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LILIAN HAMILTON JEFFERY

1915-1986


7. The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece

In 1951, the major work, now called The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece, eventually reached the stage of a successful dissertation. Its examiners, G. R. Driver and T. J. Dunbabin, were slightly shocked, in their different fields, by some low datings, but Driver reported: 'The dissertation is, I think, the best that I have seen and ought to be published; nothing like it has been done, to the best of my knowledge', and Dunbabin said, 'In saying that this work is fit for publication I mean this in no formal sense but in the conviction that it should be published and will be useful to Greek historians, archaeologists and epigraphists for a long time to come'. In fact, the book did not come out until 1961, but, since the main difference between the dissertation and the book lies in the expansion of the catalogue material, it will be convenient to discuss it here.

The original plan for a study of the boustrophedon system had now expanded into a systematic survey of all Greek alphabetic inscriptions and their scripts for the period, roughly speaking down to the end of the fifth century BC, before local scripts started to lose their distinctive identities. The topic had not been treated on any great scale for fifty years, and then largely on the basis of such drawings as had been available. By contrast, this was a work based as far as possible on autopsy; she had seen, drawn, photographed and studied a remarkable proportion of the 1158 texts which went, after some selection, into her catalogues. Given the new solidity of the foundations, she might well have made the book more explicitly a fresh start, with a brief survey of previous work. It remains a mildly irritating feature that the argument sometimes proceeds as a contribution to a continuing debate, requiring reference to works which are essentially being superseded. Even though the main differences between the local scripts had been distinguished by Kirchhoff in 1863, she was going far beyond him and her references to his terminology now tend to obscure understanding.

The declared aim in the Preface is to establish a chronological framework for archaic Greek inscriptions, based on the twenty-five year period which had become current for sculpture and pottery. The approach was to be basically archaeological, with an over-modest disclaimer about the attention paid to philological and historical problems. Direct archaeological dating of inscribed pots and statuary came first, archaeological context next, followed by cautious use of what seemed to be historical arguments; speculation about the speed at which styles might have changed came a long way behind. (LHJ left a late reformulation of her method inside the cover of her own copy: 'The rough method of dating an inscription with nothing (internal) (or a find-spot) to help us must still be worked out (as in sculpture or vases) on each letter's stylistic development, till (hopefully) the whole structure can then be hooked onto the relevant period by one (or more) links which have independent dates - the identified war memorial, the known deceased/dedicator, the known event; if we can identify and collect the 'oeuvre' of a stonemason/letterer, and date just one of the objects, that's an important aid.') Some previous attempts at dating had been very slapdash, with cross-arguments between areas which were very different in their script and development. With more material available and stricter method, some dates were changed very drastically. She freely admitted that the evidence was sometimes inadequate for as much certainty about dates as about origins; 'Like a wine-taster, the epigraphist may go wrong over the year, but not over the district.' Nevertheless, her datings have in general stood up remarkably well, even against challenges on specific texts. If changes became necessary, she was ready to make them. In the last years of her life she moved late Spartan texts down a full generation (JHS, ci (1981), 190-2, and an unpublished manuscript); characteristically, she did not accept the historical arguments until she found an art-historical argument to support them.

As far as the earliest stages of the chronology were concerned, her consolidation of the evidence fully substantiated the argument put forward by Rhys Carpenter in 1933 (Rhys Carpenter, AJA,xxxvii (1933), 8-29; ibid., xlii (1938), 58-69). Before proper archaeological datings for the eighth and seventh centuries had been worked out in the 1920s and 1930s, datings of the earliest Greek material had been vague, and most of the arguments about the origins of Greek writing had turned on comparisons with the Semitic scripts and attempts to determine when they had been closest to what became the Greek alphabet. Very high dates for the transmission of the alphabet had therefore been current. Anne came down for a transmission date slightly higher than Carpenter's, around 750 BC. The last thirty-five years have increased the evidence for the second half of the century without producing anything earlier. Semitists remain deeply unhappy, some preferring much earlier dates (Naveh, AJA, lxxvii (1973), 1-8), but the gap on the Greek side remains a problem for them (cf. Anne's respectful note on Naveh in CAH2, III.1, 823, n. 8).

Anne made substantial contributions to the questions of where and how the transmission took place. She had, indeed, little patience with extreme earlier views by which a single brilliant Greek inventor had instantly realized that the Phoenician script would be more useful if it had vowels; one of the most attractive parts of her treatment is the substitution of a more realistic process of learning and adaptation which produced vowels. Nevertheless, she remained convinced that this had only happened in one place, supporting it with a technical argument about the unity of Greek misunderstanding of the names of Semitic sibilants. The differences which characterize individual Greek scripts as far back as we can trace them seemed less important to her (for a variant view see Cook and Woodhead, AJA, lxiii (1959), 175-8, agreeing however that the vowel system arose in one place). In the book, she opted fairly firmly for Al Mina at the mouth of the Orontes as the place of transmission. She was more tolerant later about other candidates (Archaic Greece, pp. 26, 194; CAH2, III.1, 822-3), without explaining why her original arguments against Crete and Rhodes now seemed less convincing to her.

A section on 'Writing in Archaic Greece' contemplated the view that Greek had once only been written retrograde and disposed of it so firmly that it has never reappeared. It took in by the way the original investigation of boustrophedon, and passed to an enormously valuable discussion on the ways in which writing was in fact used in archaic Greece.

But it is the local surveys and catalogues which form the greater part of the book. Detailed discussion would be profitless. There are rare occasions where the argument could be faulted, but they have remained, despite their inevitable ageing, a rich collection of evidence and discussion, ignored at peril by anyone concerned with archaic Greece.


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