Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Biggest Inscription of the Ancient World

I recently noticed that the University of Köln, in collaboration with publishers Rudolf Habelt, have begun to put the journal Epigraphica Anatolica online. The latest available issue, EA volume 40 (2007), includes a paper by Martin F. Smith and Jürgen Hammaerstaedt entitled "The inscription of Diogenes of Oinoanda". It seems that work is continuing on this, the biggest inscription of the ancient world.

Giant Inscription

Smith, an independent scholar based in Shetland, has been studying this remarkable inscription, set up by the Epicurean philosopher Diogenes of Oinoanda, since 1968. Prior to that year, eighty-eight fragments were known to nineteenth century scholars; Smith added a further 125 during the years from 1968 to 1994, 10 more in 1997, another in 2003, and five in 2007, bringing the total to 229 pieces.

Oinoanda Fragment 12It seems that the inscription, proclaiming the wisdom of the third century BC philosopher Epicurus, occupied an entire wall of a stoa, or collonaded gallery, perhaps 100m long, which Diogenes had built in the city agora at Oinoanda (Turkey). When the city fell into disrepair, the stoa must have been gradually dismantled and the individual blocks dispersed for reuse across the site, some of them in an emergency defensive wall.

Scholars believe that the inscription includes several individual works; the title of one of them, Old Age, appears on Fragment 137. Others include miscellaneous Epicurean maxims, and a treatise on ethics, around half of which survives. One of the fragments explains that "I wanted, by making use of this stoa, to set out the remedies which bring health and safety".

Smith has estimated that only around one-third of the enormous jigsaw has so far been pieced together. Much work remains to be done. Hammerstaedt and Smith promise more discoveries in Epigraphica Anatolica volume 41 (2008), which will soon be going online, too.

Official Oinoanda, City of Diogenes web site: