The cultural landscape of the Hellenistic period is many-sided and, in order to obtain a good vision of its shadowed angles, we need to look past the literature flourishing in the court and focus on the arts performed in the city.* In the frame of popular literature and entertainment, we acknowledge the poeti vaganti movement, a massive turnout of artists travelling throughout the main cultural centers of the Greek world. These professionals of literature and music—whose careers and stories are mainly documented by epigraphy—used to perform their forte or re-perform renowned masterpieces at the ἀγῶνες or at extra-agonistic occasions and built their careers showing off at the most prestigious displays. [1] The idea of the arts on-the-move that finds ratio in the travel and in the hic et nunc performance is the very center of a cultural phenomenon [2] that deeply impacted the history, culture, and society of Hellenism.
In this issue of Classic@, we focus on selected themes that revolve around the phenomenon of the itinerant professionals of performing arts and run along it, in a way that shows the osmotic levels set in motion by such research. This issue is the result of a dynamic process: two workshops, as a twofold thematic series, were held at the Department of Classics, “La Sapienza” University, between the Fall and the Spring Term 2020/2021, with MA students in Greek Epigraphy and with doctoral students in History and Philology of the Ancient World. The outcomes of the conversations and brainstorming engaged in during the meetings worked as a starting point for this select group of young scholars to conduct an in-depth analysis on thematic ramifications arising from the topics proposed.

Section 1. Friends of the Kings

Graduate students in Greek Epigraphy at “La Sapienza” (Fall Semester 2020/2021) attended the course, offered by Prof. Francesco Camia, on the “Ruler cults in the Greek world between the Hellenistic and the Roman-Imperial periods.” Through reading and analyzing noteworthy epigraphic documents, this course was aimed to illustrate the main aspects of ruler cult in the Greek world, following its evolution from the first forms of worship of living men up to the institution of the Roman-Imperial cult, with a particular focus on Greece and the initiatives of the individual poleis. Attention was dedicated to the most characteristic elements of such cults, which were administered by special priests and encompassed the celebration of festivals and rituals, often in association with the traditional gods of the Greek pantheon. In this framework, special attention was dedicated to the relationships of the itinerant artists with the Hellenistic sovereigns.
This Section 1 is the result of our “conversational experience,” engaged with graduate students in the course of a workshop held by Dr. Angela Cinalli, which we integrated into the MA course of Professor Camia. We picked two major protagonists of cultural life who in their lives entertained strong connections with kings. Thus, we conducted a deep dive into their cultural and political activity, mostly attested by inscriptions. The famous philosopher Prytanis of Karystos entertained a long friendship with and was highly regarded by Antigonos Doson: therefore, he was called by the Athenians on a diplomatic intervention on their behalf with the king. The second protagonist we investigated is Kraton of Chalcedon, for whom numerous sources attest to his activity as a renowned aulos player and as a prominent member of the Ionic corporation of the technitai of Dionysus. Kraton exerted his influence over the Attalid court on various matters concerning the Ionian artistic guilds he represented.
Students worked in groups, each studying a specific document or aspect of Prytanis’s and Kraton’s cases. Groups composed of about five students each focused on different aspects of the epigraphic documents.
One group conducted the study of an Athenian honorary decree for Prytanis of Karystos [see Paper 1, including Appendix epigraphica 1.1]. Paper 1 considers the historical framework of this document in the last third of the third century BCE, when Athens was trying to find a balance in its relationship with the opposing powers of the Macedonian and Ptolemaic kingdoms. Then, the focus moves towards the motivations of the honorific decree and on the honors granted to Prytanis. Apart from the generic reference to benevolence and personal commitment towards the city of Athens—still more remarkable as Athens was not Prytanis’s birthplace—the honorand’s merits in this case concern his rhetorical ability implemented in a diplomatic mission. The remaining part of the paper focuses on the honors of the crown and deipnon conferred on Prytanis, providing a detailed analysis through epigraphic parallels.

A second and larger group of students analyzed some aspects of Kraton’s career based on the latter’s rich epigraphic dossier, in particular the honorific decrees from Teos and Delos voted by the Ionian technitai and the Tean decree of the koinon of the Attalistai [see Paper 2, including Appendix epigraphica 2.1–3]. To the latter document, there is attached (on the reverse of the stele) a catalog of objects that Kraton left to the Attalistai, of which the second paper offers a reconsideration providing epigraphic and literary parallels. Following a historical overview and a reconsideration of the dynamics of interaction between the technitai and Hellenistic kings in light of Kraton’s case, the second paper focuses on the following aspects: the Attalids’ relationship with the cult of Dionysus and the associated artistic (and musical) performances; asylia and asphaleia privileges conferred on artistic guilds; nature and location of the honorary statues voted for Kraton; minting of a coinage by the koinon of the Attalistai. In its final section, Paper 2 brings closure to the overview of the Ionian cultural environment with an insight into the role of musical education on the city of Teos in the second half of the second century BCE (Appendix epigraphica 2.4).

– Francesco Camia, Angela Cinalli

Artistry and sovereignty: a mutual relationship

As for intellectuals and artists whose lives and careers are directly tied up with the Hellenistic sovereigns, sources—both literary and epigraphic ones—allow us to describe a wide panorama of relationships driven by mutual exchange: the artist/intellectual acknowledges an undisputable convenience in searching for the friendship or protection of a king; as well, the king himself strengthens his image if surrounded by virtuosi whose talents and glory can shine back at him. We can try sketching a bunch of categories to define the relationship between artistry and sovereignty, recalling some well-known episodes and personalities documented in the literary sources (but sometimes also confirmed by inscriptions).

At the service of art—and of the king

One of the most relevant features of the movement of itinerant professionals of the arts and erudition of the Hellenistic period is its transversality, such that artists travelling for public commitment on behalf of their birthplace or of the host city are very well represented in this group (cf. Prytanis from Karystos). So much so that military and strategic skills could come along with literary and music competencies. Delphi is—as expected—the stop chosen by two eminent admirals whose erudition was no less illustrious. The Cretan Nearchos, admiral of Alexander the Great, was rewarded with proxeny and other privileges in Delphi for unknown reasons. [3] Unfortunately, the lacuna in the text does not allow us to clarify if the Delphians were grateful for some actions benefitting the city or else for some public readings he offered of his diaries of navigation, enchanting the audience with exotic tales about the Ichtyophages and Alexander’s endeavors. Timosthenes from Rhodes, admiral of Ptolemaios II Philadelphos was skilled too in both naval and erudite arts. Timosthenes is a multi-faceted profile, as he is mentioned by Strabo (9.3.10) as the author of the ten books Λιμένες and the one who seemingly wrote the μέλος for the nomos pythikos of the Pythia. [4]

Playing for the king

Renowned artists used to feature in the most important occasions of the king’s life—as we recall the turnout of artists playing at Alexander’s wedding [5] —and death too. Demetrius Poliorcetes’s funeral took place in Corinth in 283 BCE, and the whole ceremony was conducted with tragic and theatrical taste. Plutarch narrates with abundance of detail the scene of the fleet bringing back the paternal remains to the son Antigonus; he lingers on the aulos player Xenophantos who, seated beside the precious urn, adorned with a diadem, and covered in royal purple, played a moving and suggestive melody.
We are allowed to follow the steps of the αὐλετής Xenophantos one year later in Delos, taking part in the ἐπιδείξεις τῷ θεῷ recorded in the Tabulae Archontum. [6] He allegedly dwelled on the island for some years, as we have record of his dedications to the sanctuary, [7] and then we track him again in Delphi, where the heavily damaged proxeny decree bestowed on him does not allow us to discern his action in town though. [8] His music, mention of which is included is Philodemos’s Περὶ μουσικῆς (3. 2 fr. 21), is said to inspire irresistible instincts, [9] so that it is not difficult to tell why Xenophantos’s aulos was chosen from among many of his time to escort the Macedonian king on his last trip.

Fitting art into politics

Demetrius Poliorcetes’s endeavors offer again a valuable example to define a further possible category, the one of art being the instrumentum to politics. Demetrius’s nature had not a talent at staying quiet and, after becoming the Macedonian king and conquering Thessaly, the Peloponnesus, Megara, and Athens, he turned against the Aetolians and their Theban allies. The year 290 BCE was the Pythian year and, in his arm-wrestling with the Aetolians, Demetrius was aware that entering Delphi was too dangerous at that moment, so he ventured upon the most unexpected move: he relocated to Athens the celebration of the Pythia, and that edition of the festival happened to be the most unusual of the events. [10]
This episode fits into a peculiar category: the one embedding the representative and symbolic value of art as a powerful tool to state something, to make a point, and even turn the tide of a critical moment. Inscriptions might suggest that, in the 290 remaking of the Pythia, the Athenian technitai were involved as the association of the artists of Dionysus in charge of the festival, [11] and this allows us to speculate further that artists were directly involved by sovereigns in their projects. Guilds were particularly prone to establish positive correlations with power and vice versa, according to their capacity to be influential in the political picture. The same vision concerns also eminent members of the guilds, engaged by the association or by the sovereign in handling crucial matters. We will see this with the Ionian technites Kraton of Chalcedon and his privileged relationship with the Seleucid kings.

Pleasing the king

The simplest way to resolve the relationship between art and power consisted in putting artistic professionalism into royal service. As for this case, we can recall the ἱστοριογράφος Mnesiptolemos from Kyme, benefitting from Seleucid patronage. We are allowed to reconstruct some steps of the career of this intellectual, active in the second half of the third century, through both literary and epigraphic sources. A proxeny decree attests to his presence in Delos in the last decades of the century, but his actions towards the Delians cannot be specified owing to the extensive lacunae affecting the first lines of the inscription. [12] Mnesiptolemos though is best known for being favored by Antiochus III and for his ἱστορίαι on the Syrian kings. [13] His son’s career benefitted from some of the father’s light: Seleukos became a known ἱλαρῳδός affiliated with an artistic guild of Dionysus and, on the occasion of the foundation of the PanHellenic festival of Artemis Leukophroneia in Magnesia, the sources record him as ambassador of the technitai. [14] But great reputation comes with great consequences, and Mnesiptolemos became a favorite object of ridicule to his colleagues. The comic poet Epinikos even wrote a piece called Mnesiptolemos in which the mockery of the historiographer concerned his public declamations of his unsubstantial work on a king Seleukos [15] whose most interesting habit consisted in sprinkling his wine with barley flour. [16]
The portrait of a powerful intellectual, favored by kings but despised by his peers, comes to light by virtue of the sources that preserved both the formality of rewards and the chattering behind the curtains.
The habit of giving favorite intellectuals a prominent place at court and at the king’s side is certainly not a novelty. It suffices to recall the Spartan Lysander who, after triumphing in the Peloponnesian war, was bestowed extraordinary honors: altars, sacrifices, and paeans were dedicated to him, and the Samians called by his name the feast dedicated to Hera. Poets and artists celebrated his endeavors, and he used to be very generous to them, [17] but he trusted Cherilos the most, who always kept by his side and celebrated his glory. [18] This privileged à deux relationship was based on trust: trust in the direction the artist allotted to propaganda, and trust in the intellectual’s judgment, as we will see with Prytanis from Karystos. The peripatetic was tasked by Antigonos Doson with the constitution of Megalopolis, and the Athenians trusted him to speak into the king’s mind (but we cannot determine if that actually worked).

In this quick roundup, we took into consideration some ways in which the correlation between sovereign and artistry was resolved. We observed how professional performers and intellectuals, individually or as a group, took advantage of their liasons with kings to strengthen their profile and secure their career; likewise, we saw kings taking advantage of art as a tool for direct or indirect propaganda. In the contributions featured in the first section of this issue we will take a closer look at some of the categories we tried to frame, and we will consider them from several points of view, digging deep into both texts and contexts.

– Angela Cinalli

Basic bibliography

Della Bona, M. E. 2017. Agoni poetico musicali della Grecia antica 2. I Pythia di Delfi. Certamina Musica Graeca 2; Testi e commenti 30. Pisa and Rome.
Guarducci, M. 1927–1929. “Poeti vaganti e conferenzieri di età ellenistica: ricerche di epigrafia greca nel campo della letteratura e del costume.” Memorie della Classe di Scienze Morali e Storiche dell’Accademia dei Lincei 6(2):629–665.
Nachtergael, G. 1977. Les Galates en Grèce et les Sôteria de Delphes. Brussels.
Perdrizet, P. 1896. “Inscriptions de Delphes.” Bulletin de Correspondence Hellenique 20:466–496.
Roesch, P. 1982. Études béotiennes. Paris.


[ back ] * This issue is conceived as an outcome of the Poeti Vaganti Project, falling under the Dissemination and Public Engagement of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship (MSCA-IF-GF-2018) PTANOIS POSIN, Principal Investigator Angela Cinalli, that has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, under grant agreement No. 843186. This project is being carried out at “La Sapienza” University as the Beneficiary and at the Center for Hellenic Studies as the Host Institution (
[ back ] 1. The first study on the poeti vaganti was published almost a century ago by Guarducci 1928–1929; then plenty of studies on specific themes, places, or artistic figures were conducted and evidenced the interdisciplinary nature of the topic. A complete collection of the epigraphic testimonies is in fieri under the EU Horizon 2020 flagship, MSCA-IF-GF PTANOIS POSIN project.
[ back ] 2. The poeti vaganti expression, with which, by convention, we indicate this phenomenon, cannot accurately represent the sense of artistic travel, as the sources indicate deliberate journeys to or throughout the main cultural centers of Hellenism rather than an artistic wandering.
[ back ] 3. FD III 1, 412 (= FHGr 133). See Perdrizet 1896:470–473.
[ back ] 4. Strabo’s testimony here has been variously interpreted. Timosthenes cannot be the author of the nomos pythikos (the auletic or kitharistic one) as it was obviously much older. Nonetheless, he could be the author of the melody played at his time. Or, more plausibly, Strabo’s passage here might be corrupted, but the meaning must have been that Timosthenes described the nomos in one of his works and that he also wrote The Harbors (ἐμελοποίησε μὲν οὖν Τιμοσθένης, ὁ ναύαρχος τοῦ δευτέρου Πτολεμαίου ὁ καὶ τοὺς λιμένας συντάξας ἐν δέκα βίβλοις). For the nomos pythikos and an exhaustive comment on this passage, see Della Bona 2017:112–114.
[ back ] 5. Athenaeus 12.538f.
[ back ] 6. IG XI, 2 106, lines 15–16: ἐπεδείξαντο τῷ θεῷ· αὐλητής / Ξενόφαντος Θηβαῖος.
[ back ] 7. IG XI, 2 161B, line 89; IG XI, 2 199B, line 22. Cf. also, but dubia: IG XI, 2 220, line 9; IG XI, 2 287B, line 60.
[ back ] 8. Roesch (1982:457–458, also 445–446) matched the Delphian decree, which he integrated in the lacunae, with the other testimonies concerning Xenophantos.
[ back ] 9. It is likely that Xenophantos’s reputation as a great artist and sublime performer had such a long echo that even Seneca mentions him in one of his most famous works, De Ira (2.2.6), as an artist capable of inspiring impetus with his music, especially to arms and battle. Nevertheless, there is a chronological hiatus regarding Seneca’s testimony, as Xenophantos is said to have inspired Alexander the Great to arms. We might suppose that the philosopher confused Xenophantos with one of the famous Theban αὐλεταί, Timotheos and Antigenidas, favored by Alexander, or that there was another αὐλετής, renowned but to us unknown, answering to the name of Xenophantos.
[ back ] 10. Plutarch, Demetrius 40.7–8.
[ back ] 11. Under the archonship of Hieron (ca. 278/277 BCE), the Amphictyony confirmed the privileges of asylia, ateleia, and asphaleia to the technitai of Athens (the decree is a twofold later copy of the original, inscribed on the Thesauros of the Athenians at Delphi and at Athens in the Theater of Dionysus: FD III 2, 68; IG II/III2, 1132A; see Nachtergael 1977:195, 297). This decision might have something to do, more than with the newly-founded Soteria, with the fact that the Amphictyons were stating that the company that had been in charge of Demetrius’s 290 Pythia was nevertheless welcome at Delphi despite the Aetolian occupation.
[ back ] 12. IG XI 4, 697. Although his identity specimena, appearing in the Delian decree, are not to be found in the literary passages attesting to his life, the correspondence in chronology makes it possible to suggest the ἱστοριογράφος Mnesiptolemos is the same person acting both in Delos and at the Seleucid court.
[ back ] 13. Athenaeus 10.432b-c.
[ back ] 14. Athenaeus 15.697d; I.Magnesia 89, lines 75–79 (207–205 BCE).
[ back ] 15. Seleukos II Kallinikos or Seleukos III Keraunos, father and brother of Antiochus III, might be plausible protagonists of Mnesiptolemos’s work.
[ back ] 16. Epinicus, CAF III 330.1; Athenaeus 10.432b–c. Apparently, this was a common habit to many, as stated by Hegesandros from Delphi, FrHGr IV, fr. 23 p. 418 (ap. Athenaeus 10.432b–c).
[ back ] 17. Plutarch, Lysander 18.5–6.
[ back ] 18. Plutarch, Lysander 18.5–8. On Lysander’s generosity (18.7–8): Lysander filled his hat with money and offered it to Antilochos, a mediocre poet who dedicated verses to him. On Lysander being snobby and ironic towards pushy artists (18.5): at the Lysandria, he met the κιθαρῳδός Aristonous, a famous pythonikes promising, to flatter him, that he would have belonged to Lysander if he won at the ἀγών. And Lysander said: “Ἦ δοῦλον;”