The Others. Looking for diversity in Euboean linguistic ecosystems

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During my stay at CHS I worked on my main project ‘The Others. Looking for diversity in Euboean linguistic ‘ecosystems’ and I focused on three research areas: 1) the edition of the new as well as the old tablets from Styra (Euboea, ca. 475 BCE); 2) the re-analysis of already published inscriptions by collocating them in a multi-lingual context; 3) the collection and analysis of all metrical inscriptions found in Euboea. The revision of the Euboean epigraphic material allowed me to present a better view of the Euboean dialect and of its differentiation on the island as well as in the colonial areas. The new perspective (by ‘looking for diversity’) I adopted enabled me to give an idea of the complex relationships and interactions of the Euboeans with Greeks speaking other dialects as well as with people speaking other languages.


During my stay at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC I worked in three main areas in order to develop my main project ‘The Others. Looking for diversity in Euboean linguistic ecosystems’:

1) the edition and commentary of the anthroponyms which appear on the tablets from Styra (Euboea, ca. 475 BCE) – both ones which have already been published and ‘new’ ones;

2) the new reading and/or interpretation of already published Euboean inscriptions (e.g., the coin legend from Himera, a Euboean colony in Sicily);

3) the study of epigraphic poetry in Euboea.


A new edition of the lead tablets from Styra (Euboea, ca. 475 BCE) is essential, not only because of the new material which I have recently discovered, but also because the readings published by E. Ziebarth (IG XII 9, 56) are not always reliable and need to be improved, as Masson (1992) points out. This big corpus of about 500 tablets is strategic to our understanding and analysis of the Euboean dialect outside Eretria, the town to which most archaic and classical Euboean inscriptions belong. The corpus is also important for our understanding of democratic praxis at the beginning of the Classical age, these tablets functioning as a means of identification (tesserae publicae) for casts and/or voting.

During my residential term at CHS I worked on the edition of the tablets from Basel (Antikenmuseum), Halle (Robertinum) and Paris (Louvre). I also worked on the so-called ‘Waddington tablets’, a batch published exclusively by François Lenormant, a French scholar known to have forged some of the numerous inscriptions he published. The ‘Waddington’ tablets were never found and Lenormant seems to be the only scholar who has seen them. Nevertheless, as Masson (1992: 70) explains, Lenormant’s edition can be considered genuine. I have tried to demonstrate this, on the one hand, by showing that the proper names of the ‘Waddington’ batch are compatible with the other proper names of the corpus (bases, suffixes), and on the other hand, by showing that a significant number of proper names, which were hapax at the time of Lenormant’s publication, were later confirmed by other inscriptions that Lenormant could not have known about (cf., in particular, Dell’Oro submitted and in preparation).

Among the most interesting proper names of the so-called ‘Waddington batch’ are Homḗrios (IG XII 9, 56, 135) and Phéllouros (IG XII, 9, 56, 406), both hapax.

Debiasi (2012) thinks that Homḗrios is derived directly from the proper name Hómēros. I am not in agreement with him on this point and I prefer to derive the proper name Homḗrios from an appellative noun, such as *hómēros/hómāros ‘he who fits (the song) together’ (Nagy 1979 = 19992: 296-300; 2009: 288) or *hómērispanēguris, assembly’ (Durante 1957 = 1976: 189), as Hómēros is not attested as a proper name before the 4th century BCE (apart from the immortal Greek poet, of course). Nevertheless, the proper name Homḗrios could have been easily connected by ancient people to the name Hómēros, whose figure and name emerged during the Archaic age. From this perspective, Homḗrios can be called a forerunner in the diffusion of the proper name Hómēros attested only from the 4th century BCE onwards (only 29 individuals bore this name – in the Ionic form or in other dialectal variants – according to the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names:

The spelling of Phéllouros is unexpected for the Euboean epichoric alphabet (where the sequence -ΟΥ- reflects a real diphthong). The proper name of the star Arktoûros ‘Bearward’ (literally, the ‘guardian of the bear’) was spelled harktoûros in Attica at a very early time (IG I3 2, 9, end of the 6th century BCE) and can offer a good parallel, at least if the etymology of Phéllouros is the same. Masson (1992: 70, n. 48) interprets Phéllouros as containing the noun ourá ‘tail’. Phéllouros would then mean ‘tail (ourá) of the oak (phellós)’, but this seems strange and the meaning “guardian (°orós) of the oak” could perhaps be more fitting. The question is worth a more in-depth study and when I started to analyze some more compounds with the second element °ouros I realized that some etymologies need a revision: e.g. págouros ‘crab’ is probably not ‘that with a hard tail’, but rather the ‘guardian of the rocks (págos)’. At a certain point, there was certainly a confusion between the two possible meanings of a second compound element °ouros ‘tail’ and ‘guardian’ (a paper is in preparation).

Apart from such etymological problems, the study of the lead tablets from Styra (Euboea) is significant in many respects: from anthroponomy to dialectology, from palaeography to the study of democracy. In fact, the completion of their analysis will provide an improved overview of Greek anthroponymic practices (many proper names are hapax), a better understanding of a Southern variety of Euboean (to be compared with the better known Eretrian variety), a unique insight into handwriting and its diffusion among the citizens of an ancient community (with the possibility of establishing a diachrony, as some tablets were re-used), and a better comprehension of democratic praxis at the beginning of the Classical age.

New readings and/or new interpretations

As an example of a new interpretation of an already published inscription whose interpretation I tried to improve during my stay at CHS, I have chosen the case of the coin legend KIMARA (end of the 5th century BCE) from the Euboean colony of Himera. I interpret KIMARA as a variant of the (non-Greek) name of the town. A pun on the name of the he-goat (chímaros) seems attested by the coin itself, as the animal appears on its obverse (as well as on many other coins from Himera). On the basis of this pun, as well as of the Greek rendering of the toponym, I formulate the hypothesis that either the form KIMARA is the result of the loss of initial aspiration, or that at that time in Himera chímaros was pronounced without aspiration as in the so-called Siculian area (kútra, not khútra ‘pot’). If my analysis is correct, the phenomenon of the loss of aspiration in Sicilian Greek was then regionally more extended than previously thought. For a full development of my argumentation, cf. Dell’Oro (accepted). This is an interesting case (substratum) of the presence of the ‘others’ in a Greek-speaking area and can contribute to a better understanding of a linguistically and culturally highly mixed region such as Sicily.

Epigraphic poetry

During my stay at CHS I collected all the attestations of metrical inscriptions which were realized between the Archaic and the Byzantine age in Euboea. I made this in view of a study specifically devoted to this kind of epigraphic findings. I also collected most of the bibliography on such inscriptions.

I started to analyze the funerary inscriptions for strangers in Euboea, which represent ca. a quarter of the corpus of the epigraphic poetry found on the island. Some first results were presented at the conference ‘Langue poétique et formes dialectales dans les inscriptions versifiées grecques’ which took place in Lyon (France) mid-June. I presented some recently published Euboean inscriptions as well as a new edition of the Timarete-inscription (IG XII 9, 285). I showed that – consciously or not – the poets of the epigrams for foreigners did not use any dialectal forms which could be marked as specifically ‘Euboean’ (e.g. no rhotacism in Eretria). I also argued that especially the most ancient epigrams should be regarded as attempts to recreate local identities (Aegina, Athens, Sparta and so on) in a foreign place (Euboea). From this perspective no perfect correspondence has to be sought with the alphabets and the dialects of the places of origin, but rather compatibility. The monuments were primarily for the local Euboean community rather than for travelers from the different places of origin of the commemorated people. For example, the alphabet of the Timarete-inscription is certainly not the best example of the Aeginetic alphabet (shape of the letters, presence of a Ionian ksi), but can be considered as a ‘recreation’ of it in a foreign place.

The new linguistic approach which I have adopted in the study of the ‘Euboean’ epigraphic documents sheds new light on many of them and reveals fascinating and thought-provoking parallels with the challenges of our society, where where language, as an integral part of identity, can be used as a means to create barriers or to form bonds.


Debiasi, Andrea. 2012. “Homer ἀγονιστής in Chalcis.” In Homeric contexts: neoanalysis and the interpretation of oral poetry, ed. F. Montanari, A. Rengakos, Ch. Tsagalis, 471-500. Trends in classics. Supplementary volumes 12, Berlin – Boston, De Gruyter.

Dell’Oro, Francesca. In preparation. Les lamelles de Styra. Nouvelle édition avec étude onomastique, dialectologique et paléographique, Eretria 00, Lausanne.

———. Submitted. “La question de l’authenticité du lot ‘Waddington’ dans le corpus des lamelles de Styra (IG XII 9, 56): l’apport de la linguistique.” In Proceedings of the Seventh International Colloquium on Ancient Greek Dialects, ed. R. Wachter.

———. Accepted. “Une nouvelle attestation du substrat ‘sicule’ en Sicile? Quelques réflexions à propos de la légende méconnue d’une monnaie d’Himère.” In Historische Sprachforschungen / Historical Linguistics.

Durante, Marcello. 1976. “Il nome di Omero.” In Sulla preistoria della tradizione poetica greca, ed. M. Durante, 185-204. Incunabula Graeca 50, 64. Rome, Edizioni dell’Ateneo: II.

Lenormant, François. 1867. “Inscriptionum graecarum ineditarum centuriae quinta, sexta et septima.” In Rheinisches Museum für Philologie n.s. 22:276-290.

Masson, Olivier. 1992. “Les lamelles de plomb de Styra, IG XII 9, 56: essai de bilan.” In Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 116, 1:61-72.

Nagy, Gregory. 1979. The best of the Achaeans: concepts of the hero in Archaic Greek poetry. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.

———. 19992The best of the Achaeans: concepts of the hero in Archaic Greek poetry, revised edition, available online at

———. 2009. “Hesiod and the ancient biographical traditions.” In Brill’s Companion to Hesiod, ed. F. Montanari, A. Rengakos, C. Tsagalis, 271-311. Leiden, Brill. Also available online at