Byzantine Epigrams

Vatican, St Peter, cross (imbedded in triptychon), 12th c. ?
(© after A. Rhoby, Byzantinische Epigramme auf Ikonen und Objekten der Kleinkunst. Wien 2010, Abb. LIV)

The epigram occupies an important place in Byzantine literature, following the ancient tradition. Various poets composed concise poems of varying length, in most cases for a specific purpose. Epigrams convey the artistic ambitions of Byzantine poets through their language, their metrical form and their rhetorical and poetical layout; in addition, they are significant sources for various facets of the spiritual and material culture of the Byzantine Empire. While literary epigrams transmitted in manuscripts as part of their author’s work are relatively well attested, the study of non-literary or “inscriptional” epigrams has long been neglected.

Systematic work on the project, which is based on preliminary research by Wolfram Hörandner, started in 2005. It aims to assemble a complete record of inscriptional Byzantine epigrams (600–1500 A.D), i.e. of those verses which are preserved on the object for which they were composed.

The collected material (from publications and in situ) is divided into four volumes, three of which have already been published (author A. Rhoby): epigrams on frescoes and mosaics verlinkt mit (2009), epigrams on icons and portable objects (2010), epigrams on stone (2014).

A fourth volume, which has already been completed, deals with Byzantine epigrams in illuminated manuscripts, i.e. with verses which function as marginal poetry of depictions, as verses accompanying scenes and figure poems. This study also contributes to questions of donorship and “self-fashioning”.

The volumes are arranged according to the following model: introduction, description of the object, critical edition of the Greek text, German translation, commentary on content and linguistical-philological questions, images.

Accompanying studies are primarily devoted to various questions about the interaction of word, image and beholder.

The project’s aim is to achieve a better knowledge of the Byzantine epigram, i.e. its contents, forms and functions as well as its socio-cultural significance.

It is closely related to the project “Epigraphy”

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