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The Epigrams of Gregory of Nazianzus Against Tomb Desecrators and Their Epigraphic Background

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image of Mnemosyne

Abstract In what follows I shall analyse funerary epigrams in which the wayfarer is invited to abstain from violating the tomb. I will deal first with inscriptional epigrams, in order to survey motifs and language of the so called arai epitymbioi. I will then analyse the same theme in literary poems, focussing in particular on Gregory of Nazianzus’ treatment of the topos, in order to illuminate the differences and especially the similarities between the use of this motif in both inscriptional and literary epigrams. I will try to argue that Gregory consciously plays not only with the Greek literary tradition—which is hardly surprising, considering what a cultivated poet he was—but also that he is well acquainted with epigraphic habits, images, and language. He adapts them, and introduces original twists, which are not purely ornamental, but which help to convey new meanings: in particular, the poet puts his versificatory competence to use in a social and moral cause, in a time and in a geographical area in which the desecration of tombs was felt as a matter of topical interest, as is shown by the many preserved arai epitymbioi of the Imperial period coming from the Near East.

Affiliations: 1: Università degli Studi di Milano, Dipartimento di Scienze dell’antichità Via Festa del Perdono 7, 20122 Milano Italy


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