Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.09.27

Doris Meyer, Inszeniertes Lesevergnügen. Das inschriftliche Epigramm und seine Rezeption bei Kallimachos. Hermes Eizelschriften, Band 93.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005.  Pp. xii, 336.  ISBN 3-515-08660-9.  €64.00.  

Reviewed by Valentina Garulli, University of Bologna (
Word count: 1359 words

Doris Meyer's book fills a gap in the study of Greek epigram and will long remain an important work for anyone interested in this genre. The book focuses on the relationship between Callimachus' epigrams and the epigraphic tradition. One of the cruxes in the current interpretation of Greek epigram's history is the origin of the Buchepigram. The end of the 4th cent. B. C. is currently regarded as a turning point from an epigraphic prehistory of epigram to the beginning of the literary genre; the two categories --closed and mutually exclusive-- of literary epigram and inscriptional epigram are well-established. Certainly these two realities do not suit the complex history of the Greek epigram: many scholars have sought some criteria for distinguishing the so-called inscriptional epigrams from the literary epigrams, but without result. The problem remains as a "hermeneutic crux" in the field.1 Doris Meyer (henceforth M.) does not get lost in the windings of an endless --and probably incorrectly put-- question: on the contrary, she faces a well-defined point, Callimachus' debt towards the epigraphic tradition, and thus makes a genuine contribution to the larger question.

The volume is divided into three main parts, following an introduction (Einleitung: Griechisches Epigram und Rezeptionsästhetik. Methodische und terminologische Grundlagen, pp. 1-23). The first part (Das griechische Epigramm und seine Leser von der Archaik bis zum Hellenismus, pp. 25-126) approaches the inscriptional epigrams in accordance with the communication theory: epigram is a written text staging a fictional Sprechakt and redeeming itself as a written message within an oral culture. In accordance with this view, the I-speaker does not imply any form of animism,2 but is one of the Sprecherrollen, part of the Inszenierung of the Sprechakt. Such an Appellstruktur may develop into a monologue or a dialogue. This approach is original and clever: it helps us to understand better than before some formal results of the inscriptional epigram, and especially its anomalous position within an oral culture. The epigrammatic genre was successful during the Hellenistic period because it offered an early model for reading-poetry.

After these preliminary remarks, M. goes on in the second part of her study (Autor und Leser in der Epigrammen des Kallimachos, pp. 127-224) to compare Callimachus' epigram to the traditional structure of epigrams, described above: an analytic table offers a non-conventional survey of Callimachus' epigrams, examined as Inszenierungen of a fictional communication. The results are remarkable: M. has the merit of bringing to light a distinctive feature, common to the epigrams of the poet from Cyrene. Callimachus inherits and elaborates the traditional Appellstruktur of the inscribed epigrams; he sees it as an ideal form of reading-poetry and applies it even to other genres, as M. shows in the last part of the volume (Epigrammatische Sprecherrollen in den elegischen und jambischen Gedichten des Kallimachos, pp. 225-263). Callimachus personalizes the Sprecherrollen and plays with them with the aid of the reader; he can use the subtle reading psychology belonging to the inscriptional epigram.

The structure of the book is basically historicist, from the precedents to Callimachus' epigrams and then to his iambs and elegies. M.'s contribution is important both for suggesting a new and promising key to Callimachus' iambs and elegies, and for defining precisely the relationship between Callimachus' epigrams and the preceding tradition on the basis of a systematic and rigorous study. At the same time M. suggests her own definition of the relationship between Steinepigramme and Buchepigramme. She regards Callimachus' epigrams as Buchepigramme,3 accepting the traditional --and from several ponts of view misleading-- dichotomy: this alternative is in fact not questioned by M., and the hypothesis that Callimachus' epigrams may have had a double function is given no space. M.'s work is based on the case of Callimachus, and does not aim at drawing any general conclusion about the Greek epigram after the 4th century; like every good piece of scholarly research, this one opens the way to further scholarship, particularly the application of the same method to the contemporary and subsequent epigrammatists. We must keep the question of the status of literary genre for the Greek epigram preceding the 4th century separate from the opposition Steinepigramm vs Buchepigramm. M.'s opinion in this regard seems to be indefinite. She acknowledges the literary quality of the pre-Hellenistic epigram, but confirms the idea of an inscriptional prehistory of the genre.4 Her point of view is obviously based on Callimachus, and, compared to his epigrams, any precedent appears inferior; nevertheless, it is significant that a continuity between the inscribed epigrams and Callimachus' epigrams as Inszenierungen eines fiktiven Sprechakts is acknowledged. The working method is thorough and the arguments unfold more geometrico. Nevertheless, the writing could be sometimes more concise. The reader will appreciate the generous and up-to-date bibliographic information, always deserving a careful reading.5 The indexes are very helpful, making this book also a reference work on specific texts and problems; besides the indexes of ancient authors (pp. 301-312), inscriptions and papyri (pp. 313-317) and names (pp. 318-324), we call reader's attention to the very precise and complete index of Begriffe (pp. 324-335).

I turn to a few individual points. M. notes the praise of learned culture --especially literary culture-- in Hellenistic age (pp. 110-114): in the inscribed epigrams one finds several references to the skill of the dead person in the art of the Muses, and this is certainly the result of the book culture of that time. Even more interesting is a particular text discussed by M.: GVI 1729 (2nd-1st c. B. C.), which draws a comparison between the Ὁμήρειοι γραφίδες celebrating Eumaios' benevolence towards his master χρυσέαις ἐν σελίσιν, and the gravestone telling an ἀείμνηστον γράμμα. M. points out that the epigram is appreciated more than the monument because of the estimation of literary culture mentioned above, and adds: "Der Stein singt wie Homer ein ἀείμνηστον γράμμα, er ist weniger ein Denkmal als ein Buch, Träger eines homergleichen Preisgesangs" (p. 111). It is noteworthy, rather, that Homeric poetry and the inscribed verses are both regarded as guarantees of immortality, and the unknown epigrammatist proudly feels himself a true poet; the epigram --although inscribed-- is regarded as a kind of poetry as worthy as the noblest genre, the epos. This indicates that epigram has been acknowledged as a literary genre.

At p. 125, with regard to Leonidas AP 7.452, M. denies that any invitation to drink could be inscribed on a tombstone, and on the basis of that she holds this epigram as a Buchepigramm. This is certainly true for AP 7.452, but it should be noted that there are some similar cases among the inscribed epigrams, although mainly of the imperial age: see for ex. GVI 378 (Cos, 2nd-3rd c. A. D.), 1066.5ff. (Mantineia, 2nd c. A. D.), 1112.8ff. (Prusias on the Hypios, 2nd c. A. D.), 1146.7f. (Rome, 2nd-3rd A. D.), 1219.2 (Termessos, 2nd-3rd c. A. D.), 1905.18ff. (Eumeneia, Phrygia, 2nd c. A. D.), 1925.7f. (on the way from Naples to Nola, 1st c. A. D.), 1978.19ff. (Korkyra, 2nd-3rd c. A. D.).

At p. 172 M. dwells upon the 2nd person plural imperative ἴστε in Callimachus' ep. 60.2, and regards it as an unusual call to a group of readers. Some similar examples can be found: see GVI 662.6, 689.9, 1323.5. M. gives an original contribution to the exegesis of Call. fr. 64 Pf., offering a comparison between this text and Simon. ep. 146 Bergk (89 West) (pp. 226-228): the distich celebrates Simonides' μνήμη, playing with the double meaning of both memory and celebrity. M. suggests that we see in Callimachus' text the same idea: Simonides was a champion of μνήμη, so a μνῆμα is unnecessary for him. This reading is attractive, especially for a poeta and lector doctus like Callimachus. Fr. 64, moreover, not only shows that Callimachus employs the epigrammatic patterns for another genre of poetry but also gives an example of an epigram's quotation within a longer, elegiac text. This helps us to recognize that the two genres are independent from each other.

To conclude, the book tackles some complex and subtly intricate problems, discussed for many decades, and gives a precious contribution to each of them thanks to its research method and its careful analysis.


1.   P. Bing, Between literature and the monuments, in Genre in Hellenistic Poetry, ed. by M. Annette Harder, R. F. Regtuit, Gerry C. Wakker, Groningen 1998, 21-43: 29. A. Cameron, Callimachus and His Critics, Princeton 1995, 180 observes: "commentators on the epitaphs preserved in the Anthology like to debate which are 'real' and which 'literary', as though a distinction could be made on the basis of their form or tone alone".
2.   M. Burzachechi's theory about speaking objects in Greek inscriptions as a heritage of archaic animism is well-known (Oggetti parlanti nelle epigrafi greche, Epigraphica 24, 1962, 3 54).
3.   In accordance with R. Reitzenstein's definition (pp. 96f.): "Ich verstehe darunter ein im wesentlichen für das Buch, bezw. für den Vortrag (denn beides ist in älterer Zeit oft noch verbunden) bestimmtes und für ihn vollauf genügendes Gedicht. Ob es daneben auch einmal auf Stein geschrieben und für einen bestimmten Anlass gedichtet war, oder ob die in ihm erwähnten Persönlichkeiten gelebt haben, ist nicht entscheidend".
4.   See p. 10: "Wenn wir die Geschichte des griechischen Epigramms untersuchen, das sich von einem alltagsnahen 'subliterarischen' Genus zu einer der kunstvollsten Spielarten der Buchdichtung gewandelt hat, so müssen wir die Ergebnisse beider Betrachtungsweisen miteinbeziehen". Anyway, she aknowledges that from the 4th century B. C. some form of author's self-consciousness is arising (p. 14: "Das Wie dieses Berichtes aber, insbesondere die berichtende Stimme, verandert sich mit dem Aufkommen eines Autorbewusstseins, das die Gattung des traditionell anonym verfassten Epigramms im 4. Jahrhundert erreicht. Wir werden aber sehen, dass das in anderen literarischen Gattungen schon früher demonstrierte Autorbewusstsein Ruckwirkungen auf die anonyme Stimme des Epigramms schon vor dem 4. Jahrhundert erkennen lässt"), and that epigramm is a genre on its own (p. 33: "Es gibt sicherlich Merkmale, die es rechtfertigen, von einer Gattung des Epigramms zu sprechen, es gibt eine Kunstform, die von der subliterarischen Spielart mitgepragt wird, und es gibt etwa mit dem Liebesepigramm eigene Entwicklungen, die von diesem Ursprung wegführen").
5.   I call the reader's attention to a few supplements to the final bibliography (pp. 265-299): as for H. Beckby's edition of the Greek Anthology, one should take into consideration the second --although rare-- edition (Anthologia Graeca, mit Namen- und Sachverzeichnis und anderen vollständigen Registern, Griechisch-Deutsch ed. H. B., I-IV, München, without date, but 1965 1967), as well as the collection of Sophocles' fragments edited by S. Radt (Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, IV. Sophocles, Göttingen 1999). M. Puelma republished his essay (̓Επίγραμμα-epigramma: Aspekte einer Wortgeschichte, MH 53, 1996, 123-139) in italian: Epigramma: osservazioni sulla storia di un termine greco-latino, Maia 49/2, 1997, 189-213. As for M. Fantuzzi and R. Hunter's Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry, Cambridge 2004, English enlarged version of Muse e modelli. La poesia ellenistica da Alessandro Magno ad Augusto, Roma-Bari 2002, the publication time clearly did not allow M. to quote it.

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