The importance of publishing the small inscribed fragments (frustula)
Recently, on the occasion of the presentation in SEG LVIII 1 (2012) of the publication by M. B. Walbank, Fragmentary Decrees from
the Athenian Agora, Hesperia Supplement 38, Princeton 2008, Ronald S. Stroud offered us an excellent short
piece on the importance of publishing the small inscribed fragments, the frustula. Stroud’ s critical note turns against
the view -absolutely wrong in my opinion too- that there is no need to publish these very small fragments because they do not
contribute to the study of Greek inscriptions.
Stroud’s excellent piece has inspired me to make the following remarks on the history of this subject matter:
It is important that Walbank identified a few of these frustula as belonging with some certainty to published inscriptions, as for example nos. 90, 105, 106, 116, 119, 120 and probably 91 and 124; this particular contribution of his to our scholarship should be stressed and should be considered as one of the very positive aspects of his publication.
I believe that a fundamental principle that should apply in the field of Epigraphy in our time –a principle that should have been endorsed by all the students of our discipline a long time ago- has been expressed in 1871 in the most lucid and rigorous fashion by Stephanos A. Koumanoudes in the monumental prolegomena of his Ἀττικῆς Ἐπιγραφαὶ ἐπιτύμβιοι, Athens 1871, ζ΄:
Διῄρεσα δὲ τὸ ὅλον τῆς περιληφθείσης ἐν τῇ συλλογῇ ταύτῃ ὕλης εἰς ἐννέα μέρη…Τὸ θ´(περιέχει) τὰς ἀτελεστάτας ἐπιγραφάς, τὰς ἐν λειψάνοις ὀλίγων γραμμάτων, ἐσθ᾽ ὅτε καὶ ἑνὸς μόνου, καὶ τούτου κολοβοῦ, περισωθείσας·καὶ ταύτας δὲ κατ᾽ἀλφαβητικὴν τάξιν ὅσον ἐνεδέχετο. Ἂς μὴ δυσανασχετήσῃ δὲ μηδεὶς διὰ τὸ πλῆθος τούτων τῶν κολοβωτάτων ἐπιγραφῶν καὶ ἂς μὴ μοῦ καταγνῶ ματαιοπονίαν·διότι πρῶτον μὲν δὲν εἶμαι ἐγὼ ὁ πρῶτος ὅστις τοιαύτας ἐπεχείρησα νὰ ἐκδώσω·ἔπειτα τὰ τοιαῦτα τεμάχια κατὰ τὴν γνώμην τῶν ὀλίγων, τῶν περιεργαζομένων αὐτά, ἢ χρησιμεύουν τι ἢ δὲν χρησιμεύουν.
It is obvious that Koumanoudes used on purpose –and not because he was influenced by the romanticism which characterized his time- an extreme example, that of Socrates, in order to show the importance of keeping and publishing even the most insignificant and tiny frustulum.1
It is easy for one to understand how different the situation would have been, had J. Kirchner not disregarded and omitted from his publication (IG II/III2: 1913-1940) the hundreds of frustula for which he used to say:2 “pulvis calcarius”, «δὲν ἀξίζει» (it is not worth it) and to note in his notebooks, where he copied many small fragments, ‘non edo’. It is worth noting how Kirchner expressed himself about the small fragments in his praefatio of the fascicle of the Attic funeral inscriptions (1940), pars III fasc. 2, p. V in spite of the fact that he recognized their importance: ‘Etiam fragmenta minuta, qualia Dittenberger edenda indicavit, omisimus. Haec quidem typis expressa nullum usum habent, in museis asservata ad membra disjecta copulanda eximii sunt momenti’.3
The fact that Koumanoudes was right is proven by the numerous frustula published and joined to large fragments since his time. In many cases these tiny fragments, in spite of their small size, have contributed substantially to the study of the inscription to which they belong. In recent years systematic work in the storerooms of the Acropolis and the South Slope revealed many such frustula, of which a few have a physical join to already published inscriptions and offer new evidence on the content of the texts; other frustula that were not joined to the old fragments, nevertheless they initiated with their publication new approaches to the study of certain inscriptions.
It is high time for our scholarship that small fragments of inscriptions be identified and published4 and, –to limit myself to Attica– primarily those that are stored in the Epigraphical Museum and other major collections of Attica.
In view of the fact that this note has paid special attention to Koumanoudes’ excerpt from the prolegomena of his book titled Ἀττικῆς ἐπιγραφαὶ ἐπιτύμβιοι, I find it useful and appropriate to cite below A. Wilhelm’s praise of Koumanoudes’ prolegomena stressing this text’s value for the students of Greek Epigraphy:5 «κτῆμα δὲ εἰς ἀεὶ εἶνε τὰ Προλεγόμενα τοῦ ἔργου τούτου [τῶν ΑΕΕ], καὶ θὰ μοὶ ἐπιτρέψητε νὰ συστήσω Ὑμῖν6 τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν αὐτῶν θερμότατα, ὅπως ἐκτιμήσητε τὸ ὑπεροχον πνεῦμα, τὰς εὐρείας γνώσεις, τὴν ἄκραν φιλαλήθειαν καὶ τὰς ἄλλας ἀρετὰς του λίαν φιλοπόνου καὶ φιλοπάτριδος ἀνδρός, ὃνπερ ηὐτύχησα νέος ὢν νὰ γνωρίσω καὶ τοῦ ὁποίου πάντοτε σέβομαι τὴν μνήμην.».
1 On Koumanoudes’ principle and on the question regarding the small fragments including Kirchner’s view on this matter see, the Ἐπιλεγόμενα (Postscript) by Matthaiou in S. Α. Κoumanoudes, Ἀττικῆς ἐπιγραφαὶ ἐπιτύμβιοι. Προσθῆκαι, S. Ν. Κoumanoudes – A. P. Matthaiou (eds.), Athens 1993, 471-2 and note 23, 491 and note 89-90.
2 See W. Peek, Attische Inschriften II, Berlin 1957, 4.
3 See the criticism to Kirchner’s view by W. Peek, op. cit., p. 4; also the critical approach of Peek’s views by L. Robert in Bull.épigr. 1958, 551-2, no. 206.
4 It is a good thing that, according to Professor Klaus Hallof, Kirchner’s notebooks with all those frustula are kept in the Archive of the Inscriptiones Graecae. One may understand that they are very important for the work of the identification of the ‘unpublished’ frs. kept in the EM along with the old Acropolis catalogue also kept in the Epigraphical Museum. I am convinced that 2 projects are absolutely necessary to take place soon: the first is the cataloguing of Kirchner’s notebooks and the second is the identification of the ‘unpublished’ frs. of the EM. This work could be undertaken by a small team of young scholars.
5 See A. Wilhelm, Εἰσαγωγικὰ περὶ τῶν Ἑλληνικῶν ἐπιγραφῶν, Greek Epigraphic Society, Athens 20052, 16.
6 In 1926 Wilhelm spoke to the students of Athens' University Philosophical School and the quotation is part of the introductory class (first published in 1926; see footnote 3) that he delivered in Modern Greek on that day to the students.