Patricia A. Rosenmeyer, The Language of Ruins: Greek and Latin Inscriptions on the Memnon Colossus, New York: Oxford University Press, 2018, ISBN 9780190626310, $85
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This wonderful book explores the creative engagement of persons living in the Roman imperial period with their classical tradition or, more accurately, with archaic Greek traditions of Homeric myth and the language of Homer and Sappho. A second topic, in the last chapter, is the rediscovery of that earlier engagement by ‘European travelers, scholars, and poets’ (p. 168) from the late seventeenth century.
Except as background, Rosenmeyer does not treat literary works illustrating the presentation of self through engagement with classical antiquity so typical of the Second Sophistic. Rather, she contextualizes a corpus of Greek and Latin inscriptions, many in verse, composed by ‘sacred tourists’ and engraved on the legs and feet of the ‘Colossus of Memnon’. This huge, seated statue, still standing in the plain on the west bank of the Nile opposite Luxor (ancient Thebes), represents the pharaoh Amenhotep III (fl. c.1400 BCE) and marks, with its nearby twin, the entrance to his mortuary...