The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Meet a Member: Maria Papaioannou

Moira Lavelle

Maria Papaioannou is an Associate Member at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. She is working on a dissertation on Early Greek Epigram at the University of Florida.

Q: What are you researching at the moment?
A: I am working on an open-air, rock-cut sanctuary traditionally dated to the mid-third century BC, located just below the main gate of ancient Thera, the city built on top of the Mesa Vouno ridge, on the south-east coast of Santorini. It was founded and dedicated to a variety of deities by Artemidorus, a native of Perge in Pamphylia, modern Turkey. At some point in his life, Artemidorus settled on Thera and became actively involved in the city’s social and religious affairs. We can assume as much from the founding of the sanctuary and a few other dedications made by him at prominent locations on the way to or within the city. I’m interested in the overall understanding of the sanctuary, its rock-cut features and the inscribed epigrams that accompany them.

Q: How did you get interested in this topic?
A: My initial interest was in the inscribed epigrams. Following a graduate seminar on Greek epigram I had started working more closely on the archaic and classical Greek epigram, when my supervisor, Prof. Robert Wagman, brought Artemidorus’ short metric inscriptions to my attention. This Hellenistic shrine is striking because of the great number of poetic dedications made by or otherwise connected to a single person. 

Q: So how many dedications by Artemidorus are there?
A: In the sanctuary we have about 16 surviving epigrams at various stages of weathering. In most of them Artemidorus is the dedicator of rock-cut reliefs and altars to the gods, but there are also a couple of epigrams relating the bestowal of civic honors on Artemidorus by the demos of Thera. The sanctuary houses the altars of Homonoia, the Dioscuri, and the Samothracian gods, as well as dedications of animal reliefs connected to particular gods, such as an eagle to Zeus, a lion to Apollo, and a dolphin to Poseidon. Other gods honored with inscriptions, rock-cut furniture, and statues now lost are Hecate and Priapus, Tyche, and some vegetation goddesses, probably Heroissai. The highlight of the shrine is a relief of a human head in right profile, crowned with a wreath and enclosed in a medallion-like frame, generally thought to be Artemidorus’ self-portrait. The epigram inscribed around it epitomizes his hopes and intentions as founder of the sanctuary. It states that his creation is meant as a “memorial for Thera” and that he himself will always be remembered “as long as the stars rise in the sky and the earth’s ground stands fast”. This concern for immortality and the idea that the sanctuary serves the community are common themes variously repeated in most of his dedications.

Q: And you said Artemidorus came from modern day Turkey. Was this common in the Hellenistic period?
A: In the Hellenistic period the mobility of people is intensified and societies become much more “cosmopolitan” than in earlier periods. In the case of Thera this is mainly due to the Ptolemaic garrison stationed there, probably as early as the reign of Philadelphus. On the other hand, the region of Pamphylia seems to have attracted Ptolemaic interest and partial control from early on, and to have been a major source of mercenaries for the Ptolemaic army. Artemidorus’ status is, however, obscure. We don’t know how he ended up on the island or whether he held a position in the Ptolemaic army or administration. The closest indication we have for his connection to the rulers comes from a rock-cut monument located in a prominent position inside the city, i.e. on the main road from the Agora to the shrine of Apollo Karneios. It carries an excessively weathered inscription relating dedications made by him in honor of three unnamed Ptolemies, the grandfather, the father, and the son, generally taken to be Euergetes and his forebears. Despite its ambiguity and the bad state of preservation, this inscription constituted the basis for Artemidorus’ dates and was seen by many as proof for the promotion of the ruler-cult by him. In any case, the specifics of his role within the city remain unknown.

Q: What resources are you using to do your research?
A: After obtaining the necessary permit from the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades, I’ve been able to use information from the site itself, including squeezes, photographs, and measurements. I‘ve also been doing a lot of work in the Blegen gathering material for my commentary and getting myself familiar with what has been written about the temenos from the time of Hiller von Gaertringen’s excavations in the early 1900s through the present.

Q: What questions are you looking to answer in your research?
A: My goal is to produce an up-to-date study of the sanctuary with an overview of its rock-cut features and a revised text of the inscriptions along with epigraphical and literary commentaries. Since I started working on the sanctuary in earnest this year, I still have a lot of questions to address in all of these areas. In general, I’d like to put Artemidorus into perspective examining his sanctuary and his poetic dedications in light of the available comparanda for rupestral shrines and other cult founders.

Q: What brought you to the ASCSA?
A: I initially wanted to do the summer session as a way to enhance my strictly philological view of the ancient world. It was my supervisor who suggested that I try the year-long Regular program instead. As a Member of ASCSA himself who never stopped coming back, he insisted that the experience would be unbeatable, and he was right. The second year Associate Fellowship came up as necessary due to the nature of my research that required a long stay in Greece in order to conduct on-site research and make use of the School’s resources.

Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Athens?
A: A souvlaki place called “O Kostas” on Mitropoleos and Pentelis 5 (Syntagma), introduced to me by a good friend. It’s very small, with no place to sit apart from a couple of chairs inside and a bench outside, and you usually have to wait some time to get your order, but I think it’s worth it. The ingredients are strictly limited to meat, tomato, parsley, paprika, onions, and yogurt.

Q: If you were a Greek god or goddess which one would you be?
A: I don’t know. Probably one of the lesser ones, closer to humans and their mortal joys and sufferings. Maybe Aeolus, ruler of the winds, who tried to help Odysseus return home, although in the Odyssey he is not yet presented as a god.

Q: Where else in Greece would you like to visit?
Despite all the travelling we did with the School in my regular year and the years I’ve spent in Greece as a student, I’d still like to go everywhere, and even revisit places I’ve been to, not only for the archaeological sites but also for the scenery, the fauna and flora, the more modern history, and the local traditions. In a few words, I’d like to keep finding opportunities to explore more of Greece in the future.

Q: What do you get from your experience at the ASCSA?
A: The knowledge you gain, the places you see, the people you meet, and the friends you make. The School offers ideal conditions for scholarship. By having many valuable resources at your grasp -the libraries, the museums, the School members and professors, the lectures organized by the School and other foreign archaeological schools as well as by Greek universities- you are constantly surrounded by stimuli. Other people have said that casual discussions at Loring Hall during lunch or at dinner can be very illuminating, and this is very true. If I could narrow down the benefits of these two years, I’d say that my greatest gain was in the opening up of my perspective in the approach of the ancient texts and the inspiration and confidence I won just by socializing with enthusiastic and talented fellow members.