"Here I Lie, Everyone's Friend, A Pig"
The “Pig Stele of Edessa” Honors A Downtrodden Pig
Have you ever wondered whether road accidents happened in antiquity, too? Well, not only were they as deadly as they can be today, but they would often involve animals as well as humans. A Greek funerary inscription found in Edessa (Central Macedonia, Greece), and dated to the second/third century AD, tells the story of a pig that died in a traffic accident:
Text (SEG 25.711)
χοῖρος ὁ πᾶσι φίλος, τετράπους νέος, ἐνθάδε κεῖμαι
Δαλματίης δάπεδον προλιπὼν δῶρον προσενεχθείς
καὶ Δυρράχιν δὲ ἐπάτησα Ἀπολλωνίαν τε ποθήσας
καὶ πᾶσαν γαίην διέβην ποσὶ μοῦνος ἄλιπτος.
νῦν δὲ τροχοῖο βίῃ τὸ φάος προλέλοιπα
Ἠμαθίην δὲ ποθῶν κατιδεῖν φαλλοῖο δὲ ἅρμα
ἐνθάδε νῦν κεῖμαι τῷ θανάτῳ μηκέτ’ ὀφειλόμενος.
Here I lie: a pig, everyone’s friend, a young quadruped. I abandoned the soil of Dalmatia after being offered as a gift. I walked through Dyrrachium and, longing for Apollonia, I crossed the whole land on foot, alone, unharmed. But by the force of a wheel I have now left the light, yearning to see Emathia and the chariot of the Phallic procession. Now I lie here, owing nothing to death anymore.
The epitaph is composed of six dactylic hexameters (with some metrical licenses) followed by a mixed line in which two dactylic half-lines are separated by a choriamb.
Probably commissioned by the merchant who owned the animal, the poem humorously attributes human feelings and epic grandeur to the pig, who speaks in the first person and uses Homeric idioms (for instance, the idea of “leaving the sunlight” is frequently expressed in Homer by formulas like λιπὼν φάος ἠελίοιο, echoed here in the fifth line).
The text is illustrated by a relief depicting the scene of the pig’s death. By now you must be wondering: why are there two pigs on the Pig Stele of Edessa? Because that is a common ancient way of telling stories through images: the protagonist is shown at different stages of its existence simultaneously.
In this case, the story is meant to be read from right to left. Before the accident, the young Dalmatian pig appears healthy and happy to walk long distances to reach its destination (a religious festival in honor of Dionysus). The four donkeys rear up as the chariot hits the pig, while the driver desperately tries to control his team — to no avail. After the impact, the devastating effect of the wheels is clearly visible on the animal’s body.
The moral of the story? Be careful next time you cross the street with your favorite porcine pet!
Marco Romani is the Paideia Institute’s Director of European Operations.
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