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SPARSE SPARTAN VERSE: FILLING GAPS IN THE THERMOPYLAE EPIGRAM

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2014

Ioannis Ziogas*
Affiliation:
Australian National Universityioannis.ziogas@anu.edu.au
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Extract

In the Apophthegmata Laconica, a collection of witty exchanges that highlight the shrewdness of Laconian brevity, we read the following story. An Argive once taunted a Spartan by pointing out the multitude of Spartan tombs in Argive territory. The Spartan retorted that, by contrast, not a single Argive tomb could be found in Sparta. The author of the Plutarchan tale comments that the Spartan insinuated that, while his people had repeatedly invaded Argos, the Argives had never set foot on Sparta (Mor. 233c; cf. Vit. Ages. 31.6). Besides attesting to the sharp wit of Laconian concision, the story is a good example of how easily a soldier's tomb can serve different national agendas. While the presence of Spartan dead in Argos is a source of pride for the Argives, from another point of view it can be read as a sign of Spartan military prowess. The Greek word σῆμα (‘tomb’) speaks for the crucial role of semiotics in interpreting the semantics of military monuments. The tomb is a sign that needs to be decoded; only more often than not there is more than one way of deciphering it.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Aureal Publications 2014 

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Footnotes

An earlier version of this article was presented in Sydney in January 2013 (at the annual conference of the Australasian Society for Classical Studies) and I would like to thank the members of the audience who asked questions and offered suggestions. I am particularly grateful to Matthew Sears, David Pritchard, Peter Londey and Doug Kelly. Erica Bexley read several drafts of this essay and gave me extremely useful feedback. The anonymous readers of this journal offered detailed, perceptive and challenging comments on both the argument and structure of my article. I would also like to thank the editor of Ramus, Helen Morales, and the associate editor, John Penwill.

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