The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

Inscriptiones Graecae

They took us into the store rooms of the Ashmolean, bright blue metal shelves crammed with funerary monuments, busts of Romans (or Sir Arthur Evans), and sculptures of every sort of absurdity. We are to look at inscriptions. And here we see an inscription from Smyrna; it is quite nice actually—the person carving it was quite skillful. It’s typical of Hellenistic inscriptions, you see, the letter forms. You have to be careful, but sometimes it helps to touch the stone, to feel where the letters might be…What do you notice especially? Ah, yes, the round letters are quite small; yes, the omicrons and omegas seem to hover, there, in the middle of the line. And here you see how the pi, there, the right vertical is only half as long as the left… Ah. At the end of the strokes—see, here—there are decorative turns; serifs, really.

Now let’s take a look at this one. Yes, it is quite dark, isn’t it. Local marble, from Crete. A treaty between Hierapytna and Priasnos. Oh, about the second century—so a little later than the one we were just looking at. And do the letter forms seem different to you? Hmm. Yes. The cross-bar on the alpha is curved down, as a decorative touch. On the mu as well. And see how the top and bottom bars of the sigma slant away—quite different from the other, where they were nearly parallel.

Now. I’m going to show you how to make a squeeze of an inscription. What you need is water, and paper—filter paper, like coffee filters, with a high fiber content, very strong and absorbant. Yes. And you’ll need a brush and sponge. Now what you’ve got to do is to make sure the surface of the inscription is covered in water—like that; then you press the paper against it, and make sure the paper is completely saturated. Then you’ve got to try to remove the air-pockets, yes, like that. No. Just tap the brush against the surface—see how it pushes the paper into the letters. What? Does it damage the inscription? Well, ah, yes, a little. One does not want to make very many squeezes of the same stone… Yes. There you’ve got it. Now we’ll leave that to dry. How long? Well, if you’re on site, in the heat and sun of Turkey or Greece—half an hour; here, we’ll have to leave it overnight…


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