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E04407: Floor-mosaic with a Greek verse inscription praising the virtues of the family of a local aristocrat, including very possibly his grandfather's embellishment of a sanctuary dedicated to a saint Prokopios, 'protector of the city' (probably *Prokopios, martyr of Caesarea in Palestine, S00118). Found at Diokaisareia/Sepphoris in Galilee (Roman province of Palaestina II). Probably 6th c.

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posted on 25.11.2017, 00:00 by pnowakowski
This fragmentarily preserved inscription in eight hexameter verses has had several editions with very different restorations and interpretations. Below we first present the text in the form suggested by Denis Feissel, who strongly argued that it praised a family involved in an embellishment of a shrine of the martyr Prokopios. Although this is considered the most plausible interpretation by the editors of the SEG, we also give the text, as restored by Leah Di Segni (the first editor, who identifies Prokopios as a mosaicist), and Glen Bowersock (who considers this Prokopios a 6th c. governor of Palestine). In addition, we report the remarks of Yiannis Meimaris and Nikoleta Makrigianni on a possible restoration of the lost word in line 4.

1. Feissel's interpretation:

[τὸν] δό̣μον εἰσοράᾳς τὸν ὑπέρτα[τον Ἀσβο]λί[οιο]
τοῦ νέου ὃν κ[άλλ]ιστον ἐγείνατο πότνια κούρη
Ἀσβολί[ου θυγάτη]ρ μεγαλ[ήτο]ρος ὅς ῥα μ[εγί]στην
πατρίδ᾿ ἑὴν ἀπέφηνε πολ[υ—]α και πολιήτας,
κυδαίνων ἀρετῇσι πολισσοῦχον Προκό[πιον],
τούτου δ᾿ αὖ γαμβρὸς Πατρίκιος ἀγλαὸς ἀν[ήρ],
Ἑρμοῦ καὶ Μουσῶν καὶ Φοίβου κύδιμον ἔρνος,
οὗ κλέος ἐς χθόνα πᾶσαν ἀείδεται ἠδὲ θάλασσαν

'You behold the highest house (domos) of the young Asbolios,
whom an august maiden brought forth most handsome,
[daughter of] Asbolios, the brave, who made
his very great city [renowned], and its citizens too,
by glorifying with virtues the guardian of the city (polissouchos), Prokopios.
His son-in-law is Patrikios, a splendid man,
glorious scion of Hermes and the Muses and Phoebus,
whose glory is sung across every land and sea.'

Text: SEG 52, 1679, including restorations by D. Feissel/G.W. Bowersock, and an altered restoration of line 3 by D. Feissel. Translation: G.W. Bowersock, adapted to fit the altered completions by D. Feissel.

2. Di Segni's interpretation:

[τὸν] δόλον εἰσοράᾳς τὸν ὑπέρτα[τον αἰθα]λί[ωνος]
τοῦ νέου ὃν κ[άλλ]ιστον ἐγείνατο πότνια κούρη·
ἀσβολι[ώδης γὰ]ρ μεγάλ[ου ἡ δ]ρόσος ῥαμα[το]ς τ᾿ ἦν.
πατρίδ᾿ ἑὴν ἀπέφηνε πολ[υκλῆ ἄρ]α καὶ πολιήτας,
κυδαίνων ἀρετῇσι πολισσοῦχον Προκό[πι(ο)ς μέν],
τούτου δ᾿ αὖ γαμβρὸς Πατρίκιος ἀγλαὸς ἄν[θος],
Ἑρμοῦ καὶ Μουσῶν καὶ Φοίβου κύδιμον ἔρνος,
οὗ κλέος ἐς χθόνα πᾶσαν ἀείδεται ἠδὲ θάλασσαν

6. Bowersock's completion ἀγλαὸς ἀν[ήρ] was accepted by Di Segni in 2005

'You see the highest pole of the dusky youth,
whom most beautiful bore the august maiden.
And indeed black as soot was the water of the great stream.
But his own mother city and fellow-citizens made thus far-famed
Prokopios, glorifying with his excellence the guardian of the city
and also his son-in-law, Patrikios, splendid man,
glorious offspring of Hermes, of the Muses and of Phoebus,
whose fame is sung in all land and sea as well.'

Text and translation: Di Segni 2002, 91.

3. Bowersock's interpretation:

[τὸν] δόμον εἰσοράᾳς τὸν ὑπέρτα[τον Ἀσβο]λί[οιο]
τοῦ νέου ὃν κ[άλλ]ιστον ἐγείνατο πότνια κούρη·
Ἀσβόλι[ος δὲ πατὴ]ρ μεγαλ[όφρον]ος ὅς ῥα μ[εγί]στην
πατρίδ᾿ ἑὴν ἀπέφηνε πολ[υ ]α καὶ πολιήτας,
κυδαίνων ἀρετῇσι πολισσοῦχον Προκό[πιον],
τούτου δ᾿ αὖ γαμβρὸς Πατρίκιος ἀγλαὸς ἀν[ήρ],
Ἑρμοῦ καὶ Μουσῶν καὶ Φοίβου κύδιμον ἔρνος,
οὗ κλέος ἐς χθόνα πᾶσαν ἀείδεται ἠδὲ θάλασσαν

'You behold the consular house of the young Asbolios,
whom an august maiden brought forth most handsome.
And father to this great-souled man was Asbolios who made.
his very great city [renowned], and its citizens too,
by glorifying with virtues the governor Prokopios.
The son-in-law of Prokopios is the splendid Patrikios
glorious scion of Hermes and the Muses and Phoebus,
whose glory is sung across every land and sea.'

Text and translation: Bowersock 2004, 765.

4. Meimaris and Makrigianni's interpretation:

Meimaris and Makrigianni follow Feissel's text, but offer a new restoration of the lost word in line 4: πολ[υκλέ]α/'much celebrated'.

History

Evidence ID

E04407

Saint Name

Prokopios from Scythopolis, martyr of Palestine : S00118

Saint Name in Source

Προκόπιος

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Literary - Poems

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

500

Evidence not after

600

Activity not before

400

Activity not after

500

Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Diokaisareia in Palestine

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Diokaisareia in Palestine Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Aristocrats Women Other lay individuals/ people

Source

Floor-mosaic panel within a rectangular frame. H. 1 m; W. 2 m. Letter height c. 0.068-0.072 m. Lines separated by red bands. The mosaic is set in the floor at the west entrance to a large building (c. 50 m x 35 m) at Sepphoris/Diokaisareia, sited next to the cardo street and a bathing complex. The excavators suppose that it was constructed over an earlier Roman structure in the early 5th c., and restored/embellished approximately a century later. It was dubbed the Nile Festival Building, based on a Nilotic scene that appears in a floor-mosaic in one of its rooms. The main theme of that mosaic is presumably the arrival of the personification of Semasia at Alexandria, announcing the incoming flood. It is accompanied by scenes of daily life, for example, a depiction of a mason carving numerals on a Nilometer. Another mosaic in the building shows a centaur with a bowl or shield, and an inscription with an invocation (θεὸς βοηθός/'God is the helper!'). The excavators considered the structure a public building, perhaps a municipal basilica, but Bowersock and Feissel convincingly argue that it was a private residence of the Asbolioi family. Our inscription was first published by Leah Di Segni in 2002, with a photograph. In 2004 Glenn Bowersock offered a new restoration and interpretation of this piece. Di Segni replied in 2005, accepting some of Bowersock's restorations, but was not convinced by his new interpretation. In 2004 in the Bulletin épigraphique, Denis Feissel independently offered the same restoration as Bowersock for lines 1-2 and a different interpretation of line 5 which, he said, referred to the martyr Prokopios. He also promised a paper more closely exploring the present inscription in the context of the cult of Prokopios. Bowersock' s and Feissel's restorations were applied to the original text by the editors of the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graceum. In 2008 the inscription was republished by Yiannis Meimaris and Nikoleta Makrigianni, with a new restoration of line 4.

Discussion

Leah Di Segni considered the present inscription a kind of intertextual work. She argued that it referred to the figure of a mosaicist, shown in the mosaic with the Nilotic scene, and that both Prokopios and Patrikios were artisans from Alexandria who designed and laid the building's mosaic pavements. In his comments on Di Segni's edition, Glenn Bowersock not only suggested altered restorations to the text, but also offered an entirely new, and much more plausible, interpretation of the poem. He rightly assumed that our mosaic addressed people entering the building, who would have no knowledge of scenes from other pavements, making it highly unlikely that it refers to the figure of the mosaicist. Furthermore, mosaicists' signatures are usually much more discreet, and an inscription in such a prominent place would not have mentioned them. Bowersock considers the poem as praise of the owners of the building, the family of the Asbolioi, probably tracing their name back to the mythological centaur Asbolios (hence the centaur's depiction in another room). In Bowersock's opinion, the house belonged to the daughter of Prokopios mentioned in line 5 (whom he identified as the governor of Palaestina II in c. AD 517/518, Flavios Theodoros Georgios Prokopios, known from the inscription in SEG 20, 417), and wife of Asbolios Patrikios who now pays due honours to his father-in-law, the governor. The third major interpretation which won the acclaim of the editors of the SEG is by Denis Feissel. He argues that the mosaic was located in a private building, and that it praises three generations of its owners, the Asbolioi family (contrary to Bowersock, he considers Asbolios the Elder and Patrikios to be two different people, the unnamed woman to be the daughter of Asobolios the Elder, wife of Patrikios, and mother of Asbolios the Younger). According to Feissel they were Christians, and Asbolios the Elder was a benefactor of a local shrine of the martyr Prokopios (otherwise not attested). If Feissel's interpretation is right, and we find it very plausible, Prokopios must be *Prokopios of Skythopolis, the martyr of Caesarea Maritima under Diocletian in 311 (reportedly the first martyr in Palestine in those persecutions; for Eusebius' account of his martyrdom, see E00296). A shrine of Prokopios at Caesarea was known to the Piacenza Pilgrim (E00528), and the saint appears in several inscriptions in the region. His feast was celebrated in Jerusalem, as documented by the Georgian version of the Lectionary of Jerusalem (E03204; E03268), and the Church Calendar of Ioane Zosime (E03779). In the present poem Prokopios is named polissouchos/'protector of the city' (or: 'resident of the city'). The epithet is given to gods and eponymous heroes in Aeschylus' works. It corresponds well with the epic vocabulary of the present poem. For similar descriptions of Christian martyrs, see: E00969 (*Theodore in Euchaita: ὁ τοῦδε τοῦ πολίσματος ἔφορος/'the guardian of this town'), and E02342 (*Theodore in Gerasa/Jerash: ἕρκος ἀλεξίκακ[ο]ν τελέθει κἀγήραον ἕρμα ἄστει καὶ ναέτῃσι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πολίταις/'barrier against ill for the town and the dwellers therein and its citizens yet to be'). Dating: the inscription with the poem may be later than other floor-mosaics in the building, it has been suggested that it dates to the 6th c. The possible embellishment/construction of the martyr shrine of Prokopios is said to have been completed by the grandfather of the man who commissioned our inscription, thus two generations earlier (early/mid-5th c.?).

Bibliography

Edition: Meimaris, Y., Makrigianni, N.S., Ἔρνος κύδιμον Παλαιστινῆς γαίης ᾿Ανθολογία ἐπιγραφῶν Παλαιστινῆς καὶ ᾿Αραβίας (Athens: , 2008), no. 33 (altered completion of line 4). Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 52, 1679 (following Feissel's interpretation, and offering minor corrections to Bowersock's edition). Bulletin épigraphique (2004), 391 (Feissel's restoration of lines 1-3, some independently repeating Bowersock's completions). Bowersock, G.W., "Response to L. Di Segni, JRA Suppl. 49, 91-97 The mosaic inscription in the Nile Festival Building at Sepphoris: the House of the daughter of the governor Procopius (A.D. 517-18?) and her husband Asbolius Patricius", Journal of Roman Archaeology 17 (2004), 764-766. Di Segni, L., "Appendix: Greek inscriptions in the Nile Festivale Building", in: J.H. Humphrey (ed.), The Roman an Byzantine Near East, vol. 3: Late-antique Petra, Nile Festival Building at Sepphoris, Deir Qal'a Monastery, Khirbet Qana Vilage and Pilgrim Site, 'Ain'Arrub Hiding Complex (Journal of Roman Archaeology. Supplementary Series 49, Portsmouth, Rhode Island: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2002), 91-100. Further reading: Di Segni, L., "The mosaic inscription in the Nile Festival Building at Sepphoris", Journal of Roman Archaeology 18 (2005) 781-784 (response to Bowersock 2004). Weiss, Z., "The mosaics of the Nile Festival Building at Sepphoris and the legacy of the Antiochene tradition", in: K. Kogman-Appel, M. Meyer, Between Judaism and Christianity. Art Historical Essays in Honor of Elisheva (Elisabeth) Revel-Neher (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 7-24. Weiss, Z., Netzer, E., "", Qadmoniot 24 nos. 95/96 (1991), 113-121. Weiss, Z., Talgam, R., "The Nile Festival Building and its Mosaics: Mythological Representations in Early Byzantine Sepphoris", in: J.H. Humphrey (ed.), The Roman an Byzantine Near East, vol. 3: Late-antique Petra, Nile Festival Building at Sepphoris, Deir Qal'a Monastery, Khirbet Qana Vilage and Pilgrim Site, 'Ain'Arrub Hiding Complex (Journal of Roman Archaeology. Supplementary Series 49, Portsmouth, Rhode Island: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2002), 55-90. Reference works: Bulletin épigraphique (2004), 391. Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 793. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 41, 1456; 52, 1679; 53, 2268; 58, 1743.

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