BMCR 2010.12.68

Epigramma longum: Da Marziale alla tarda antichità / From Martial to Late Antiquity. Atti del Convegno internazionale (Cassino, 29-31 maggio 2006)

, Epigramma longum: Da Marziale alla tarda antichità / From Martial to Late Antiquity. Atti del Convegno internazionale (Cassino, 29-31 maggio 2006). Collana Scientifica, 21. Cassino: Edizioni Università di Cassino, 2008. ISBN 9788883170454. €53.00 (pb).

[Contributors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

When does a short poem stop being short? Or rather, or rather what are the implications of a poem just short enough still to be considered short, if a bit on the longish side? This prodigious, ambitious collection of essays, which presents revised versions of papers delivered at an international conference held at the University of Cassino in 2006, explores a set of interrelated questions: when and by what means does an epigram become ‘long’?, what factors influence an author to deploy an epigram longer than convention or practice would dictate?, and what does the quality of being long suggest about a piece, its collection, or its author? These questions highlight a tantalizing paradox at the heart of the protean genre of the epigram. If a genre is defined ultimately by its brevity, at what length does a poem treating an epigrammatic topic in an epigrammatic manner cease to be a simple epigram and become that strange beast: the “long epigram” or epigramma longum ? In less skilled hands, this investigation could easily have turned into a dismal exercise in plowing the shore, as requisite caveats and exceptions confounded the quest for the essential nature(s) of longa. But, with admirable care and erudition, the contributors to this collection take the epigramma longum as a starting point for far more productive inquiries into a host of topics pertinent to the study of epigrammatic and para-epigrammatic literature—both Greek and Latin, canonical and unfamiliar. Although the compelling articles in this collection will be of greatest interest to those who specialize in the diverse authors and topics discussed therein, any scholar studying epigrams, (verse) epitaphs, occasional or short-form poetry, and the literary milieux of the high Empire or the cultural renaissance of late antiquity both in the Greek East and Latin West will find something—and likely much more—of value in these pages. The editor is to be commended for assembling an indispensable starting-point for any future discussion of these challenging but important subjects.

It makes sense to begin, as do many of the contributions in the collection, with the definition for longa advanced by H. Szelest, who set the threshold for the Martialian epigramma longum at 15 verses in any meter, with longer poems occupying a generic “grey zone” bounded by elegy, satire, and occasional poetry such as the Silvae.1 But thresholds as low at 10 lines (Puelma) and above 20 lines (Classen) have also been suggested.2 And this is before one considers the effect that different meters, subgenres, authors, and eras have on the perception of the relative length of an epigram. Wisely, this collection resists the impulse to collate a set of objective criteria for what would qualify an epigram as “long”. Rather, the collection permits a multiplicity of approaches to the problem, leaving it to its contributors to define epigrammatic measure within the context of their own essays. The contributions encompass an impressive range of classical antiquity (and beyond), from the origins of the epigram as a literary phenomenon in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, its development in the hands of the Neoterics and Martial, to its subsequent revivification by the nugatory Greek and Latin poets of late antiquity. Appropriately, Martial, whose treatment of the form clarifies many of the practices of earlier and contemporary authors and exerts immense influence on poetry’s evolution in late antiquity, receives the lion’s share of attention. But other authors and texts receive extensive treatments—e.g., the Hellenistic Coronae, Catullus, [pseudo-]Seneca, the Corpus Priapeorum, Ausonius, Prosper, Luxorius, Ennodius, and Agathias, as well as sundry Greek and Latin epigraphic epigrams. The essays offer a mix of surveys and close philological investigations of a few poems. Most of the articles in this collection follow a standard pattern: 1) the establishment of a working definition for longum that permits the author to identify a manageable sub-corpus; 2) the detailed, usually philologically focused discussion of the members of this subcorpus; and 3) (often tentative) conclusions. Although this has the disadvantage of decidedly unepigrammatic repetition—one hears repeatedly about Szelest’s seminal work, for example—it does mean that almost every essay can stand on its own as an introduction to the phenomenon, while, for those scholars who read further in the collection, the multiple perspectives offered by the contributors have the effect of recreating ( separatim) an informative, wide-ranging debate about the phenomenon’s key features.

Without exception the papers manifest the ameliorating refinements of revision, including the addition of lavish bibliographic apparatus. Much of this may be old news for the specialist; but it is invaluable for the tiro, especially one seeking to gain a toehold in the vibrant scene of Italian scholarship on Martial and late-imperial poetry. It is the reviewer’s sincere hope that these articles—20 of which are in Italian, 3 in English—find the audience they deserve and fulfill their promise to stimulate further discussion about the authors, texts, and literary questions they consider.

The range and detail of the essays in this collection defy summary let alone critique in the space available. Thankfully, the editors of BMCR have allowed me to sketch the themes presented in each of the collection’s essays in the blog version of this review. In what follows here I will draw attention to a few of the survey articles that may be of interest to the greatest number of readers.

The prefatory contribution of A. Morelli, the volume’s editor, provides an extensive account of the history of the epigramma longum, as well as its general morphology (genre and sub-genre, themes, structural shape, and linguistic register). His lucid and fair review of the competing definitions of the longum offers a succinct entrée to the question (p. 25-28). M. is at his finest when articulating how Martial revivifies the conventional comparison between the epigram and plastic objects (especially sculpture). For Martial, although brevity ( brevitas) is the defining feature of the epigram, it is not simply a quantitative distinction or a mere synonym of “shortness”. Rather brevity is a function of artistic realism: an epigram is breve when, like a statue, it is unified and autonomous, a seemly whole that would suffer from the removal of any of its membra. Martial’s redefinition of epigrammatic brevitas is echoed in a number of contributions, including Morelli’s own survey of erotic longa in Catullus and Martial, Cannobio’s conceptualizing of Martialian libri as products of an interplay between microtext (the epigram) and macrotext (the book) that is familiar from the libri of the Augustan poets, and Williams’ articulation of how Martial rebrands the literary epigram as the artistic equivalent of unitary plastic artwork. Three other surveys deserve special mention. In his survey of the rare Hellenistic longa, F. Cairns (in English) elaborates many of the fundamental features of longa, including the factors that call for a longum and the strategies by which epigrams are expanded. L. Mondin’s extensive essay on the length of the epigram in late antique Latin literature provides a wealth of data and keen observations on the epigrammatic practice of most significant late antique epigrammists. Any scholar with an interest in late antique Latin poetry should add this essay to his or her reading list. I will end by mentioning Garulli’s investigation of the Greek epigraphium longum before the fourth century CE, including the fascinating epitaph for Sophitos that was recently discovered in Kandahar. His essay provides a useful reminder of the importance that performative context holds for epigrammatic literature and the continued (if difficult to assess) influence of epitaphica on the literary epigram.

Given the size of this collection and the detail of many of its essays, the editor is to be commended for the meticulous care he gave to its presentation. The format of citations is uniform (there is, unfortunately, no consolidated bibliography). The decision to translate Latin and Greek has been left to each contributor. Errors are thankfully rare and almost always of a trivial nature (e.g “slide [sc. slight] exception” (p. 198); the repetition of “l’esercizio” at the bottom and top of pp. 315-16; fn. 107 cites itself, “cit. n. 107 [sc. 103]; but note “Gigantomachia (carm. min. 43)” [sic, 53] on p. 405. The second volume concludes with three indices: 1) index locorum notabilium; 2) epigraphic source material; and 3) manuscripts cited. Each of the two soft-cover volumes sports a sturdy and simple (but attractive) dust jacket; the printing is of high and consistent quality; and the glued binding withstood repeated reading.


Volume One

1. Alfredo M. Morelli, “Epigramma longum: in cerca di una básanos per il genere epigrammatico” (17-54)
2. Francis Cairns, “The Hellenistic Epigramma Longum” (55-80)
3. Alfredo M. Morelli, “Gli epigrammi erotici ‘lunghi’ in distici di Catullo e Marziale Morfologia e statuto di genere” (81-130)
4. Silvia Mattiacci, “Gli epigrammi lunghi attribuiti a Seneca, ovvero gli incerti confini tra epigramma ed elegia” (131-168)
5. Alberto Canobbio, “Epigrammata longa e breves libelli: Dinamiche formali dell’epigramma marzialiano” (169-194)
6. Johannes Scherf, “Epigramma longum and the arrangement of Martial’s book” (195-216)
7. Craig Williams, “Epigrammata longa e strategie metapoetiche in Marziale” (217-236)
8. Delphina Fabbrini, “Epigramma lungo e celebrazione in Marziale” (237-266)
9. Alessandro Fusi, “Marziale 3,82 e la Cena Trimalchionis” (267-298)
10. Elena Merli, “Cenabis belle. Rappresentazione e struttura negli epigrammi di invito a cena di Marziale” (299-326)
11. Marcello Nobili, “Rus, seu potius domus. Note critiche agli epigrammi di Marziale a Guilio Marziale (4, 64; 7, 17)” (327-371)

Volume Two

12. Regina Höschele, “Longe longissimum. Il Carmen 68 del Corpus Priapeorum” (383-396)
13. Luca Mondin, “La misura epigrammatica nella tarda latinità” (397-494)
14. Ferrucio Bertini, “Lussorio e l’epigramma letterario latino tardoantico” (495-508)
15. Marco Giovini, “Lussorio fra modello epigrammatico ed echi cristiani” (509-538)
16. Daniele Di Rienzo, “Epigramma longum tra tardoantico e altomedioevo: il caso di Ennodio di Pavia” (539-558)
17. Enrico Magnelli, “I due proemi di Agazia e le due identità dell’epigramma tardoantico” (559-570)
18. Claudio De Stefani, “L’epigramma longum tardogreco e bizantino e il topos dell’arrivo della primavera” (571-602)
19. Marco Fantuzzi, “La doppia Gloria di Menas (e di Filostrato)” (603-622)
20. Valentina Garulli, “L’epigramma longum nella tradizione epigrafica sepolcrale greca” (623-662)
21. Gianfranco Agosti, “Epigrammi lunghi nella produzione epigrafica tardoantica” (663-692)
22. Christer Henriksén, “Dignus maiori quem coleret titulo: Epigrammata longa in the Carmina Latina epigraphica” (693-726)
23. Marco Petoletti, “Il Marziale di Giovanni Boccacio” (727-744)


1. Szelest, H. 1980. ” Ut faciam breviora mones epigrammata, Corde… Eine Martial- Studie.” Philologus 124: 99-108.

2. Puelma, M. 1997. ” Epigramma : Osservazioni sulla storia di un termine Greco-Latino.” Maia 49.2: 189-214, 209-210; Classen, C. J. 1985. “Martial.” Gymnasium 92: 329-349, 331-332; also worth mentioning are Mario Citroni’s investigation of the Latin and polymetric tradition of the epigramma longum (2004. “Marziale, Pline le jeune et l’identité du genre de l’épigramme latine.” Dictynna 1: 125-153) and J. L. Moreno (2004. “Epigrammata longa, La brevedad como norma” in Hominem pagina nostra sapit. Marcial, 1.900 años después. Estudios XIX Centenario de la Muerte de Marco Valerio Marcial Zaragoza: 75-114), who analyzed in detail the metrics of epigramma longum in Martial, especially the frequent non-dactylic poems.