~by David Aiken~
Pre-Scriptum: A former colleague, who is an art historian at an American university, asked Phrontisterion to help in translating a group of Greek inscriptions in the context of her research project on ancient Roman tombs and funerary frescos depicting garden scenes. Dated at around the first century BC, the inscriptions were discovered in 1842, and excavated along with “frescoes of exceptional quality,” just south of Rome near the ancient Circus Maximus. The inscriptions were interpreted, catalogued, and published for the Musée National du Louvre in Les Inscriptions Grecques, interprétées par W. Fröhner (Paris: Librairies-Imprimeries Réunies, 1864/5).
Figure 1: "Trompe-l'oeil Paintings" of Exceptional Quality at Patron's Tomb
To my knowledge there is still no other published translation specifically of the Patron inscriptions, other than the rather perfunctory renderings, in French, which were advanced in the 1860s by the Louvre curator, Fröhner (1834-1925). I have translated the funeral poems concerning Patron that are available, which are the Greek fragments 233, 234, and 235. Fröhner had originally suggested a reconstruction of several significantly corrupted passages, notably in fragment 233, but these have since been more meaningfully reconstructed by the editors of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG: University of California Irvine, USA). The Greek electronic text used for these translations is from the TLG.
The following is the reconstructed glimpse over the netherworld’s fading threshold, which history permits us, into what was once the life and death of Patron, the doctor.
Figure 2: Engraving of Patron's Tomb (Secchi, Monumenti Inediti d'un Antico Sepolcro (Roma: 1843)
A Matter of Life and Death. At the emplacement of his tomb near the Palatine Hill in Rome, which is one of the most ancient parts of the Eternal City, the story of Patron’s life and death was found etched in stone, rendered in Greek heroic verse.
Patron’s tomb dates from approximately the time of Augustus Cesar, ca. 18 BC (vide Bagnani in Fröhner), and is situated at the Porta Capena, which is the southern gateway in Rome’s Servian Wall, opening out onto the Via Appia. The Servian Wall had the formidable reputation of being capable of repelling the elephant-equipped armies of the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal, who, in today’s geography, would have been a Tunisian, an even more remote son of ancient Phoenicia. That said, the Wall never had the opportunity to live up to its daunting reputation—apparently, and certainly notwithstanding Hannibal’s efforts to the contrary, the Punic general and his armies only ever got to within 5 km of Rome. Which to the Romans at that time, must have seemed just a little too close.
The stone inscriptions of Patron’s life and death are composed in ancient Greek. The curiosity here, of course, is that a non-specialist like this Phrontisterion philosopher would not necessarily have expected to find Greek language funeral inscriptions in Rome. But, then, that is part of the intrigue in this story; because this detail reveals to us something about this immigrant medical doctor, Patron: according to one fragment in the inscriptions, which are composed in Doric, as opposed to Attic Greek, Patron says that his native land was Lycia, which is today found in southwestern Turkey on a finger of land pointing to, and including the island of Rhodes (light brown on the map below).
Scholars talk about the Dorians as a
people, an ethnicity certainly familiar to students of art history for its plain-spoken
Doric columns—which are considered simpler than those of either the Ionians or
the Corinthians; they are also known for art of the Geometric period (ca.
950 BC). But then again, scholars talk about many things and not everything is necessarily interesting or worthwhile. For example, there is a common albeit not unproblematic scholarly notion of a so-called Dorian “invasion” of the Peloponnesus, which should perhaps be more correctly called a migration of Dorian peoples, which is thought to have taken place sometime around 1150 BC.
Figure 4: Architectural Columns
The Doric or Dorian dialect of Ancient Greek, commonly known as western Greek, which was spread about Greece by means of the migration of the Dorian peoples, is fairly indigestible to a simple Hellenophile, like myself, who has been nurtured on the sweet milk of Attic and Koine Greek. In addition to being more or less the standard style of ancient Greek that one studies at school, Attic, or eastern Greek, is also the Greek dialect of Athens, spoken from ca. 500-300 BC. This is the Greek of the classical period of Athens, in which are embodied the works of the dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the comedian Aristophanes, the historian Thucydides, and of course the philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Historically speaking, Attic Greek would slowly evolve into the Koine or common Greek spoken during Hellenistic and Roman antiquity—this is the “superregional” or lingua franca Greek that was spoken from roughly 300 BC to 300 AD all across the Mediterranean basin, and which will also include the writings of Epictetus and the Christian New Testament.
In the briefest possible of wiki-history versions of the Greek dialects, according to those in the know “it” all boils down to Mycenaean or Late Bronze Age Greek (16th-12th centuries BC), which was reconstructed from the Linear B tablets after some first-class linguistic sleuthing by Ventris and Chadwick. The three forms of Greek that evolved from Mycenaean Greek are the Aeolic (Lesbos, western Asia Minor, Boeotian and Thessalian = northeastern Greece), the Doric (northwestern Greece), and the Ionic (western and southwestern Asia Minor). Attic Greek evolved as a subgroup of Ionian Greek.
Doric Greek, on the other hand, which is our present interest, is, historically speaking, an older dialect of Greek, and spoken provincially, which is to say primarily beyond the borders of Attica, which, as its name implies, occupies the Attic Peninsula including, of course, the great polis of Athens. Dating from ca. 800-100 BC, variations of Doric Greek “were spoken in the southern and eastern Peloponnese, Crete, Rhodes, some islands in the southern Aegean Sea, some cities on the coasts of Asia Minor, Southern Italy, Sicily, Epirus and Macedon.”
According to wiki-history, then, the scholarly consensus is that Doric Greek originated among ethnicities living in the mountains of northwestern Greece, which is supposed to be the traditional homeland of the Dorians, and from which the Doric version of Greek was spread to neighboring regions during the Dorian “invasion” and subsequent regional colonizations. Per the wiki-map below, the broader group of Doric dialects, which is indicated by all the various “brownish” regions, will include Doric proper, Northwest Greek, and Achaean Doric.
Important for historians of ideas, is the contextualizing historical setting of our considerations, which is that the two most important ethnicities in 5th century Greece were the Dorians and the Ionians, who were also the two principal players in the Peloponnesian War—a total game-changer for the history of the city of Athens. Prima facie, the war in the Peloponnesus was waged between Athens and Sparta; but the Athenians and their allies in Sicily were ethnically Ionian, while the folks in Syracuse and the Spartans were ethnically Dorian. The war was fought serially, and it was therefore rather long in that it lasted from 431-404 BC, or for about 27 years; but, per the prediction of Socrates just prior to his execution at the hands of the Athenians in 399 BC, the war eventually brought about the decline of the Athenian polis. It goes almost without saying, of course, that the Ionians of Attica, like their Dorian ancestral enemies in the Peloponnesus, had their own dialect of Greek, and their own style of making a column. The Doric areas are color-coded with a distinctive purple on the wiki-map below.
Figure 5: Spoken Greek According to Regions (Source: Wiki)
As we were saying, then, Patron was a medical doctor and ethnically Dorian, which means he spoke Doric Greek, if one may already begin to deduce his language from the language used in his funeral inscriptions. Additionally, one discovers from the inscriptions that he originally hailed from Lycia, which is a whole wide world away from Rome, and that he died and was buried in a beautiful Roman tomb as an immigrant.
Lycia, which today would be Anatolia or the southwestern region of Turkey, was a Doric Greek speaking region of Asia Minor. It was subsumed into the Greek empire that was being constructed by Alexander the Great, and, after the defeat of the Persian King, Darius III, at the battle of Issus (southern Anatolia) in 331 BC, Lycia was totally Hellenized under the rule of the Macedonians. After 168 BC, when Lycia enjoyed official home rule within the context of the Lycian League, the region enjoyed some degree of autonomy under the protectorate of the Roman republic; however, Lycia was neither independent nor a sovereign region, but a self-governing region under republican principles. It also had the right, apparently for a time, to mint its own coins. In 43 AD emperor Claudius dissolved the Lycian League, and Lycia was again incorporated, with provincial status, into the Roman Empire. This would be about the time, historically, that Patron would have appeared on the scene.
There have been some fine heroes in history and myth who claim Lycia as their homeland. Much of the early foundational history of the region is recounted in The Histories of Herodotus, having to do with the sons of Europa, Sarpedon (the grandfather of the Homeric one) and Minos; it was Minos who bested Sarpedon in vying for the throne in Crete, thus driving him away from Crete and into our narrative. In his flight, grandfather Sarpedon lands in Milyas, which is the ancient name for later Lycia.
Apparently Bellerophon, of Pegasus fame and monster-killer extraordinaire, credited with slaying Chimera, was also later king in Lycia. This story comes to us via Homer (Il. 6.155-203), being told by his grandson, Glaucus (Trojan ally), who, one remembers, meets the great Diomedes (Greek) on the battlefield (Bks. 2 & 6) and, instead of fighting as enemies, they actually exchange gifts of friendship because their grandfathers had been befriended. Diomedes got the best of the exchange, however, and notwithstanding the excellence of the gesture, Glaucus comes down to us as a somewhat tragic fool of the gods who would later be killed by Ajax.
In a one-thing-leading-to-another kind of way, though, the first Sarpedon, who fled Crete from his brother, ultimately yielded a second Sarpedon, through Laodamia (daughter of Bellerophon); this second hero was killed at Troy. This Sarpedon grandson is famous for having had a good grump at Hector, the Trojan general (Bk. 5), on the nature of heroism or lack thereof, and, additionally, for giving a wonderful speech on the honorable, heroic life (Bk. 12), as well as for living and dying an uncertain number of times—being a favorite of Zeus, the King of the Gods tried to keep him from dying at the hands of Diomedes, until Hera reminded her husband that gods did not have that right (Bk. 16), at which point Zeus backs off. So—spoiler alert, Sarpedon gets to really die; but the comedy gets played out anyway, because Apollo recovers the body and has it delivered back to Lycia for funeral honors. All is well that ends well, in a Greek tragic, heroic kind of a way.
Figure 6: The death of Sarpedon, the Euphronios krater, ca. 515 BC (Source: Wiki)
Now, all of this chatting about heroes hither and yon in the pages of Lycian history, necessarily brings us back full circle to the Roman funeral inscriptions of our good doctor, Patron, which are not “simply” composed in Doric Greek, but are in fact rendered in the heroic poetic form and rhythms of the Greek epic.
According to common sources, scholarly opinion seems to be that Doric Greek is the “conventional dialect of choral lyric poetry”; but then I am not sure that this bit of information advances us much, because choral lyric poetry is not written in the epic form, which Patron’s inscriptions definitely are. There is equally scholarship suggesting that ‘epic praise’ will undergo historical transformation already in Classical Athens, shifting from its traditional expression through Homeric poetry/verse, and being replaced instead with the more democratically oriented funeral oration. The strength of this theory is grounded in the funeral oration of Pericles (Thucydides, History 2.41.4), who, speaking over the Athenian dead, says:
We need no Homer to sing our praise, nor anyone else who with his verses may delight for a moment…” Instead of relying on more traditional or customary rhetorical devices to demonstrate their ‘power through epic poetry’, as had the aristocratic Athens of antiquity, “Pericles assures the [5th century] Athenians that their city has provided overwhelming demonstrations of its power, and especially in view of the dead they were there to honor. Such tangible proofs, he contends, are sufficient in and of themselves to ensure the glory of the city (http://www.pdf-archive.com/2015/10/14/thucydides-rationalism-2005/, p. 11).
The Greek epic tradition is, first and foremost, the poetry of Homer. The most anodyne definition of the epic is, as every schoolboy learns, that it is a lengthy poem containing tales of journeys and deeds of derring-do. But this definition does not inform us as to why a 1st century BC funeral inscription would be composed in epic verse, unless, of course, we give value to the metaphorical element of the deceased’s journey through life, and then the passage from life to death. This certainly seems a fitting hermeneutical entry into thinking about and interpreting the Patron inscriptions.
A second direction to go in considering the Patron inscriptions is not to consider necessarily the content of the inscriptions for epic material, but rather for their metrical form. Standard epic verse, which is traditionally composed in hexameter metrical lines, is also certainly apparent in the Patron inscriptions (vide Fröhner, 294).
Finally, there is a consideration of the actual vocabulary used in the inscriptions, which is in fact and in deed denotationally dominated by Doric epic elements. This seems consistent with general usage in antiquity, for, according to one site, “All later Greek poetry relied on Epic practice to a greater or lesser degree. This included vocabulary, a choice of alternates for noun declension and verb conjugation, turns of phrase and even particular quirks of syntax.” This description of “epic practice” is certainly fitting, considering all the Doric language elements, apparent both in noun/adjective declensions as well as the verb conjugations, with which the Patron inscriptions are replete to overflowing.
The Patron inscriptions (circa 18 BC).
TOMB OF PATRON
(233.) ΑΛΛΟ. (t)
233. I am Patron; and the fatherland that bore me, Lycia. /
And valor among honors can be expected with respect to my accomplishments. /
You are blessed, [Lycia] who do not send me off again back to the light of the sun, /
But rather, from afar you oversee funeral rites celebrated to honor one of noble family born.
233.bis. Commentary: Our native lands send us forth into the light of the sun as immigrants, whether literal or metaphorical, and observe from a distance as we are given again to the shadows. The valor of our accomplishments between sun and shadow is ours to win, but it does not belong to us alone; our honors are also those of our native soil. The individual is always surrounded by a crowd of witnesses.
233.ter. Fröhner French (1864/5, 295). Je suis Patron, [……] est mon pays natal ; maintenant l’Hadès m’a reçu, moi qui fus si bienveillant pendant mon administration. Heureux Hadès ! tu ne me renvoies plus à la lumière du soleil, car j’ai appartenu à une noble famille, moi qui suis enterré ici.
(234.) ΑΛΛΟ. (t)
Εἰς τὸν αὐτόν. (n)
Οὐ βάτοι, οὐ τρίβολοι τὸν ἐμὸν τάφον ἀμφὶς ἔχουσιν @1 (1)
οὐδ’ ὀλολυγαία νυκτερὶς ἀμπέταται·
ἀλλά με πᾶν δένδρος χαρίεν περὶ ῥίσκον ἀνέρπει
κυκλόθεν εὐκάρποις κλωσὶν ἀγαλλόμενον.
Ποτᾶται δὲ πέριξ λιγυρὴ μινυρίστρι’ ἀηδὼν (5)
καὶ τέττιξ γλυκεροῖς χείλεσι λιρὰ χέων,
καὶ σοφὰ τραυλίζουσα χελιδονὶς, ἥ τε λιγύ
Πάτρων ὅσσα βροτοῖσιν ἐράσμια πάντ’ ἐτέλεσσα
ὄφρα καὶ εἰν Ἀΐδᾳ τερπνὸν ἔχοιμι τόπον· (10)
τἆλλα δὲ πάνθ’ ἃ λέλοιπα καὶ ἐν νεότητι κατέκτην
ᾤχετο πλὴν ἃ πρὶν ζῶν ἀπεκαρπισάμην.
234. Neither brambles nor burdocks are gathering around my tomb, / (1)
Nor does any shrilling bat turn overhead; /
But rather every tree gracefully spreads upwards, twisting in a circle all about my vault, /
Which is made glorious from all sides by their branches heavy laden with fruit. /
And flitting around and about is a clear-voiced warbler, a songstress, / (5)
And a cicada boldly holding forth from between sweet lips, /
And a clever swallow quietly intoning, or even a cricket’s shrill chirping, /
When a pleasant song is pouring forth from her breast. /
[I], Patron, achieved all sorts of lovely things among mortal men /
In order that I should also have a delightful place as well in Hades; / (10)
But, also, I have left behind all those things I used to seek after in my youth; /
It is all gone, save that fruit which I harvested before, while alive.
234.bis. Commentary: Patron’s tomb is not a place of decay and abandon, but is surrounded by the beautiful, the pleasant, and the fruitful. This is obviously also true of Patron’s life, which was a ‘place’ of fruitful and pleasant plantings and sowing. The goodness that Patron sowed during his life spent among men, is the only abiding fruit that Patron gets to leave behind.
234.ter. Fröhner French (1864/5, 294). Ni ronces ni épines n’entourent mon tombeau ; nulle chauve-souris aux cris perçants ne tournoie au-dessus ; mais toutes sortes de charmants arbustes, les branches ornées de beaux fruits, poussent autour de mon cercueil et on y voit voltiger le rossignol aux mélodies retentissantes et la cigale à la voix douce et harmonieuse, et l’hirondelle aux doctes gazouillements, et la sauterelle aux cris sonores, qui, du fond de sa poitrine, répand ses jolies chansons. (Moi) Patron, j’ai rendu aux hommes beaucoup de bons services pour avoir aux enfers une place agréable. De tous les biens que j’ai quittés et que je possédais dans ma jeunesse, il ne me reste rien, si ce n’est (le souvenir) des jouissances que j’ai goûtées durant ma vie.
(235.) ΑΛΛΟ. (t)
Πατὴρ Πάτρων μὲν, Ἀπποληΐα δ’ ἐγώ· (1)
τεκνῶ δὲ δισσὰ τέκνα, πατέρα δ’ εὖ λέγω.
235. My father is Patron, and I am Appoleia;
I have brought two children into the world, and I commend [eulogize] my father.
235.bis. Commentary: The children, and the children’s’ children, are the fruit of a parent’s planting, but a harvest for the future.
235.ter. Fröhner French (1864/5, 295). Mon père est Patron, moi je suis Appuleja. J’ai eu deux enfants et je bénis mon père.
(Reprised and reworked from an original essay published on Phrontisterion in March 2016.)