Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

GIS Report: 27/11/2015

GIS this week held something for linguists and historians alike. Livia Tagliapietra took us to southern Italy and Sicily with “Dialect, koine or koina? Investigating the Greek of Early Hellenistic Magna Graecia”. Given the number of Greek settlements in the region, there are surprisingly few epigraphic sources for the type of Greek being spoken in these communities. Two exceptions are a series of decrees from Heraclea and a number of late 4th-early 3rd century bronze tablets from Locri. Livia’s PhD research concentrates on establishing the linguistic influences on these communities. In her GIS paper, she concentrated on that of Locri. Through careful examination of the tablets (which are loan receipts containing extracts from contemporary financial decrees of the city), Livia showed us that the accepted view that the Locrian dialect (which remained fundamentally traditional) was influenced by communities further north is inaccurate. Rather, Livia has identified the Doric dialect of Sicily, specifically Syracuse, as a major influence on everyday language in Locri, an influence that infiltrated the official language of the tablets in a ‘bottom-up’ process of infusion. Her detailed linguistic arguments (including the monophthongisation of –ωι and –αι) were backed up the evidence of historical narratives detailing extensive Syracusan contact and interference in the toe of Italy, as well as the evidence of coin hoards. It seems that, as a result of Livia’s work, linguists will have to rethink the nature of Greek dialects in southern Italy, which in turn has implications for the interaction of Greek with Oscan and Latin speakers.

Bogdan Cristea, in the final year of his PhD, then took us to the law courts of Ciceronian Rome with “The Handling of Witnesses in Late Roman Republican Courts: A Case Study of Cicero’s Pro Flacco”. The paper comprised part of the introduction to the commentary and dealt with one of the most striking features of these defence speech, Cicero’s extensive attempts to destroy the credibility of the Greek witnesses arrayed against his friend and former governor of Asia, Lucius Valerius Flaccus , in his trial for robbing the provincials in 59 B.C. The paper was in three parts: first the advice offered by rhetorical handbooks on handling opposing witnesses, second Cicero’s attacks on the Greek (and some Jewish) witnesses as collective groups, and finally the way Cicero undermines the credibility of each witness as an individual. Clearly, there were few ethical rules when it came to putting witnesses and their testimony in the worst possible light. A virtually inexhaustible range of techniques was available, ranging from the inconsistency and plausibility of his testimony, to the nature of his personal life and, as Pro Flacco demonstrates, his nationality. Cicero attacks the Greeks, despite conceding their learning and culture, as a faithless and totally unreliable lot when it comes to sworn testimony. The decrees passed against Flaccus by Greek assemblies are dismissed as the ill-informed and corrupt opinions of the mob. Here Cicero works on long-standing Roman prejudices. But, as the Verrine orations makes clear, he is entirely capable of switching tack and praising the credibility of provincial witnesses when it suits him. Though Cicero’s Greek-bashing relied on topoi, it was the skill and in particular, the humour with which he exploited these notions which allegedly won him the case and got Flaccus off.

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