᾿ {ε} Ἀίδην, the epigram manifestly plays on the etymology of Hades as “invisible”, ἀιδήϲ, the place where “nothing is seen” (cf. e.g. Plato, Cratylus 403a). [36] Rather than enjoy the sightless sleep of death (ὕπνον ἰαύειν), Zenon now can see. But what does he behold? Nothing, for ever—a grimly ironic, paradoxical demise. [37]
A further epigram that seems to invite double reading is that on Asclas of Crete (AB 99):
ὁ Κρὴϲ κωφὸϲ ἐὼν Ἀϲκλ̣[ᾶϲ, μη]δ̣᾿ οἷοϲ ἀκούειν
     αἰγιαλῶν οιοϲ μηδ᾿ ἀνέμων̣ πάταγον
εὐθὺϲ ἀπ᾿ εὐχωλέων Ἀϲκληπιοῦ οἴκαδ᾿ ἀπή<ι>ει
     καὶ τὰ διὰ πλίνθων ῥήματ᾿ ἀκουϲόμενοϲ.

Asclas the Cretan, deaf and unable to hear either
     the [crash] of the surf or clatter of winds,
suddenly because of his vows for Asclepius went home
     a man about to hear conversations even through brick walls.
How we interpret this poem depends on a linguistic nicety—a nuance of aspect—to which a hasty reader might turn a deaf ear. Until the final line a pious interpretation seems perfectly appropriate. Asclas’ deafness is absolute; it cuts him off from even the loudest sounds of nature. Upon visiting the shrine, he makes vows to Asclepius, then heads back home. The start of verse 3, εὐθὺϲ, leaves us primed for a sudden, miraculous cure in the manner of the Epidaurian inscriptions, and the beginning of verse 4 appears to confirm that expectation (καὶ τὰ διὰ πλίνθων ῥήματ᾿). But the future participle ἀκουϲόμενοϲ, pointedly placed as the poem’s last word, creates a space for irony. For it suggests that Asclas left the shrine as yet unaware of what he had acquired there: “a man about to hear conversations even through brick walls”. That ignorance sets the pilgrim in a comic light. The verb of cognition moreover functions as a cue, inviting the reader retrospectively to hear humor in other elements of the poem. Asclas did not simply gain the ability to hear, but (as he presumably discovered not long after) the superhuman capacity to overhear conversations “even through brick walls”. No doubt διὰ πλίνθων is miraculous, but it is also very funny, suggesting a range of domestic or public contexts in which his new-found talent might be used. There is comic potential, too, in his ethnicity: Cretans famously prized reticence, so the prospect of indiscriminately hearing everyone’s conversation might seem more torment than blessing. Bastianini and Gallazzi may have been right when they comment that the poet describes this cure “con una sfumatura di sorriso.”
Of course it is important to recall that humor is not necessarily at odds with a pious reading. Greek religion embraces the comic in ways that startle modern sensibilities schooled in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The tales in the Epidaurian inscriptions, too, are at times distinctly, and no doubt deliberately, funny. [38] Thus humor alone should not suffice to make Posidippus’ readers incredulous—unless that incredulity has the semantic range it has in the narrative of the skeptical visitor in the Epidaurian stele, where the term could signify distinct things under different circumstances, and the name “Incredulous” in fact bespoke credence.
I want to close with a look at the last of the Iamatika (AB 101), an epigram once again susceptible to double reading, but which perhaps illuminates a different point along the interpretive axis traced above:
ὄλβον̣ ἄ̣ρ̣ι̣ϲ̣τ̣ο̣ϲ̣ ἀ̣ν̣[ήρ], Ἀ̣ϲκληπιέ, μέτριον αἰτεῖ
     —ϲοὶ δ᾿ ὀρέγειν πολλὴ βουλομένωι δύναμιϲ—
αἰτεῖται δ᾿ ὑγί<ει>αν· ἄκη δύο· ταῦτα γὰρ εἶναι
     ἠθέων ὑψηλὴ φαίνεται ἀκρόπολιϲ.

The noblest man, Asclepius, asks for moderate wealth
     —great is your power to bestow it when you wish—
and he asks for health: remedies both. For these appear to be
     a towering citadel for human conduct.
Coming after the particular instances of divine cures in the previous poems, this epigram appears to confirm their value by generalizing the importance of health. [39] With its idealized subject—the indefinite ἄ̣ρ̣ι̣ϲ̣τ̣ο̣ϲ̣ ἀ̣ν̣[ήρ—and its impersonal, metaphor-rich summation (ἄκη δύο· ταῦτα γὰρ εἶναι | ἠθέων ὑψηλὴ φαίνεται ἀκρόπολιϲ lines 3–4), the poem functions as a gnomic conclusion drawn from the aforegoing tales.
We have seen, however, that the outcome of divine therapy is not always expected, or indeed happy. For Soses of Cos, to be healed of his epilepsy was doubtless a blessing (AB 97), but his epitaph a mere 20 verses—five poems—later in the τρόποι (AB 103) exposes its ultimate futility. Miraculous cures have their limits, for as that poem’s fragmentary final words seem to suggest, Soses is only mortal (“same] as you”, ὁμόϲ, ποτ]ε, ϲοῦ). That is one condition the god cannot cure. [40] Similarly for elderly Zenon (AB 100) it appeared that the gift of sight arrived with unforeseen consequences. Take care, the poem seems to suggest, what you beg from the gods; they may grant it. The same could apply to the deaf man, Asclas of Crete (AB 99), who leaves the shrine with more than he bargained for, the potentially disagreeable ability to hear “even through brick walls”.
The issue here may be less one of skepticism or belief than of how one thinks about wondrous cures. One potential response to the Iamatika might be to suppose that they do not so much tempt one to disbelieve in the possibility of miracles, as make one question their efficacy in creating human happiness, in fulfilling one’s desires: for miracles sometimes prove to be either inconvenient or useless for humans locked in the condition of mortality. As such, the cures represented in these poems become yet one more example of a far broader theme, to wit the problematic nature of divine-human interaction.
In this light, the final epigram invites a different, less staunchly affirmative, reading. The poem emphasizes moderation. μέτριον, the key adjective in this respect in verse 1, is accentuated through its placement following the bucolic diaeresis, at the other end of the line from its noun. Exemplifying a human standard of measure, ὄλβον … μέτριον contrasts in an essential way with the divinity’s expansive πολλὴ … δύναμιϲ of verse 2. Similarly, note the ontological opposition inherent in the juxtaposition ἄ̣ρ̣ι̣ϲ̣τ̣ο̣ϲ̣ ἀ̣ν̣[ήρ], Ἀ̣ϲκληπιέ, v.1. In light of this emphasis, one may plausibly take μέτριον as modifying not just ὄλβον in verse 1, but as extending to ὑγί<ει>αν in verse 3. [41] This possibility is all the more appealing given how closely the poem binds together ὄλβοϲ and ὑγίεια, classing them into the single category, ἄκη, and subsuming them into the unitary image, ἀκρόπολιϲ. [42] On this interpretation, the noblest person requests not only “moderate wealth”, but “moderate health”. That is, he does not rely on the prospect of a divine cure, which—even if he were so fortunate as to receive one—might lead to unforeseen and untoward consequences. Rather he prays for what human methods can achieve, a more modest general fitness of body and mind which is a foundation for proper conduct. Of course the only humanly wrought cure in the Iamatika was that of Medeios, son of Lampon, in the first poem of the section (AB 95). It now appears that he was indeed an ἄριστος ἀνήρ, one of the foremost of the Ptolemaic ἄριστοι (Bing 2002b). Perhaps it is he that is meant here and implicitly exhorted to pray. [43]
I use the word “pray” advisedly here, for although this epigram is framed as a maxim, the invocation of Asclepius in verse 1 and parenthetical address to the god in verse 2 suggest that the poem is in fact an indirect prayer. Perhaps that indirection is meant to characterize the tact and moderation not just of the noble doctor Medeios, son of Lampon, but of the speaking voice itself. It tells us what an ἄριϲτοϲ ἀνήρ should do, but leaves unspoken the implication that such a pronouncement itself bespeaks an ἄριστος ἀνήρ—here obliquely requesting moderate wealth and health on its own behalf. Discreet yet authoritative, this anonymous voice may plausibly be identified as the poet’s. Ending the section then with a traditional form of poetic closure, a prayer, the poet pleads for something other than a miracle, and more moderate—counsel which may be compatible with the Stoic orientation that some scholars have found in Posidippus (Gutzwiller 1998:157–162). At the close of the Iamatika its readers must decide if that plea retrospectively colors their response to the wonders they encountered before.


[ back ] 1. For their penetrating—and therapeutic—critique of earlier drafts I thank Profs. D. Bright, J. Lee and C. Perkell. If the paper nonetheless remains uncured of all its defects, that is due entirely to the author’s pathological stubbornness.
[ back ] 2. In other words, it totals 32 verses, as does the following section, τρόποι. The only section with fewer verses is that immediately preceding, the ναυαγικά with 26 (AB 89–94). B. Acosta-Hughes points out that these short sections grouped together resemble Callimachus’ Iambi 2 and 3.
[ back ] 3. For suddenness as a characteristic of miraculous cures, see Weinreich 1909:197–198.
[ back ] 4. AB 96.1 Ἀϲκληπιέ; AB 97.1 Ἀϲκληπιέ; AB 98.3 Παιάν; AB101.1 Ἀϲκληπιέ.
[ back ] 5. AB 99.3 ἀπ᾿ εὐχωλέων Ἀϲκληπιοῦ; AB 100.1 τὸν ἥϲυχον ὕπνον ἰαύειν, incubation.
[ back ] 6. His dedication is strictly speaking to Apollo. It is a statue portraying a wasted remnant of a man—the sort of patient he used to save through his discovery. Aristotle (History of Animals 8.607a) mentions a remedy for this snake’s bite—the so-called “septic” drug—without specifying its inventor: ἐξ οὗ ὄφεως ποιοῦσι τὸ σηπτικόν (scil. φάρμακον), καὶ ἄλλως ἀνιάτως. Other authors insist that the bite of the asp is incurable and fatal, cf. Apollonius Rhodius 4.1508–1512, Aelian On the Characteristics of Animals 1.54; 9.15. On the identity of this doctor, Medeios of Olynthos, son of Lampon, cf. below.
[ back ] 7. Cf. Kühner, Blass, and Gerth 1983:I.2,294; no.334.5. This is by far the earliest instance of the adjective ἰαματικός. The same appears to be the case for λιθικός (Diodorus 7.1.1–3), ἀναθηματικός (otherwise first in Polybius 27.18.2–3), and ναυαγικός.
[ back ] 8. I present the case for identification fully in Bing 2002b. Bastianini and Gallazzi overlook the possibility.
[ back ] 9. Cf. my discussion below of the ἄριϲτοϲ ἀνήρ who is the subject of the section’s final poem (AB 101.1). One may wonder why Posidippus is silent concerning Medeios’ political appointments. Though there can be no certainty, I can imagine a couple of scenarios. 1) The poem comes from late in Medeios’ life, when he was thinking about how he wanted to be remembered. The imperfect tense of the verb referring to his therapeutic activity, ἐϲάου, “[the ones] he used to save” (AB 95.3), would suit a time when he looked back on his medical career as something in the past. It brings to mind the epitaph of Aeschylus (Life of Aeschylus 11), which makes no mention of his poetry at all, saying of his life only that “the famous grove of Marathon could tell of his prowess and the thick-haired Mede learned it well.” 2) The poem comes from early in Medeios’ life, i.e. it reflects his activities prior to his remarkable political rise.
[ back ] 10. AB 96.1–2: “Antichares came to you, Asclepius, with two canes, dragging his step along the path.” (πρὸϲ ϲὲ μὲν Ἀντιχάρηϲ, Ἀϲκληπιέ, ϲὺν δυϲὶ βάκτροιϲ | ἦλθε δι᾿ ἀτραπιτῶν ἴχνοϲ ἐφελκόμενοϲ·).
[ back ] 11. ϲοὶ δ̣[ὲ θυη]π̣ολέων (AB 96.3), ἀπ᾿ εὐχωλέων Ἀϲκληπιοῦ (AB 99.3), αἰτεῖται δ᾿ ὑγίειαν (AB 101.3).
[ back ] 12. AB 97.4: δαῖμον, ἀποξύϲαϲ ὥιχεο νυκτὶ̣ μ̣ιῆι, “divinity, you departed having wiped away (the disease) in a single night”; AB 98.3-4: Παιάν, ϲ᾿ εὔ[νοον εἶδεν ἀνώ]δυνοϲ, ὡϲ ἐπ᾿ ὀνείρωι | τὸν πολὺν ἰηθ̣ε̣ὶ̣[ϲ ἐξέφυγ]εν κάματον, “when painless [he beheld you gracious], Paean. So after the dream, being cured [he escaped] his great toil.”; AB 100.1: ἡνίκ᾿ ἔδει Ζήνωνα τὸν ἥϲυχον ὕπνον ἰαύειν, “When Zenon had to sleep that gentle sleep”.
[ back ] 13. ἰητήρια ϲοὶ νούϲων, Ἀϲκληπιέ, Κῶιοϲ | δωρεῖται Ϲωϲῆ<ϲ> ἀργυρέην φιάλην (AB 97.1–2).
[ back ] 14. οἴκαδ᾿ ἀπή<ι>ει, (AB 99.3).
[ back ] 15. The most explicit is IG IV2, 1, no.121.22, but cf. also IG IV2, 1, no.121.33.
[ back ] 16. Though framed as a maxim, the epigram in fact functions as a prayer, though indirect, for good fortune and health. Cf. my discussion below.
[ back ] 17. Cf. VI 203 (Philip of Thessalonica); VI 330 (Aeschines); IX 46 (Antipater of Thessalonica); IX 298 (Antiphilos); IX 511 (Anonymus).
[ back ] 18. Cf. CEG 776, Aeschines’ acrostic inscription from the first half of the fourth century, 808, 818; Kaibel 803–805; IG IV2, 1, no.125 = T 431 Edelstein and Edelstein 1998. Except for the last, these references are from L. Rossi’s discussion of Theocritus Epigram 8 in Rossi 2001:197.
[ back ] 19. CEG 808: [τόν]δ᾿ ἰατορίας Ἀσκλαπιοι Αἰγινάτας | hυιός με hαγίλλοι μνᾶμ᾿ ἔθετο Ἀνδρόκριτος. “Androcritus, the son of Hagillus of Aegina, dedicated me to Asclepius for his healing skill.” CEG 818: ἀντ᾿ ἀγαθῶν ἔργων, Ἀ[σ]κλαπιέ, τόσδ᾿ ἀνέθηκε | αὑτο καὶ παίδων δῶρα τάδ᾿ Ἀντίφιλος. “In exchange for good works, Asclepius, Antiphilos dedicated these; they are gifts from himself and his children.”
[ back ] 20. In addition to the IG, see the treatments of these inscriptions in Herzog 1931; Edelstein and Edelstein 1998: no.423; LiDonnici 1995. For further inscriptions (not, however, including the above stelae) from Epidaurus and elsewhere, cf. Girone 1998.
[ back ] 21. Pausanias evidently saw these stelae (II 27.3) since his description is a close match: “In my day there are six left of the stone tablets standing in the enclosure, though there were more in antiquity. The names of men and women healed by Asclepius are engraved on them, with the diseases and how they were healed; the inscriptions are in Doric.” Cf. Tzifopoulos 1991:19–20.
[ back ] 22. Though similar inscriptions also occur in the second century BCE at the sanctuary of Lebena on the S. coast of Crete, they are not found elsewhere. As L. LiDonnici has observed (1995:42), “The preserved finds from the three known major mainland Asklepieia, Epidaurus, Corinth and Athens, present the appearance of a … regional style or preference for certain types of votives over others. Epidauros is best known for narrative inscriptions; Corinth lacks inscriptions but is rich in terra-cotta body-part votives, while Athens and Piraeus have many stone votive reliefs, without any text. Each of these types is poorly represented from the other sites. This may reflect the taste of the respective districts and the availability in each area of craftsmen and materials.”
[ back ] 23. LiDonnici (1995:66) suggests that “Collection may have occurred every few years as the sanctuary became overloaded with votives …” and that there may have been “several episodes of collection and arrangement of tales onto successively larger and probably less numerous stelai …”
[ back ] 24. The included votive seems to have been metrical (two hexameters and a pentameter):
Οὐ μέγε[θο]ς πίνακος θαυμαστέον, ἀλλὰ τὸ θεῖον,
πένθ᾿ ἔτη ὡς ἐκύησε ἐγ γαστρὶ Κλεὼ βάρος, ἔστε
ἐγκατεκοιμάθη καί μιν ἔθηκε ὑγιῆ.
The inscription does its best, however, to mask the meter and assimilate it to the surrounding prose by breaking lines in mid-verse and mid-word (μέγε | [θο]ς, γασ | τρὶ) and using scriptio plena (ἐκύησε ἐγ, ἔθηκε ὑγιῆ).
[ back ] 25. Translation by Edelstein.
[ back ] 26. The lame man who approaches the god on two canes in AB 96 resembles a paralytic in the inscription (IG IV2 1 123.123ff.), εἰσελθὼν | [εἰς τὸ ἄβατ]ον μετὰ δύο βακτηριᾶν ὑγιὴς ἐξῆλθε. The epilepsy that plagued Coan Soses in AB 97 is likewise represented at Epidaurus, IG IV2, 1, no.123.115. Numerous cases in the inscription record cures from weapons lodged and festering in the body. Posidippus’ Archytas, who “had kept the deadly bronze for six years/in his thigh . . . a festering wound” (AB 98) recalls the Epidaurian example of Euhippos, who “had had for six years the point of a spear in his jaw” (IG IV2, 1, no.121.95 = T 423, 12 Edelstein and Edelstein 1998. Cf. also IG IV2, 1, no.122.55 and 64 = T 423, 30, 32 Edelstein and Edelstein 1998). Interestingly there don’t appear to be any cases of deafness among the Epidaurian Iamata to compare with that of Asclas the Cretan in AB 99. But compare the late Epidaurian inscription of Cuttius the Gaul, IG IV2, 1, 440. Finally, blindness is a common ailment in the sanctuary of Asclepius (cf. IG IV2, 1, no.121.33, 72, 120, 125; IG IV2, 1, no.122.7, 64; IG IV2, 1, no.123.129, cf. also AP IX 298). In Iamatika 6 (AB 100) Posidippus gives it a paradoxical twist, however, by having the aged Zenon’s restored sight last for only two days before he dies.
[ back ] 27. See particularly Rossi 2001 and Fantuzzi and Hunter 2002:397–448 in the section, “L’epigramma funerario e dedicatorio: convenzioni epigrafiche e variazioni epigrammatiche tra il IV e il II secolo a.C.” of the chapter “L’ epigramma.”
[ back ] 28. Of course Aristophanes recreated in comic verse, and to hilarious effect, the workings of such a shrine in his Plutus. Comedy, however, does not evoke the inscribed tradition, while epigram insists on it through its generic history and retention of epigraphic conventions.
Interestingly, among the Epidaurian inscriptions we may find an epigraphic counterpart to the transferral of prose narrative into verse, inscribed verse in this instance. On the first of the Epidaurian stelae (IG IV2, 1, no.121.107 = T 423, 15 Edelstein and Edelstein 1998) there is a third person account of the miraculous transformation of Hermodikos of Lampsakos from helpless paralytic into mighty muscleman, capable of superhuman feats:
Ἑρμόδικος Λαμψακηνὸς ἀκρατὴς τοῦ σώματος. τοῦτον ἐγκαθεύ | δοντα ἰάσατο καὶ ἐκελήσατο ἐξελθόντα λίθον ἐνεγκεῖν εἰς τὸ | ἰαρὸν ὁπόσσον δύναιτο μέγιστον· ὁ δὲ τὸμ πρὸ τοῦ ἀβάτου κείμε | | νον ἤνικε.
Hermodikos of Lampsakos was paralyzed in body. This one, when he slept in the Temple, the god healed and ordered him upon coming out to bring to the Temple as large a stone and he could. The man brought the stone which now lies before the Abaton.
                                                                         (transl. Edelstein)
As the commentary in the IG notes, this stone has been found: repertus est lapis proxime a templi latere orientali. Pondus computandum fecit Bl. C. 334 kg. Indeed, Herzog 1931:102, estimated the weight at 375 kg, that is 845 pounds!
An inscription post-dating this narrative, apparently from the third century BCE—litterae saec. III a. Chr. elegantes, as stated in the IG—translates it into first person poetry (IG IV2, 1, 125 = T 431 Edelstein and Edelstein 1998=II.3 Girone 1998:53–57):
Ἑρμόδικ[ος Λαμψακ]ηνὸς
σῆς ἀρετῆς [παράδειγμ]᾿, Ἀσκληπιέ, | τόνδε ἀνέ[θηκα
     π]έτρον ἀειρά | μενος, πᾶσι[ν ὁρᾶν] φανερόν, | |
ὄψιν σῆς τέχνης· πρὶν γὰρ | σὰς εἰς χέρας ἐλθεῖν |
     σῶν τε τέκνων κεῖμαι | νούσου ὕπο στυγερᾶς |
ἔνπυος ὢν στῆθος χει | | ρῶν τε ἀκρατής· σὺ δέ, | Παιάν,
     πεῖσάς με ἄρασθαι | τόνδε, ἄνοσον διάγειν.
Hermodikos of Lampsakos
As an example of your power, Asclepius, I have put up this
     stone which I had lifted up, clear for all to see,
a manifestation of your art. For before I came under the care of your hands
     and those of your children, I was stricken by a wretched illness,
an abscess in my chest, my hands paralyzed. But you, Paean,
     by ordering me to lift up this rock made me live free from disease.
                                                                           (transl. after Edelstein)
It may be, of course, that the prose version was taken from an original verse-inscription, damaged or worn over time, and hence re-inscribed. Could it be, however, that the verse-inscription is the secondary phenomenon, and that literary epigrams such as Posidippus’ prompted, in their turn, demand for poetic versions? It is worth noting that the epigram heightens the miraculous element by specifying paralysis of the hands and an abscess in the chest—precisely those parts of the body with which Hermodikos presumably hefted the huge boulder—while the prose inscription leaves the ailment as the more general paralysis of the body, ἀκρατὴς τοῦ σώματος.
[ back ] 29. For epigram’s shift from monument to scroll, and its impact on reader-response, cf. Bing 1995:115–131; Bing 1998:21–43; Bing 2002a:39–66; Gutzwiller 1998:47–114; Fantuzzi/Hunter 2002:397–448.
[ back ] 30. Cf. Tomlinson 1983:25; LiDonnici 1995:10f.
[ back ] 31. Translation by Edelstein.
[ back ] 32. Weinreich 1909:1–45 and 76–79 respectively.
[ back ] 33. As Bastianini and Gallazzi note, the reconstruction of the second couplet is quite speculative. I prefer their alternative supplement, ὁμόϲ, ποτ]ε, ϲοῦ rather than ὁμόϲ, φίλ]ε, ϲοῦ, for AB 103.4, since it better suits the feisty speaking voice of the first couplet.
[ back ] 34. Indeed, we may even find an explicit link to the earlier poem if, instead of Bastianini and Gallazzi’s νομου χάριν in v.1, we read νόϲου χάριν, i.e. “on account of [my unspecified] sickness”. The passerby is squeamish about stopping at the tomb due to that disease, which proved fatal. The god, it appears, had not definitively cured Soses.
[ back ] 35. I owe this observation to Richard Thomas.
[ back ] 36. Indeed, in an active sense the adjective can also mean “blind” (cf. LSJ s.v.).
[ back ] 37. For comparable “paradox in death”, cf. e.g. Dioskorides 33 GP = AP VII 76, where a mariner abandons sea-faring for farming, only to be overtaken after death by the flooding Nile, which consigns him to the watery grave of a shipwrecked man, ναυηγὸν τάφον verse 6.
[ back ] 38. Weinreich 1909:89–90 makes the following comment about several of the Epidaurian miracles (a cure for baldness: IG IV2, 1, no.121.122; a cure for lice, in which the god sweeps away the vermin with a broom: IG IV2, 1, no.122.45): “Bei diesen Wundern möge man bedenken, dass die Aretalogie nicht nur erbauen, sondern auch unterhalten will. Deshalb wird Humor und Komik nicht verschmäht.”
[ back ] 39. Bastianini and Gallazzi cite numerous instances of the view that health (often coupled with wealth) is the most important of goods, such as PMG 890, the paean of Ariphron PMG 813, Simonides PMG 604, Pindar Olympian 5.23, etc.
[ back ] 40. Asclepius notoriously tried to raise a mortal from the dead, but was struck by Zeus’ lightning for his transgression, cf. Pindar Pythian 3.55–58.
[ back ] 41. For μέτριος two-termination, cf. LSJ, s.v. Or could this be simply an anacolouthon?
[ back ] 42. In this way the epigram actualizes the traditional concept of πλουθυγίεια, which Bastianini and Gallazzi trace in their commentary ad verses 19–21.
[ back ] 43. If that is correct, then given the wondrous nature of his cure for snakebite he may have been less ready to pray for only “moderate health”, i.e. to take μέτριον as modifying ὑγί<ει>αν as well as ὄλβον—for that reading subtly undercuts his achievement. Nothing compelled him to read it thus, however: ὑγί<ει>αν can just as well stand alone.