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This paper was part of the 2017-2018 Penn Humanities Forum on Afterlives. Find out more at


Located at the ancient sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi is a collection of inscriptions that detail the sales of slaves by their owners to the god Apollo. In reality, these slaves were purchasing their freedom, and the Delphic inscriptions are the manumission contracts between slave and slave owner. But how did the Greeks reconcile the integration of slaves into free civilization with their established systems and rationalizations surrounding slavery? My project investigates the Delphic approach to manumission, using the manumission inscriptions in conjunction with evidence from other locales to examine the circumstances and methods that would enable a slave to achieve freedom through the Delphic procedure. Close reading and consideration of these inscriptions reveal a tension between the many advantages manumission offered to slaveowners, and the centuries of alienation and objectification of the slave figure to the appellation of merely σῶμα ("body"). This tension, and other evidence of Greek discomfort and anxiety concerning boundary-crossing and categorical dilemmas, may help explain the strange role of the god in the Delphic epigraphy.



Date Posted: 08 July 2019