Number One on the Charts

It might come as a surprise that one of the first tasks I jumped on when I started as the From Stone to Screen TA was taking a bunch of big, confusing, and largely unlabeled pieces of old (but not ancient) paper and attempting to put them into some kind of sensible order. I know that might not sound exciting when we have piles and piles of squeezes and artifacts to look at, but believe me, these old pieces of paper are a lot more than meets the eye.

See, these papers are the epigraphic charts that our very own Dr. Malcolm McGregor and his colleagues used to piece together fragments of the Athenian Tribute Lists (henceforth referred to as ATLs) and to begin understanding how all the fragments we have found would have fit into the original stelae where the lists were inscribed. Of course, the finalized charts are published in the (now out of print) book The Athenian Tribute Lists by Benjamin D. Meritt, H. T. Wade-Gery, and Malcolm F. McGregor, published in 1939, and yes, there has been some controversy over the reordering of the lists, but despite the passage of time and changing theories, the educational value of these epigraphic charts is in no way diminished.

In fact, since the ordering of the ATLs has come into question, it has become even more important, interesting, and instructive to take a look at how McGregor and Co.’s original published arrangement came to be. For one, it is absolutely boggling to my 21st century mind that the scholars of the past managed to undertake such detailed work without the help of computers. Just imagine a bunch of academics sitting in a room with a huge stack of squeezes, all difficult to read because they’re backwards and missing tons of letters, and putting them together like the world’s trickiest puzzle…or, actually, something more like a seemingly random fraction of the world’s trickiest puzzle, since at least half of the pieces are missing, and there’s no picture on the front of the box telling you how it all fits together. Also the finished puzzle could end up being about the size of a room. And there’s no undo button. Oh, and the entire thing is in Greek. The fact that these charts are so elegant seems, to me at least, to be a major feat of scholarship and patience in and of itself.


From Epigraphic_Charts_3_1

As it happens, reordering the charts wasn’t nearly as tricky as I had initially anticipated, and it was certainly not even close to the Herculean task of ordering the squeezes themselves. It turns out all but one of them are full charts of Stele I (the images currently numbered Epigraphic_Charts 5, 6, 9, and 11) and Stele II (the images currently numbered Epigraphic_Charts 1-4, 7, and 8). There is a blank copy of each chart and then a few copies with notes on them. The notes on the charts range from a simple numbering of each of the pieces to some more cryptic notes like “darker,” which I suspect has something to do with preparing the image for publishing (ahh, the joys of human error!), to filling in words and letters missing from the extant pieces as in Epigraphic_Charts_5_1 (a task which, even on its own, must have taken lots of time, effort, and educated guesswork).


From Epigraphic_Charts_5_1

Now, of course, there’s the matter of the outlier. One of the charts didn’t match either of the two groups (the image currently numbered Epigraphic_Charts 10). However, there’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is: the chart was labeled with an IG number. The bad news is: to say that Dr. McGregor’s handwriting can sometimes be a little tricky to decipher is a bit of an understatement. Despite the fact that his letters are very neat, I often find myself struggling to read his numbers, which, of course, are very, very important when you’re trying to match them up with squeezes in the collection and inscriptions on the ATLs! Try to read the IG number below.


From Epigraphic_Charts_10_1

What number did you get? I read it as IG I4 114, which, after doing a good deal of searching and tilting my head from side to side seeing if the number looked any different from a different angle, I discovered that IG I4 114 is an IG number that does not seem to exist. Luckily, Chelsea pointed out that what I thought was a superscript 4  was actually a superscript 2, leaving us with the number IG I2 114, an inscription which not only exists but also has a squeeze that resides in our very own collection. The Latin title of the squeeze is “Restaurata Rei Publicae Constitutio,” which translates roughly to “The Restored/Renewed Constitution of the Republic,” and the inscription itself was made in 409 BCE. You can take a look at the squeeze and see more information about it on the UBC library website here.

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Epigraphic Chart 10_1


Once the epigraphic charts are online (which will be sometime in the very near future), we hope that researchers and students might use them to examine the thought processes behind the decisions McGregor and his colleagues had to make in order to come up with their final version of the ATL arrangement. Additionally, these charts might give us, especially those of us who have not published books, some insight into how the publishing process for images of this sort used to work. Perhaps they might even come in handy for studying how the publishing process has changed over the course of the last century. Most of all, though, we would also love to see professors using the charts in classrooms to introduce students to the fascinating, puzzle-like nature of ordering and deciphering ancient Greek inscriptions from their often scant remains. So now we turn to you, blog followers! Do you have any more ideas as to how we can use these charts as teaching tools?

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