CHS 2020 Fall Fellows: Milena Anfosso

My current project as a CHS Fellow is to further develop the results of a substantial chapter of my dissertation in order to produce my first monograph in English, with the provisional title Entwining Greek with Asian Speech.

In my dissertation –– originally written in French and entitled Problèmes linguistiques du rapport entre Grec(s) et Phrygien(s) (2019, Sorbonne University, Paris, 488 pages) –– I studied the complex relationship between Greeks and Phrygians from a sociolinguistic perspective. Phrygian was the closest language to Greek among all the other ancient Indo-European languages, having shared a common prehistory on the Balkans (3rd millennium BCE, approximately), before the Phrygians’ migrations to Anatolia (12th century BCE). Yet despite this linguistic kinship, Greeks and Phrygians underwent different historical developments, which led the Greeks to identify the Phrygians as the incarnation of the stereotype of the barbarian slave (5th century BCE). In order to explain specific phenomena that I noticed while digging into the Greek literary texts and the Phrygian inscriptions (from the 9th century BCE to the 3rd century CE), I used conceptual tools that have been elaborated in modern sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and cognitive linguistics, as well as more traditional methods drawn from historical/comparative linguistics and Classical philology. This interdisciplinary approach is a distinctive feature of my research.

Because of its broad chronological scope and the great variety of Greek and Phrygian interactions, it is not advisable for my dissertation to be published in its entirety as a single book. That is why, during my Fellowship at CHS, I will focus on the material of Chapter 2, which was considered by my jury (including specialists in several fields: Classics, Linguistics, Greek and Phrygian Epigraphy) to be the most innovative, and publish a revised version of it as my first book. In Chapter 2, I studied the Greek speech of a Phrygian soldier engaged in the Persian army, as portrayed in the nome Persians (more specifically in verses 140–161), a poetic description of the Battle of Salamis (480 BCE), by the lyric poet Timotheus of Miletus (late 5th century BCE).

The narrative structure of Timotheus’ nome is really interesting, since it progresses through a succession of impassioned speeches in which the poet not only expressed the different emotions of his characters with his music, but also mimicked their different voices playing with four different registers, adapting the language to the social level and the ethnic origin of each character. By doing so, he was able to display strongly contrasted pictures of the defeat experienced by the Persians at Salamis: first, through the words of a rich Persian lord (72–81), secondly through a chorus of shipwrecked ordinary men from Lydia or Mysia (105–38), thirdly, through the desperate gibberish of a humble Phrygian soldier (150–61), and finally through the lament of the Great King of Persia himself, Xerxes (178–95).

The “most extreme” speech from a linguistic point of view is, of course, the Phrygian soldier’s one. Many features of this speech have traditionally been stigmatized as being just linguistically incorrect or reflecting Timotheus’ baroque virtuosity and his adherence to so-called “New Music”. However, it seems much more interesting to me to investigate them on the basis of modern sociolinguistic concepts, which will be presented in the introduction of my monograph. The incomplete linguistic competence of a non-native speaker in a target language is known as a linguistic register called broken language, which can be easily imitated by a native speaker through a register called secondary foreigner talk. Thus, the deviations from the norm of Greek language in the Phrygian soldier’s speech can be explained 1) in terms of linguistic strategies deployed by Timotheus in order to reproduce in a credible way the type of Greek spoken by the Phrygian soldier, and 2) in the light of the latest knowledge of linguistic contacts between Greek, Phrygian, Lydian, and Old Persian in Anatolia in the Achaemenid Era.

Starting from this point, I would like to investigate more in detail with a view to publication some aspects that I necessarily had to leave aside while writing my dissertation’s chapter. First of all, I will analyze the other characters’ speeches in Timotheus’ nome from the same sociolinguistic perspective. Then, I will compare Timotheus’ Phrygian soldier’s speech to other foreigner talks in Greek literature from the same geographic area in order to better understand the linguistic strategies used by other authors to give voice to foreigner characters, more specifically, Asian. Of course, the first candidate will be Euripides’ Phrygian slave in the Orestes (1369–1502), because it is the closest parallel to the Phrygian soldier from both a chronological and thematic point of view. Then, I will extend my comparison to the linguistic strategies in, e.g., Aeschylus’ Persians, as well as in Aristophanes’ Acharnians (Pseudartabas, 100, 104).

Throughout my sociolinguistic analysis, I will contextualize the literary passages into the multiethnic situation that characterized Western Anatolia in the Achaemenid Era by making use of historical and epigraphic sources. For example, I will explore more deeply the contacts between Lydians and Phrygians in the Kelainai area, which is the birthplace of Timotheus’ Phrygian soldier. The presence of Lydians in the Phrygian city of Kelainai, as suggested by a Lydian inscription and by Herodotus (7.27–29), remains controversial. Then, since the Phrygian soldier is engaged in the Persian army, I will investigate Phrygian contact with Iranian peoples during the Persian domination of Anatolia. On the one hand, this is attested by the presence of several Iranian anthroponyms in the local inscriptions. On the other hand, the unique Phrygian tablet A. 29797 = HP-114 found in the debris of Persepolis attests to the presence of a Phrygian-speaking community in Persepolis during the Achaemenid Era. Even though the tablet is well known, I think that it would be useful to better understand the historical circumstances of the Phrygian presence in Persia at that time, perhaps in connection with the Persian deportations of workforce personnel from Anatolia.

Thanks to my CHS Fellowship I am having an opportunity to strengthen my work on secondary foreigner talk in Greek literature by pursuing important revisions and by providing deeper insights. The publication of my monograph will allow me to reach beyond the specialized scholarly audience of my dissertation, engaging a broader public with a work that addresses ancient linguistic and cultural diversity. Thus, I am deeply grateful to CHS since, despite the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, it is allowing me to pursue research and to take full advantage of its rich library and of the feedback of the best possible scholars in Hellenic Studies in the world, in a supportive and collaborative (even if virtual) environment.

Milena Anfosso

Milena Anfosso earned a Ph.D. (2014–2019) summa cum laude in Ancient Greek Linguistics from Sorbonne University, Paris, France. She holds an M.A. (2011–2013) and a B.A. (2007–2011) in Classics, both summa cum laude, from the University of Turin, Italy. She spent three years (2016–2019) as a Visiting Researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, Program in Indo-European Studies thanks to (among others) a prestigious award from Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet’s Foundation (“Prix de la Vocation”, 2015, Publicis Group, Paris). Milena has given talks and published several articles in English, French, and Italian, focusing on the sociolinguistic relationships between the Greeks, the Phrygians, and the other Anatolian populations in Ancient Anatolia, spanning from the 9th century BCE to the 3rd century CE. She is versed in Italian Dialectology as well, more specifically in the particular dialectal linguistic heritage (Hellenic and Romance) of the Italian region of Calabria. In addition to her scholarly research, she is interested in translation and creative writing.