Poetic and Performative Memory in Ancient Greece: Heroic Reference and Ritual Gestures in Time and Space

  Calame, Claude. 2009. Poetic and Performative Memory in Ancient Greece: Heroic Reference and Ritual Gestures in Time and Space. Hellenic Studies Series 18. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_CalameC.Poetic_and_Performative_Memory_in_Ancient_Greece.2009.

IV. Regimes of Historicity and Oracular Logic: How To Re-Found A Colonial City?

1. Cyclical and philosophical temporalities

It is a common opinion that Greek concepts of time are deeply marked by the image of the circle, that they refer to a fundamentally cyclical temporality. Historians of “Greek thought,” while applying this traditional idea for themselves, also introduced a whole series of nuances concerning its development. The idea of cyclical time, it is said, is based on the deified function of Memory which permits mortal man to come into contact with the divine, and its origins would be religious, attached to the belief that ritual funeral honors accorded to Lethe and to Mnemosyne allow one to escape the cycle of Becoming, even the cycle of (re-)birth. But in this train of thought the gradual abandonment of heroic values, in a “lyrical” consciousness more and more sharply aware of the vicissitudes of the life of the individual, would have had a twofold effect. On the one hand, it leads to a concept where the representation of linear time, subject to the unpredictable hazards of an existence which is by definition ephemeral, replaces human time modeled on cosmic time, in the succession of generations. And on the other hand, “sectarian” movements following Pythagoras and Orpheus tried to offer the soul, detached from the body, the mnemonic means necessary to leave the supposed cycle of births through anámnēsis, and by this abandonment of human time to attain the immortality of the gods. [1] But to make followers of Pythagoras and Orpheus into the precursors of Plato in Phaedrus or Timaeus is to make philosophers of these simple advocates of a more balanced life style; it is to make metaphysicians of time from those who practiced a certain way of life with the hope of a more pleasant post mortem existence (to which we shall return in the next chapter). And it especially ignores that accounts attributing a cyclical concept of time to the first Greek “thinkers” are from much later, and that they are easily recognized as influenced by neo-Platonic, even Christian, readings of the classical texts.

Khrónos agéraos, then, ageless Time as a mythical figure, like the serpent curled on itself, or like the Ocean river whose circular currents wind around the inhabited earth? In the classical era, only Critias, the sophist and sometime author of tragedies, introduces the figure of a “tireless time” which progresses by generating itself in a continuous and eternal flux. But its progress is not circular, as the expression perì-phoitâi (a tmesis) might lead one to conclude; it follows the vault of the sky, which obviously is only semi-spherical! These lines, pronounced by the chorus of initiates into the Eleusinian Mysteries in a fragment of a tragedy which is also attributed to Euripides, may well have been intended as parody. [2] Empedokles cited as witness to the belief in a cycle of reincarnations and the expiatory journey of the soul? Only if one reads the famous poetic fragment on the restless wanderings of “demons,” separated from the gods and through a series of mortal forms, in terms of a representation of the “cycle of ages;” there is actually nothing circular about this journey lasting three times ten thousand seasons, presented as taking place simply “through time” (dià khrónon). [3] The Iliadic reflections of Glaukos the Lycian, confronting Diomedes the Greek who has just learned at his own expense that a mortal should not attack a deity, then, as Homeric testimony recalling an ancient “cyclical” concept of the life of men, carried along in a “circular becoming?” Only if one interprets the comparison of the hazards of mortal lives with the deciduous nature of leaves, falling in autumn to be born again in spring, in terms of cycle, and not in terms of the simple alternation that occurs, for example, in Herodotus’ famous beginning reflections on the destinies of man’s cities: “those which formerly (pálai) were great have become small, most of them, and those which in my time (ep’ eméo) were great, once were small.” In a less well-known passage, Herodotus does indeed use the term kúklos to describe the alternations of good fortune, but the remark is placed in the mouth of Croesus confronting Cyrus, imperialist king of the Persians, and the circle image applies only to sudden reversals in human affairs. [4]

For that matter, even in those rare classical texts which seem to mention an eschatological perspective, neither the itinerary of the soul nor the space and time in which the journey takes place is circular.

2. A doubly-founding document

The inscription called the Stele dei Fondatori or Oath of the Founders was consecrated at the beginning of the fourth century in the great shrine of Apollo which the inscription itself calls Pythian (line 8), and was discovered in the 1920s on the site of Cyrene, the flourishing Greek colony in Libya. The stele had been re-used during the imperial era for constructing terraces for the southern basin of the frigidarium of the Lesser Baths, or Baths of Trajan. [9] This epigraphic text engraved on marble presents three main points of interest to anyone interested in Greek concepts of time and space. In a first section, the inscription presents the text of a popular decree on rights of citizenship. These provisions, sanctioned by a decision of the assembly of citizens in the fourth century and consecrated in the shrine of Apollo Pythios, refer to the founding decree of the city of Cyrene, in a narrative version which recalls that of Herodotus a century earlier. In a second section, the epigraphic text relates and describes the circumstances which long ago led the inhabitants of Thera-Santorini to send a colonizing expedition to the coast of Libya. Finally, at the end of this narrative and descriptive section, the text evokes the ritual which consecrated the solemn oath taken at the colonists’ departure. Alongside the modes of narration of a founding event and the tension established in the two sections between the legendary past and the political present, there is also the combining of the performative temporality of the oath that was sworn and the constituent time of the ritual act which accompanied it.

In this respect, the more specifically linguistic perspective adopted here, in a reading once again inspired by discourse analysis (as regards the enunciative aspect), requires a brief reminder of the distinctions made in the introductory chapter. From the point of view of the spatial-temporal putting-into-discourse of a basically narrative text, we must remember that the empirical time and space of the text’s enunciation, that is to say the extra-discursive spatial-temporal circumstances of its production, must be distinguished from the intra-discursive time and space of the enunciation as it often manifests itself in the text.

Reading of the temporal framework of the epigraphic document and its putting-into-discourse will thus follow two divergent lines. First, from the internal point of view of the intra-discursive, the reading of indices of temporality and spatiality given especially by the use of verb tenses will lead from the time and space of the “uttered enunciation” (“énonciation énoncée”), to that of the narration itself, and then lead to a reconstruction of narrated time in its more or less linear chronology of succession. Then, in terms of pragmatics, it will be possible to pose the question of the relationship between, on the one hand, the temporality and spatiality of the enunciation inscribed in the text, and on the other, the (extra-discursive) exterior time and space of the document’s production and its circumstances. In the confrontation with other versions of this same narrative and religious relationship of the community with its founding past and its civic memory, a comparison which is not external, but rather internal to Greek culture, will allow us to grasp some of the identity-related issues of a very polymorphic poietics of history.

3. Temporal and enunciative architecture

Here is the translation of the epigraphic text, both of its sections marked by a specific heading:

God. Good Fortune. | Damis son of Bathykles made the motion. As to what is said by the Therans, | Kleudamas son of Euthykles, in order that the city may prosper and the Pe|ople of Cyrene enjoy good fortune, the Therans shall be given t||he citizenship according to that ancestral custom which our forefathers establish|ed, both those who founded Cyrene from Thera and those at Thera who re|mained – just as Apollo granted Battos and the Thera|ns who founded Cyrene good fortune if they abided by the | sworn agreement which our ancestors concluded with them when || they sent out the colony according to the command of Apol|lo Archagetes. With good fortune. It has been resolved by the People | that the Therans shall continue to enjoy equal citizenship in Cyrene in the sa|me way (as of old). There shall be sworn by all Therans who are domicil|ed in Cyrene the same oath which the others onc||e swore, and they shall be written on a stele | of marble and placed in the ancestral shrine of | Apollo Pythios; and that sworn agreement also shall be written down on the stele | which was made by the colonists when they sailed to Libya wit||h Battos from Thera to Cyrene. As to the expenditure necessary for the s|tone or for the engraving, let the Superintendents of the Accounts pr|ovide it from Apollo’s revenues.

Founder’s Oath

vv | The sworn agreement of the settlers. | Resolved by the Assembly. Since Apollo spontaneously told B[at]||tos and the Therans to colonize Cyrene, it has been decided by the Ther|ans to send Battos off to Libya, as Archagetes | and as King, with the Therans to sail as his Companions. On equal a|nd fair terms shall they sail according to family (?), with one son to be consc|ripted adults and from the [ot||her] Therans those who are free-born shall sail. If they (the colonists) establi|sh the settlement, kinsmen who sail | later to Libya shall be entitled to citizenship and offices | and shall be allotted portions of the land which have no owner. But if they do not successfully estab|lish the settlement and the Therans are incapable of giving it assistan||ce, and they are pressed by hardship for five years, from that land shall they depart, | without fear, to Thera, to their own property, and they shall be citiz|ens. Any man who, if the city sends him, refuses to sail, will be liable to the death-|penalty and his property shall be confiscated. The man ha|rboring him or concealing him, whether he be a father (aiding his) son or a brother his brot||her, is to suffer the same penalty as the man who refuses to sail. On these conditions a sworn agreement was ma|de by those who stayed there and by those who sailed to foun|d the colony, and they involved curses against those transgressors who would not ab|ide by it – whether they were those settling in Libya or those who re|mained. They made waxen images and burnt them, calling down (the following) c||urse, everyone having assembled together, men, wom|en, boys, girls: “The person who does not abide by this | sworn agreement but transgresses it shall melt away and di|ssolve like the images – himself, his descendants and his prope|rty; but those who abide by the sworn agreement – those || sailing to Libya and [those] staying in Thera – shall have an abundanc|e of good things, both themselves [and] their descendants.”

(trans. C.W. Fornara (1977) (with Jeffery (1961) and Graham (1964))

3.1. The first section: “Gods. To Good Fortune.”

3.1.1. The narrative of the act of foundation

The reader is led to this temporal core of the decree, which marks its content with the seal of permanence, through two embedded (and oral!) voices: the voice of Damis son of Bathykles, probably the próxenos who intervened before the assembly to formulate the adopted isopolitical proposal; and the voice of Kleudamas, the son of Euthykles, probably the spokesman for the Therans claiming this right of citizenship in Cyrene. The first voice, that of the intermediary, is situated by a form of the aorist (êipe, line 1) at the moment of the assembly; the second, collective voice manifests itself in a present (légonti, line 1) expressing in its duration the demands of the Therans, taken up before the assembly by the voice of Damis. Expressed in two oral speeches, one past and the other present, the demand itself is formulated in the infinitive, one of those infinitives with an imperative value which we shall also find in the wording of the decree itself; citizenship must be restored (apodómen, line 4) to the Therans. Under this infinitive form which makes of it both a requirement and a speech reported in indirect discourse, the “actual” proposal of the Theran people is situated temporally in tension between future and past. First the future: through the intermediary of a final proposal, the granting of citizenship aims to insure the prosperity of the pólis and the happiness of the Cyrenean people (dâmos, line 2); [14] then by reference to the past: they claim the tradition of the fathers (katà tà pátria, line 5), a memorial tradition which goes back to the very moment of the colonial city’s founding. With verbs in the aorist, the reference to the act of foundation of Cyrene takes a narrative phrasing: this is the tradition established by those who founded Cyrene from Thera and by those who remained in Santorini—in accordance with the privilege given by Apollo to Battos and to “the Therans who founded (toîs katoikíxasi, line 8) Cyrene,” the text reiterates.

We shall of course come back to the celebrated figure of the founding hero of Cyrene and to the oracles who directed the process of foundation from Delphi. For the moment, we will limit ourselves to three remarks, all intra-discursive. First of all, from the point of view of the enunciative modalization of the utterance, we notice that the aorist participle used to designate the act of foundation as a completed act places it either in the perspective of the decree’s speaker, or that of the utterance, and not in that of a subsequent intervention by Apollo continuing to protect the founders. Also, the good fortune (eutukhḗn, line 8) promised by Apollo merely anticipates the prosperity (eutukhêi, line 4) which should result from the Cyreneans giving citizenship to people coming from Thera. This relationship, woven by the promise of a prosperous life between future and past, echoes both the decision made by the assembly and the title of the text which publishes its content: the utterance of the decision and the title of the stele are both placed under the sign of Good Fortune—Túkha agathà (line 1) taken up again by agathâi túkhai (in the dative, line 11), in a chiasmus! Finally, the double use of the technical verb katoikízein to designate the act of foundation reinforces the historical character conferred on it by the final reference to the order (epítaxin, line 10; and not the oracle!) given by Apollo concerning the sending of the colonial expedition (apoikían, line 10), in the repetition of the spatial relationship between Thera and Cyrene. [15]

3.1.2. The cultic consecration of the decree of Cyrene

Rather surprisingly, the remaining two-thirds of the text of the decree (and thus of the first section of the inscription) are devoted to arrangements related to the engraving of the psḗphisma itself (line 16), to the consecration of the stele in the ancestral shrine of Apollo Pythios, and to related expenses, to be taken from the revenues of the god. The order to engrave the text of the oath is also placed in this sequence of prescriptions expressed by the aorist infinitive, paired with a final form in the imperative of the third person plural (komisásthōn, line 22): a pretext for a new incursion into the past time of the narrative with an allusion to the founders sailing (hoi oikistêres, line 19) with Battos to Thera in Libya. The pragmatic effect of this arrangement is twofold, since while it confirms the relationship already established between the past time of the founding act and a present to be carried out, it also furnishes the written consecration of the oral word of those who swore the oath; just as the inscription of the text of the decree itself sets in writing, on a stele of especially precious marble, the twofold oral speech mentioned at the beginning. There is a strong contrast between the initial forms êipe and légonti (line 1)—oral—and the triple repetition of katagráphen and katagráphan (line 14, 18, and 21)—writing down—at the end of this first section of the Cyrenean stele.

Oriented toward a future so near that it assumes the permanence of the present, the time of enunciation of the second sequence of utterances which radiate out from the center of the decree of isopolity thus also finds its foundation in the past of the founding act.

3.2. The second section: “Oath of the Founders”

3.2.1. The contractual decree of foundation

The text of the decree begins by narrating the origin of the decision to send an expedition of Therans designated as hetaîroi (line 27) to Libya, led by Battos, who is both archēgétēs (founder, leader) and king: the origin is the oracle given spontaneously (automátixen, line 25) by Apollo to this same Battos and to the Therans, enjoining them to colonize Cyrene. And so there is a reappearance of nearly all the terms which concluded the first part, used in the description of the engraving of the stele and in the consecration of the “oath” (hórkion, line 18) to Apollo Pythios: Thera, Libya, Cyrene, Battos, Apollo. In this reappearance of terms belonging to the fourth-century decree in the supposedly more ancient Theran text, we must of course wonder about the explicit and precise naming of Cyrene, which obviously did not yet exist at the moment of the decision to colonize it…In other versions, the oracle simply indicates a direction, with no toponymic reference whatever!

From a temporal point of view, the contractual decision of the ekklēsía of Thera, stated in the present (dokeî, line 26), is situated exactly between the oracle of Apollo and the two scenarios imagined for what may happen with the colony. Expressed twice in wording which uses the jussive infinitive with its future temporal value, the arrangements concerning citizenship retained (either by Therans joining the colony or by colonists obliged to return to the main island) take on an obvious argumentative purpose in the fourth century, when the Therans of Cyrene request that their citizenship be restored. The provisions of the Cyrene decree can thus appear as the realization, centuries later, of those provisions made by the assembly of Thera.

3.2.2. Contract, imprecation, and ritual gesture

It is as if it were left to the ritual gesture described at the end of the text to confer a performative dimension to an oath and to gestures whose expression is simply narrated in a form of the aorist which follows and echoes the form used to introduce the original decision of the assembly. This means that from a spatial point of view the fulfillment of the agreement is indeed situated in Thera and from a Theran perspective, while from a temporal point of view the reference is to the time of the decree at Cyrene in the fourth century! And the curse described is accompanied by the burning of molded wax images; the entire community—men, women, boys, and girls—participate in this ritual.

It is not too surprising to find kolossoí in a ritual imprecatory gesture which foresees performatively, through the melting of wax figures, the fate of anyone who would break the oath; in a metaphoric liquefaction (kataleíbesthai, line 47), he will disappear without a trace, eliminating any possible memory. The guilty party, his descendants, and his property will all disappear. On the one hand, in the song of reproach brought on by Helen’s betrayal, the chorus of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon recreates the plaintive words of the prophets: the absent Helen in her home is only a phásma, a simple apparition; she appears to her spouse only in dreams, assuming the vain and elusive appearance (dóxa) of dream figures; and thus she is like one of those statues (kolossoí) whose grace ends up becoming an object of hatred, since Aphrodite’s erotic flux cannot emanate from lifeless eyes; a clever and elusive figure who attracts the eye, only to fade like appearances in dreams. In its inconsistency, the kolossós in this case is a visual illusion, like, for example, the eídōlon, the image of the dead Patroclus which Achilles sees before him in a waking dream, but which he cannot grasp. [22] The kolossós thus represents the “person,” and it can also fade away without leaving a trace. On the other hand, the famous “sacred law” of Cyrene itself, a set of rules governing purificatory practices found on another stele which dates from the fourth century, prescribes another use for kolossoí. When a suppliant is received within a host’s house, and cannot name the person who sent him because of that person’s death, he must invoke that nameless person as a human being, whether a man or a woman; after making male and female figurines of wood or earth, the suppliant’s host must serve them a portion of everything, and then after completing these rites (tà nomizómena) he must deposit the figurines and the portions served to them in a forest that has not been cut. [23] Ephemeral substitutes for an individual without renown and thus without civic identity, or representatives of a suppliant considered demonic because he can provide no one to vouch for him, these kolossoí are condemned to disappear in a wild place, with no grave and no memorial rite.

In these nearly contemporary inscriptions from Cyrene, the kolossós appears not only as ritual substitute for someone who has passed on, or who is destined to disappear leaving no memory, but appears also (in comparison) as the double of the word which must act on him. Following the narration of those ritual gestures which accompanied the composing of the oath of Thera and the curses which accompanied it, the text of the second section (and thus of the entire text of the stele called the “Oath of the Founders”) concludes with the utterance of the curses themselves. An ambiguous utterance if ever there was one, since its enunciation, while seeming to assume an indirect discourse form, takes up the imperative, expressed as an infinitive, of both the Cyrenean decree of isopolity and the Theran decree on founding the colony: [24] May he who breaks the terms of the oath dissolve and liquefy, assimilated to the wax figures, (hṓsper toùs kolossoús), while those who honor it, along with their descendants, will know great good fortune; both “those who sail to Libya and those who remain in Thera,” the document adds. This wording again uses that of the narrative part of the text; it refers the time and the “here” (autêi, lines 41 and 43) of the oath and the curse to the (present) moment preceding the departure, in Thera. Mentioned at the end of the imprecatory expression, and thus at the very end of the stele’s text, the good fortune (agathá, line 51) promised to both the Therans and the future Cyreneans recalls the prosperity mentioned at the beginning of the inscription; the same prosperity expected from the decree of isopolity (eutukhêi, line 4 and line 8) is inscribed in the text’s dedication to Good Fortune (Túkha agathá, line 1 and line 11).

3.3. Temporal-spatial networks

Thus the temporal-spatial reference centered on Cyrene is added to the semantic echo which rests on the founding oracular speech, to make the first part of the stele, which carries the Cyrenean isopolitical decree, accord with the second section which enunciates and sets out the Theran colonization decree. But those are not the only discursive elements which insure the coherence of the whole text consecrated in the shrine of Apollo Pythios.

Once again from a temporal point of view, the mention of ritual gestures ensures a strong relationship between the first and second parts of the stele. The procedure which consists of a comparison related both to gesture and to language, used both to affirm the conclusion of an oath and to show its consequences, has an astonishing parallel in the oath sworn in the Iliad, between Achaeans and Trojans, to end the war by a single combat between Menelaus and Paris. [26] Not only is the ritual oath sworn on that occasion designated by the same plural term hórkia found in the narration of the decree of Cyrene (line 40) (which also corresponds to a solemn agreement); and not only does the oath sworn in Agamemnon’s address to Zeus foresee two possible situations based on the outcome of the duel, in the same terms the Theran decree uses in foreseeing two possible outcomes for the colonial expedition to Libya: the ei mén ken…ei dé ke of the Iliad is answered by the Theran decree’s expression ai mèn dé ka…ai dé ka (line 30 and line 33); but even more importantly the sacrifice of two lambs which consecrates Agamemnon’s language act is followed by a double ritual of language and gesture which strikingly recalls the procedure outlined in the “Oath of the Founders.” In a speech pronounced by each participant, both Achaeans and Trojans hurl an imprecation in which the libation of wine which accompanies the sacrifice is compared with the fate of anyone who would violate the contractual oath: may his brains be spilled on the earth like “this” wine (hṓs hóde oînos, line 300), and may his family and children suffer the same fate. Through metaphor, the ritual gesture thus gives a sort of material confirmation to the perjurer’s future, assigned to him by the imprecation. Between the past (configured by recounted time and time of narration) of the oracle of Apollo, the present of the decree (with its indices of uttered enunciation), and the near future of the different scenarios that the official text (between intra- and extra-discursive) imagines, it thus belongs to the (extra-discursive) ritual gesture to establish a relationship of tension which confers a form of material realization on the enunciatively-imagined future.

The same is true of the first part of the text where (as we have said) the engraving of the decree on a stele and its consecration in the shrine of Apollo Pythios confirm the permanence of the anticipated result of the (present) recognition of isopolity between Cyrene and Thera, by concrete and ritual gesture. This recognition is guaranteed by the return to the past of the Theran decree concerning colonization, and by reference to the role played by Apollo of Delphi and his oracular commands. The time of the narrative of past actions presented as motivations, especially through its use of jussive infinitives, also leads to the present of the uttered enunciation, even before the description of ritual gestures ensures the relationship with an extra-discursive time which corresponds to future social realization. With its two references to the spoken word, the enunciative speech which introduces the decree of the Cyrenean people by reference to the past act of colonization follows the same movement: the past words of Damis (êipe, line 2) introducing in the present the demands of the Therans and Kleudamas for the future good fortune of the city and the people of Cyrene.

Certainly, from the point of view of narration and consequently of the narrative putting-into-discourse of recounted time, the text of the first section of the stele is organized in what we call a Ringstruktur or ring structure. Like the “hymnic” relative, the relative pronoun (line 5) returns to the tradition of the ancestors and introduces the narrative of the colonization following Apollo’s order, in the aorist. From this founding past, the repeated evocation of good fortune ensures transition to the permanence of the decree’s present (dedókhthai), placed as we have said in the physical center of the text; from the near future of the decree and its engraving on the stele, the return through (line 19) of the allusion to the original oath refers us once again to the aorist of the colonial expedition. Similarly, the initial allusion to the past of Apollo’s oracle to the Therans concerning the colonization of Cyrene finds a ring-structure echo in the second section, with the final mention of the oath sworn both by those citizens leaving for Libya and by those remaining in Thera.

But from the spatial-temporal point of view, this mention is expressed in the very near future (êmen, line 50) expected from the imprecation ritual conducted “here” in Thera. But rather than following a ring structure, the utterances which make up the second section follow the chronological order of actions given in the narrative mode, in the aorist: decree of the assembly (édoxe, line 25), “oath” (hórkia epoiḗsanto, line 41; succession stressed by epì toútois), imprecations (aràs epoiḗsanto, line 42), wax figures consumed by fire (kolosòs ketékaion, line 44; in the imperfect tense). While the epoiḗsanto forms evoke forms organized similarly in ring structure in the first section, particularly striking in the second section are the three repetitions, through a series of participial constructions, of two distinct groups: those who stay “here” in Thera, and those who sail to Libya. The repetition of language here takes on an incantorial aspect which seems to correspond to the phrases pronounced in performing the ritual. This coincidence between time of enunciation and time of the ritual draws us from the intra- to the extra-discursive, by evoking the real prosperity expected from honoring the oath and by perpetuating the memory of those who are not reduced to wax figures, because they honor the oath. This oath was already evoked in the first section, where the Therans who founded Cyrene are distinguished from those who stayed in Thera! The structural circularity is broken, and leads to pragmatic realization in the near future marked by permanence.

Insofar as it may be pertinent, the question of the text’s “authenticity” (so often posed in terms of dialectal forms, lexical usage, and political institutions) may perhaps be made clearer through the semio-narrative, enunciative, and even anthropological views adopted here. Indeed, the coincidence between the narrative aspect of the exposition of ritual procedures accompanying an oath whose text is not mentioned in the second section, and the narrative forms through which old times are evoked in the first section, makes one think of a document, rewritten probably from a Theran perspective and designed to respond to the requirements of a political situation in fourth-century Cyrene.

In this, comparison with other accounts of the founding of Cyrene may prove relevant.

4. Time of the oracles and time of the citizen

In this quest for the original historical document, oracles play an essential role, while they also draw us into this comparative internal approach. Not satisfied with simply sending us back to the point of origin of the brief narrative plot opening onto the future presented by both sections of the stele, the oracles given by Apollo recall both the Theran and the Cyrenean versions of the narrative of Cyrene’s founding summarized by Herodotus. The spontaneous order (automátixen, line 25) given to Battos and to the Therans to colonize Cyrene, as claimed at the beginning of the Theran decree and as repeated in the Cyrenean decree as a simple injunction (epítaxin, line 10) from Apollo Archēgétēs, with its guarantee of prosperity for the Therans who founded Cyrene (line 8), must be compared to the repeated and connected orders mentioned by Herodotus’ lógos, in an investigative narrative whose meaning and direction are often provided by oracular responses.

Inscribed within the process of constant poetic recreation which characterizes the narrative we choose to call mythic, especially in Greece, these reformulations of the founding event of Cyrene during the fifth century make vain any attempt to reconstitute the original document. These different narratives must be taken for what they are: discursive and symbolic representations of time and space from a certain historical situation (past and present) on which they speculate. It is through these fictional spatial-temporal configurations that community memory and tradition are formed and evolve, along with their ideological function.

From this point of view, it is no accident that the oracle of Apollo contributes heavily to integrating the temporal fabric of the (second) Theran section of the “Stele of the Founders” into the fabric of the (first) Cyrenean section. On the one hand, as narrative origin, the Pythian oracle determines the ritual acts which come to confirm and realize the Theran decree, and consequently the act of founding; on the other hand the “automatic” oracle given by the god of Delphi to Battos and to the people of Thera, in the form of the injunction by Apollo Archēgétēs, comes to guarantee the good fortune and prosperity promised to the people of Cyrene in the fourth century. Promises made in the first section thus follow the model of promises made to the colonists who honored the original founding contract. So there is a correspondence between the oracle pronounced by Apollo at Delphi which constitutes the axial point of time, and the reconfigured memory in the Cyrene decree with its central spatial position in the shrine in Cyrene itself, where the stele is consecrated to this same Apollo Pythios.

5. Weaving space and time between Delphi and Cyrene

calame-memory fig5

Figure 5. The agora of Cyrene, 5th century BC. In black, the area at the end of the regal period; in grey, the structures build in the second half of the century; shading indicated areas of subsequent occupation.

But in Pindar’s poem, the spatial progress of the founders develops in parallel with the extremely complex temporal development which leads from the act which founded its heroic origins, going back to the time of the Trojan War, up through ritual honors enjoyed by Battos and his successors. Its final stage is the celebration of the Pythian victory of the Battiad king Arkesilas IV, with performers singing and dancing (probably at the Karneia festival of Apollo) the epinician of a poet who claims to be related to the founding hero, through distant ancestors! The symbolic weaving which inserts the founding act into a narrative continuity placing the event in the perspective of the heroic age of the Trojan War thus undoubtedly shares affinities with the spatial line followed by the performers of Pindar’s poem: perhaps in a real processional route through the city, from the place of religious celebration of the winner, very probably near the Garden of Aphrodite placed inside the great shrine of Apollo, patron god of Cyrene, toward the tomb of the founding hero, on a straight path which forms the main axis of the urban space surrounding the agora.

As for the temporal interlacing woven in the “Stele of the Founders,” attention is focused on the founding gesture ordered by the god, first by the misleading central title which divides the text into two sections, and then by the reminder in each of the two parts of the oracle given by Apollo to Battos and the Therans, ordering colonization of a site specifically named Cyrene. Through the narrative and descriptive means discussed so far, and through the verbal expression of the twofold gesture of melting the wax figures and of religious consecration of a written document, displaying the stele in the shrine of Apollo Pythios constitutes a second gesture of founding the city; the fourth-century document takes over a contract originally made between colonizers and colonists, between the existing country and the future colonial city.

Like the founding act related by Pindar which opens with the sequence of kings descended from Battos and continues to the reign of the sovereign celebrated in the hic et nunc of the poem, like the narrative of founding taken up by Callimachus and which leads to the succession of annual celebrations of the Karneia, the act of establishing a colony represented by the stele and its decree reduplicates, through a written “performance,” the founding act desired by Apollo, while it also projects into a very near future the good fortune expected from the decision on isopolity.

In the way in which a history (legendary in our eyes) is used, it is not the image of cycle, but rather the dynamic continuity established by the connection between the founding event and the performing of rituals which allows one to struggle against the feeling of the ephemeral nature both of the individual and of the community of citizens; in the repetition of recounted time and space through the rhythm of narration, the spatial-temporal configuration constructed in this epigraphic discourse plays a determining role as intermediary. In this transforming of a regime of historicity into a spatial-temporal logic and a regime of politically and culturally active truth in the present and the immediate future, it is not the profane time of history which is based in the atemporal permanence of myth, as one might expect if one adopts the Eliadian perspective. Rather Apollo and the heroic act intervene directly in the political present and in a central religious space (related to Delphi), in order to guarantee the validity and the permanence of a new founding act, thus establishing a determining pragmatic and memorial tension between the founding past and the near future. Community memory is mobile!

In our own eyes, a document is certified authentic if it has a date, location, and signature. For the community of citizens of the Cyrene of the fourth century, the authenticity of a document depends as much on its consecration in the temple of the city’s founding and protecting god as it does on the discursive fabric which places its utterances in the temporal and spatial perspective of the first act of founding. Quite differently from the traditional philosophical perspective, and far from the idealizing interpretations it has fostered even among our contemporaries, the representation of time underlying temporal and spatial configurations set forth in the epigraphic text from Cyrene is essentially political, in the widest sense of the term, as the Greeks themselves would have understood it.


[ back ] 1. These ideas proposed by Vernant 1965:60-73, specifically in a reinterpretation of the etymologizing speculations of Onians 1951:249-251 and 442-445; see also Momigliano 1966/1982:72-74, who shows that attributing a cyclical concept of time to the Greeks goes back to Saint Augustine. This study, presented in part at the colloquium “Mites de fundació de les ciutats del món antic” held at the Architectural Technical School in Barcelona, June 8-10, 2000, and organized by Pedro Azara, was commented on by Marcel Detienne and Irad Malkin.

[ back ] 2. Critias TrGF 43 F 3 (formerly Euripides fr. 594 Nauck2); cited as parallels, the texts of Hesiod Theogony 789-792 and Aeschylus Prometheus 138-140, concern only the circular figure attributed to the Ocean river which surrounds the inhabited earth (at Iliad 14.200-201, Ocean, located at the ends of the earth, is simply considered the original father of the gods): as regards this circular representation of the inhabited world and its limits, see especially Herodotus 2.21! At Hesiod fr. 70.23 Merkelbach-West, it is the Kephisos which is said to move along “by winding” (which is to say displaying its meanders) through Orchomenos (and not around the city!) like a serpent.

[ back ] 3. Empedokles fr. 31 B 115.4-8 Diels-Kranz; cf. Gallavotti 1975:276, who understands very well that the number given simply refers to a very long time, as well as Trépanier 2004 : 79-85.

[ back ] 4. Iliad 6.145-149: the alternating movement is marked by the double use of the connecting device mén…dé. See Herodotus 1.5.4 (as well as 9.27.4) and 1.207.1-2, but also Iliad 21.464-466, as well as Mimnermos fr. 8.1-8 Gentili-Prato or Aristophanes Birds 685-689, all in reference to the ephemeral nature of human existence as opposed to the immortality of the gods: cf. Fränkel 1960:23-29.

[ back ] 5. Pindar Olympian 2.75-82, to be referred to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter 445-447; cf. chapter IV, section 2.3.1 below.

[ back ] 6. Lamella from Thourioi A 1.5 Zuntz; cf. chapter IV, section 3.2 below.

[ back ] 7. “With the Graces, your guest has woven the song he sends to your glorious city,” sings Bacchylides 5.9-10, who also takes up the same play on words, relating to the collaboration of the Muses and the Graces, in 19.1-10. On Greek representations of text as fabric, cf. Scheid and Svenbro 1994:119-138.

[ back ] 8. As defined by Fabietti 1998:55.

[ back ] 9. Physical description and dating of the document in the editio princeps by Ferri 1925:19-20, and in Oliviero 1928:222-223. Commentary in Graham 1960, with French translation in Chamoux 1952:106-112 and in Dobias-Lalou 1994:246-252.

[ back ] 10. Cf. introduction, section 2 above.

[ back ] 11. On the question of the historical date of the founding of Cyrene, see Calame 1996a:57-60. The question of the exact date of the Oath itself in terms of “authenticity” is broached by Graham 1960:95-97; see also Meiggs and Lewis 1969:7-9, and Dusanić 1978.

[ back ] 12. See Herodotus 5.58.2 and the Cretan inscription SEG XXVII(1977).631, A5 and A11 (where the verb poinikázein is found alongside mnamoneúein, in an activity attributed to the engraving specialist, the poinikastás): cf. Detienne 1988:47-80.

[ back ] 13. The question of isopolity is taken up in other studies: cf. Gawantka 1975:57-62.

[ back ] 14. The respective semantic values of the perfect and of the infinitive are explained by Humbert 1960:148-149 and 125. This form of double vocal subordination of the text of the people’s decision is found in other inscriptions of the same era: see for example the wording of Athenian rules relative to the cult of Asclepius 11 Sokolowski (Suppl.), as well as commentary given on this by Seibert 1963:13-17. Seibert 1963:16, also refers “the city” to Thera and “the people” to Cyrene.

[ back ] 15. The meaning of the technical terms katoikízein (in the sense of settlement or resettlement of a community) and apoikía (in the sense of establishing a colony by immigration) is explored by Casevitz 1985:165-173 and114-135. On the role played by Tyche in the stele’s title, see n24 below.

[ back ] 16. Pindar Pythian 5.60. On the description of Battos as archēgétēs, see also SEG IX. 72, 22 = 115, A 22 Sokolowski (Suppl.) and Jeffery 1961:143-147 (as compared with other heroes or founder kings), and the complementary references given by Calame 1996:154-155. Despite the title which Detienne 1998:95-104 gives to one of the excellent chapters he devotes to Apollo the founder, the god of Delphi bears the epiclesis of Archēgétēs only in the Pindar passage cited, in Thucydides 6.3.1, on the “Founders’ Stele,” and in the inscription in Hierapolis (153 Judeich); cf. Malkin 1987:241-250, and 1994:153-157.

[ back ] 17. The division of Cyrene citizens into tribes, phratries, and hetaireîai is commented on by Chamoux 1952:213-214, who presents documents attesting to a similar structure in Thera; for Athens, see for example Stockton 1990:28-41, and Jones 1999:151-173, 195-216, and 223-227. The reform introduced by the Arcadian legislator Demonax of Mantineia, called as arbiter under Battos III (Herodotus 4.161.2-3) to integrate the new arrivals into the three “Dorian” tribes, is discussed by Jeffery 1961:142-144.

[ back ] 18. The absence of the text of the oath itself confirms for Chamoux 1952:109, that the document transcribed does not correspond to the original Theran decree (contra Seibert 1963:50-52 and 57-66, who attempts to reconstruct the text of the original decree, distinct from later additions). On the meaning of hórkion and of hórkia as “contract,” see Graham 1960:104, as well as Seibert 1963:60-67.

[ back ] 19. The possible existence of an ekklēsía in sixth-century Thera is mentioned by Graham 1960:104.

[ back ] 20. The composition of the expedition expressed in this incomplete text corresponds only partially to information given by Herodotus 4.153; cf. Jeffery 1961:139-140, and Oliver 1966.

[ back ] 21. The absence of “explicit performatives” in the text of the “oath” was studied by Létoublon 1989:103-104. He sees in this narrative phrasing of one part of the corresponding utterance a form of indirect discourse; in the case of the decree of Thera, the fusion of the figurines seems to take the place of the sacrifice which one would expect to accompany the sequence “summary expression of commitment—invocation of a deity—imprecation against possible perjury”: cf. Lonis 1980:267-278.

[ back ] 22. Aeschylus Agamemnon 410-426, as well as Iliad 23.59-108; cf. Vernant 1965:251-264.

[ back ] 23. SEG(1938) IX.72.110-121 = 115.B29-39 Sokolowski (Suppl.); Parker 1983:347-349. In his commentary on this strange procedure, he mentions the possibility that in this ritual the supplicant is considered a harmful demon; see also Johnston 1999:58-60. On the concrete aspects of establishing a contract, see also the parallels given by Bettini 1992:60-64.

[ back ] 24. The indirect discourse form of these last utterances was recognized by Létoublon 1989:104, who tries to reconstitute the text of the imprecation in direct discourse, an effort obviously rendered unnecessary by the infinitive forms of the imperative.

[ back ] 25. Several references on epigraphic convention can be found in Henry 1977:51 and 82-83 (a work brought to my attention by Anne Bielman). Concerning the functions attributed to Tyche even in “archaic” poetry, see Villard 1997:115-1l7 (with numerous bibliographic references), especially concerning Pindar Olympian 12.1-5, and fr. 40 Maehler.

[ back ] 26. Iliad 3.245-301, in an interesting parallel pointed out by Létoublon 1989:105; on this, see also Stengel 1920:136-138.

[ back ] 27. Herodotus 4.153, commented on by Graham 1960:111; see also Chamoux 1952:108-114.

[ back ] 28. Herodotus 4.150.1-4.159.1; in 1996a:128-156, I presented a semio-narrative analysis of these two versions, together with numerous bibliographic references to other studies on the subject; see also the additional comments by Bremmer 2001:155-157.

[ back ] 29. References on this in Malkin 1987:29-88.

[ back ] 30. Pindar Pythian 4.58-60. In addition to the two versions mentioned here, see the very different narrative offered in Pythian 9; on this, see study and references in my work 1996a:99-116.

[ back ] 31. Arkesilas IV, a descendant of the founder Battos and last Battiad king of Cyrene, was forced to flee the city in 440; see to the historical reconstruction proposed by Chamoux 1952:25-38.

[ back ] 32. See especially Malkin 1994:143-158, and Detienne 1998:85-111.

[ back ] 33. Pindar Pythian 5.77-95; see also the commentary I gave on this specific passage in 1996a:57-60 and 119-128; on the architectural reality concealed by the poetic metaphor, see Gentili et al. 1995:535-536.

[ back ] 34. Callimachus Hymn to Apollo 55-96; cf. Calame 1996a:109-113, and Detienne 1998:96-100.

[ back ] 35. On this process of the authorial seal, see details given above at chapter III, section 4.2 above.

[ back ] 36. These two concepts of ipséité and of mêmeté developed by Ricoeur were discussed in references given in the introduction n55. On objects and places of ethnic and cultural identity, see thoughts of Fabietti 1998:145-153.