Literary History in the Parian Marble

  Rotstein, Andrea. 2016. Literary History in the Parian Marble. Hellenic Studies Series 68. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Final Words

The Parian Marble is a long inscription of unknown authorship, cut on a tall stele for display on the island of Paros. It may best be described as a selective chronographic list, annalistic in style and panhellenic in scope. It belongs to the families of ancient chronography and monumental historiography. The Parian Marble uses the basic techniques for time reckoning and the compressed, impersonal style typical of ancient chronicles, while sharing a world-view with ancient Greek historiography. The inscription dates events by Athenian kings and archons, yet a reference to a Parian archon at the very beginning anchors the chronicle in local history. Years are counted backwards down to year 1 (264/3 BCE), which must have been a meaningful date, perhaps marking the beginning of a new era established by Ptolemy II. We may consider the Parian Marble as the main representative of the “count-down” chronicle, a genre of which two miniature parallels survive, the Roman Chronicle and the Getty Table (early first century CE).

Unlike most ancient chronographic materials, the Parian Marble displays an exceptional emphasis on literary figures and events. Since many of them are unnecessary from a strictly chronographic point of view, presenting literary history embedded in panhellenic history appears to be one of the author’s main concerns. The inscription may have been conceived for display and consultation at a site of literary activity, such as the Parian Archilocheion. Unlike the Mnesiepes and the Sosthenes inscriptions, which clearly foster local pride, the marked Athenian focus of the Parian Marble reflects the classicism typical of educational curricula, as well as the availability of sources for both general and literary history. Indeed, the Parian Marble focuses on the usual themes in the history of mousike, on the lives and chronology of poets, their inventions and victories. However, the record of poets is idiosyncratic. From the sixth century BCE, only the major competitive performance genres of Athens are represented, and the list of poets continues well after the death of Sophocles and Euripides. Thus, the Parian Marble displays a remarkably positive attitude towards late fourth-century developments in poetry and music. Such an attitude appears to have developed apart from the scholarly world of Alexandria, though in an atmosphere that likewise promoted literature under Ptolemaic rule.