Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2012.11.63 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.11.63

Vassilios P. Vertoudakis, Το όγδοο βιβλίο της Παλατινής Ανθολογίας. Μια μελέτη των επιγραμμάτων του Γρηγορίου του Ναζιανζηνού.   Athens:  Institut du Livre–A. Kardamitsa, 2011.  Pp. 285.  ISBN 9789603542933.  €21.30 (pb).  

Reviewed by Christos Simelidis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (

[A table of contents, with translations of the chapter-titles, is given at the end of the review.]

This book (in English entitled ‘The eighth book of the Palatine Anthology. A study of the epigrams by Gregory of Nazianzus’) examines various literary and linguistic features of epigrams written by the fourth-century Cappadocian father of the Church, Gregory of Nazianzus. Its primary focus is Gregory’s 254 funerary epigrams, which constitute the eighth book of the Palatine Anthology (AP), making Gregory by far the most extensively represented author in the AP.

Part I offers a concise survey of Greek epigrams up to the time of Gregory. Here, Vertoudakis lucidly summarizes our knowledge about Roman and Byzantine collections of epigrams, especially the AP and the later anthology compiled by Maximos Planudes in 1301. No epigrams by Gregory are found in the Planudean Anthology, and the only explanation offered for this is their possible absence from Planudes’ (now lost) sources for this Anthology. However, Planudes is likely to have consciously decided not to include epigrams by Gregory, because he appears to have compiled such collections as handbooks to use in his teaching1 and because his earlier collection of hexameter poetry (Laurentianus 32.16, dated 1280) already included a selection of Gregory’s poems and epigrams. If indeed these collections were to serve as teaching material, this might also explain the exclusion of the ‘pornographic’ epigrams from Planudes’ Anthology, since the Byzantines would normally not censor classical texts.2

Part II surveys the contents of Gregory’s funerary epigrams, which refer either to relatives and friends or to ‘enemies’. The latter fall in two groups: organizers of festivities inside the churches of the martyrs, and grave-robbers. Vertoudakis presents a representative selection of epigrams in the original Greek followed by translations of his own and helpful comments. He also addresses the frequent repetition of language and thought in Gregory’s poems. In the epigrams this repetition takes the form of similar epigrams on the same subjects, such as the more than fifty funerary epigrams on his mother and more than eighty against grave-robbers. In trying to explain this, Vertoudakis makes an interesting and intelligent suggestion: writing time and again on these subjects might have been a form of ascesis for Gregory in the same way ascetics had continually to repeat short prayers. ‘In his epigrams, Nazianzenus seems to combine the poetic- rhetorical exercise (γύμνασμα) with the anchoritic ascesis’ (81).

Part III examines Gregory’s epigrams in the framework of the literary tradition where they belong. Vertoudakis discusses language, intertextuality, exempla, style and metre. Not surprisingly, a wide range of classical authors have been the source of language and inspiration for Gregory, such as Homer, Hesiod, Hellenistic poets and later authors. As Vertoudakis rightly argues, Gregory’s epigrams follow closely a well-established, traditional genre. For this reason, they can be distinguished from the rest of his poetic production, which is mostly autobiographical, theological and moral, and has a special and sometimes unique character within the tradition of Greek poetry. It follows, as Vertoudakis shows well, that Gregory is more classicizing from every point of view in his epigrams than in the rest of his poetry.

A few points of detail on this Part. i) p. 154-155: Ι see no connection between AP 8. 37. 3 ἐξεσάωσας and Archilochus 5. 3 West. Gregory certainly borrowed this form from ancient literature, but I think that Od. 4. 501 ἐξεσάωσε θαλάσσης is a likelier source for Gregory’s use; ii) p. 156, n. 254: a reference to Stephen Halliwell, Greek Laughter: A Study of Cultural Psychology from Homer to Early Christianity (Cambridge-New York, 2008) would be helpful here; iii) p. 172, n. 283: for the Anacreontic poem on the cicada see Albrecht Dihle, ‘The poem on the cicada,’ HSCP 71 (1967), 107-113.

Part IV emphasizes the significant role played by rhetoric in the fourth century AD for the development of a Christian literature within the classical tradition. It also describes Gregory as a transitional figure between the dying pagan world and the emerging Christian Middle Ages.

This book is a welcome and useful addition to the literature on later Greek poetry. While readers of all levels can profit from Vertoudakis’ book, it is clearly aimed primarily at Greek-speaking undergraduate and graduate students.

Table of Contents

Prologue (Πρόλογος) 13
Introduction (Εισαγωγή) 15
PART I: THE EPIGRAM, THE PALATINE ANTHOLOGY, AND GREGORY ο επίγραμμα, η Παλατινή Ανθολογία και ο Γρηγόριος) 25
1. The Greek epigram until Gregory’s time ο ελληνικό επίγραμμα ως την εποχή του Γρηγορίου) 27
2. Collections and anthologies of epigrams (Συλλογές και ανθολογίες επιγραμμάτων) 35
The collection of Cephalas συλλογή του Κεφαλά) 39
3. Gregory in the Palatine Anthology Γρηγόριος στην Παλατινή Ανθολογία) 40
Palaeographical issues (Παλαιογραφικά ζητήματα) 46
The fortunes of Gregory (Γρηγορίου τύχαι) 52
The Anthology of Planudes Πλανούδεια Ανθολογία) 54
4. The Palatine codex and the rest of the manuscript transmission Παλατινός κώδικας και η λοιπή χειρόγραφη παράδοση) 56
5. Editions and translations (Εκδόσεις και μεταφράσεις) 61

PART II: THE STRUCTURE AND THEMES OF THE EPIGRAMMATIC COLLECTION ομή και θεματολογία της επιγραμματικής συλλογής) 69
1. The personal background ο βιωματικό υπόβαθρο) 71
2. The themes of the epigrams (Οι θεματικοί κύκλοι των επιγραμμάτων) 77
Introductory epigram (Εισαγωγικό επίγραμμα) 82
Basil of Caesarea (Βασίλειος Καισαρείας) 83
Gregory the Elder (Γρηγόριος ο πρεσβύτερος) 90
Nonnus (Νόννα) 93
To himself and family affairs (Εἰς ἑαυτὸν και οικογενειακά) 96
Kaisarios (Καισάριος) 100
Gorgonia and Alypios (Γοργονία και Αλύπιος) 102
Martinianus (Μαρτινιανός) 103
Relatives of Gregory (Συγγενείς του Γρηγορίου) 104
The family of Basil of Caesarea (Οικογένεια του Βασιλείου Καισαρείας) 107
Other persons (Άλλα πρόσωπα) 110
Against participants in drinking parties (Κατά συμποσιαστών) 115
Against grave-robbers (Κατά τυμβωρύχων) 117
3. Excursus: for reading or inscription? (Excursus: Για ανάγνωση ή για χάραξη;) 120

PART ΙΙΙ: ASPECTS OF CLASSICISM: THE EPIGRAMS AND THE LITERARY PAST (Όψεις του κλασικισμού: Τα επιγράμματα και το λογοτεχνικό παρελθόν) 125
1. The language of the epigrams γλώσσα των επιγραμμάτων) 127
Vocabulary (Λεξιλόγιο) 134
2. Intertextual substrate (Διακειμενικό υπόστρωμα) 140
α. Homer (Όμηρος) 141
β. Hesiod σίοδος) 148
γ. Lyric poets (Λυρικοί ποιητές) 151
δ. Tragic poets (Τραγικοί ποιητές) 155
ε. Hellenistic poets (Ελληνιστικοί ποιητές) 159
Callimachus (Καλλίμαχος) 159
Theocritus (Θεόκριτος) 168
Other poets of the Hellenistic period (Άλλοι ποιητές της ελληνιστικής περιόδου) 175
ζ. Epigrammatists (Επιγραμματοποιοί) 178
η. Poets of the Imperial period (Ποιητές της αυτοκρατορικής περιόδου) 187
3. Ancient Greek and Biblical exempla (Αρχαιοελληνικά και βιβλικά exempla) 191
4. Style and poetic rhetoric (Ύφος και ποιητική ρητορική) 197
Figures of speech (Σχήματα λόγου) 198
Σωρείτες παραδειγμάτων (Priamel) 202
Repetitions (Επαναλήψεις) 205
5. Prosody and metre (Προσωδία και μέτρο) 210

The literary fourth century and the tyranny of rhetoric λογοτεχνικός τέταρτος αιώνας και η τυραννία της ρητορικής) 219
PART V: BIBLIOGRAPHY (Βιβλιογραφία) 235
[English] Summary 255
Tables (Πίνακες) 261
1. Tables of sources (Πίνακες πηγών) 261
2. Tables of names, themes and selected words (Πίνακες ονομάτων, θεμάτων, επιλεγμένων λέξεων) 279


1.   Cf., for example, E. Fryde, The Early Palaeologan Renaissance (1261-c. 1360) (Leiden-Boston-Cologne, 2000), 229, and C. N. Constantinides, Higher Education in Byzantium in the Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries (1204-ca. 1310) (Nicosia, 1982), 79.
2.   Cf. N. G. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium, rev. ed. (London, 1996), 231 and id., ‘The Church and Classical Studies in Byzantium,’ Antike und Abendland 16 (1970), 68-77.

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