Through a specific example, this paper explores the problems of empiricism and ideology in the uses of material-cultural and visual evidence for the writing of ancient history. The focus is on an Athenian documentary stele with a fine relief from the late fifth century bc, the history of its publications, and their failure to account for the totality of the object's information—sculptural and epigraphic—let alone the range of rhetorical ambiguities that its texts and images implied in their fifth-century context. While the paper reflects on the Samos Stele (the meanings of the dexiosis of the figures represented, and the repeated references to the “goodness” of the Samians with respect to the Athenians, for instance), it also considers the broader hermeneutic problems of approaching the different discourses ofword and imagewithin antiquity andworries about the distortions introduced into ancient history by modern formulations, descriptions, and translations of the past.
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