BMCR 2022.08.05

Quinientos epigramas griegos. Edición bilingüe de L. A. Guichard

, Quinientos epigramas griegos. Edición bilingüe. Letras Universales, 571. Madrid: Cátedra, 2021. Pp. 408. ISBN 9788437643243 €16,35.

This book is a selection of five hundred Greek epigrams translated into Spanish. The list gathered by Guichard has 1344 epigrams from the seventh to fourth centuries BCE, 4500 from the third to the sixth CE, and about 18,000 from the seventh to the fifteenth (pp. 21, 52, 60). The author states clearly at the beginning that he is only interested in the second period. His selection is ruled by three principles: 1) to represent the Hellenistic, Imperial and early Byzantine authors of the period; 2) to include the main authors, those that traditionally were considered the masters of the genre, but also those epigrammatists who have never appeared anywhere; 3) to include epigrams transmitted in parchment codex and those in papyrus roll (direct transmission) or quoted outside the Greek Anthology (indirect transmission). Of course, hovering over the selection, was the personal taste of the author (pp. 59-60). Forty-one epigrammatists were selected, including ten anonymous epigrams. The epigrammatists appear in chronological order and Guichard assigned a specific number to the selected epigrams, one that does not agree with that of the Greek Anthology. To avoid confusion, he includes, beside each epigram, the original number and, at the end, a concordance (pp. 389-403).

The book opens with an introduction divided in nine sections. The first, “El género: definición y características”, defines and describes the Greek epigram. The second, “Epigrama inscripcional y epigrama literario”, deals with the origins of the genre especially, with the boundary that separates its history and prehistory. The third, “Antologías, recopilaciones y libros de autor”, explains the sources and nature of the Greek Anthology. The fourth, “El epigrama helenístico: la Coronade Meleagro”, overviews the first stage of the transmission of this epigrammatic corpus and analyzes the contribution and personality of Asclepiades, Callimachus, Meleager, Possidipus, Anyte, Nossis, Leonidas, Dioscorides and Antipater of Sidon. The fifth, “El cambio de milenio: la Corona de Filipo”, depicts the changes in the genre in its transition from Roman Republic to Roman Empire and summarizes the biography of Philippus, Philodemus, Marcus Argentarius, Antipater of Thessalonica and Crinagoras. The sixth, “Época imperial: epigramas isopséficos y escópticos”, introduces two subgenres of Greek epigram developed in the late Roman Empire (isopsephic and skoptic epigrams) and relates briefly the life of Leonidas of Alexandria, Lucilius, Nicharchus and Ammianus; as the author is particularly interested in isopsephia, this section provides useful remarks and even a chart to understand this unusual form of versification (see below). The seventh, “La Antigüedad tardía: epigramas eróticos y cristianos”, describes the changes in the genre during the early Byzantine period, making brief remarks about the life of Strato, Rufinus, Gregory of Nazianzus and Palladas. The eighth, “Constantinopla: el Ciclo de Agatias”, contextualizes this crucial stage of Byzantine poetry, overviewing the biography of Agathias, Paulus Silentiarius, Macedonius the Consul, Julianus of Egypt and Leontius Scholasticus. The ninth, “Otros mil quinientos años de epigramas griegos”, sketches the fortune of Greek epigram through the Komnenian, Paleologan and Italian Renaissance. This last section contains eloquent examples and many interesting facts about the afterlife of the genre. Especially valuable are Guichard’s comments about intertextuality and intratextuality, “one of the strong points of epigram research in modern times” (BMCR 2020.07.16).

The Greek text is mainly taken from Beckby’s Anthologia Graeca (books II, III, XIII, XVI are not represented) and lacks critical apparatus. There are thirty-two discrepancies that affect in different degrees the Greek text (pp. 62-63). An interesting example is AP IX 172-172b. Based on his inspection of the digitalized version of the manuscripts of the Anthologia Palatina (Guichard is working on an edition of Palladas’ epigrams), the author points out that this is one epigram, not two fragments (p. 63). The unity of the epigram is rendered by the concept of salvation, first from the sea, lastly from worldly woes (p. 257). Guichard’s thesis is plausible.

Guichard’s translation balances the exactness of philology with the love of poetry. For instance, consider AP IX 359, vv. 4-5: “ἢν μὲν ἔχῃς τι, δέος/ἢν δ᾽ἀπορῇς, ἀνιηρόν”. The main rule followed by Guichard in his translation was fidelity to epigrammatic structure and rhetorical devices (p. 64): “si tienes algo, miedo, y si eres pobre, la vida es un tormento” (p. 116). One more example is useful: “πότερ᾽ἐν κρίῳ γεγένηται/ ἢ διδύμοις ἢ τοῖς ἰχθύσιν ἀμφοτέροις” (AP XI 318, vv. 3-4). The challenge for the translator is that the reader may suspect a sexual allusion in the three names of constellations (κρίῳstands for lewd, and διδύμοις and ἰχθύσιν for male and female genitalia). Some Spanish translators of this poem used the zodiac names. Guichard, instead, chose to be literal: “si había nacido bajo el signo del Carnero, bajo el de los Gemelos o el de los Peces” (p. 151). The sexual innuendo can be perceived better in Guichard’s translation, since the lofty Latin names of the zodiac conceal the low sexual behavior of Anticrates, the astrologer that Philodemus is criticizing.

There is no complete Spanish translation of the Greek Anthology and Spanish translators followed diverse criteria in their selections; for example, Fernández-Galiano (Madrid 1978) chose to translate the Hellenistic epigrams, Galán Vioque (Madrid 2004), Philippus’ Garland, Brioso (Sevilla 1991) and Luque (Madrid 2000), erotic epigrams, etc. For now at least, Guichard’s anthology is the most comprehensive in Spanish. Many epigrammatists are translated for the first time, especially some of the late Antiquity and almost all of the early Byzantine period. The author recognizes that certain poets of the Greek Anthology had been neglected because of the narrow conception of poetry prevailing in many selections (p. 41). Two such poets are Leonidas and Metrodorus, both of whom offer a complexity not found in others.

Leonidas practices a form of versification called isopsephia, a type of technopaignia (rhopalic verses, lipogrammatic poems, anagrams, palindromes, acrostics, etc.).  Isopsephia is based on the double nature of Greek letters, which, like Hebrew letters, can symbolize sounds and numbers.[1] In AP IX 12, for example, an anecdote about two crippled men compensating for their own disabilities, the isopsephic values of the words are combined in such way that each couplet totals 7666. [2]

Τυφλὸς ἀλητεύων χωλὸν πόδας ἠέρταζεν
ὄμμασιν ἀλλοτρίοις ἀντερανιζόμενος
ἄμφω δ᾽ἡμιτελεῖς πρὸς ἑνὸς φύσιν ἡρμόσθησαν
τοὐλλιπὲς ἀλλήλοις ἀντιπαρασχόμενοι.

Un ciego en su errancia conducía a un cojo
remunerado con los ojos del otro.
Incompletos ambos se habían juntado en uno solo
aportando cada uno lo que le faltaba al otro (p. 177).

Though the Spanish reader can clearly perceive the syntax, the rhythm and verbal economy of the original, Guichard must resort to a note (p.358) to convey this arithmetic facet.[3]

Metrodorus did not practice isopsephia but, like Leonidas, his epigrams deserve a place in an anthology because they are mathematical problems. Of the three “arithmetic epigrams” of Metrodorus Guichard selected, let us consider AP XIV 121:

De Cádiz hasta la ciudad de las siete Colinas, la sexta
parte del camino llega a las orillas del bramante Betis.
Luego, una quinta parte hasta el enclave focio de Pílades
territorio de los vacceos, llamado así por su ganado.
Desde ahí hasta los Pirineos de rectos cuernos
hay una octava parte del camino. Ahí empieza Italia
y tras una doceava parte aparece el ámbar del Erídano.
Bienaventurado el que cubre dos mil quinientos
estadios en su viaje a partir de ahí,
pues el palacio de la roca Tarpeya es el destino (p. 331).

This poem is not simply an arithmetic problem in hexameters and pentameters involving a fictional traveler who wants to know the distance from Spain to Rome (the answer to the problem is 1 500 miles). Metrodorus used geographical epithets –some are Homeric–  and paraphrases to allude to cities, rivers and mountains, that are faithfully translated by Guichard (“la ciudad de las siete Colinas”, “el bramante Betis”, “los Pirineos de rectos cuernos”, etc.). The poetical skills of Metrodorus are undeniable.

Before concluding, it is worth mentioning the five hundred notes conveniently placed at the end of the book (pp. 340-388). Almost every note incites curiosity: note 265, for example, explains the relation between AP XII 8 and a Cavafy poem; note 311 makes a valid and striking comparison between an epigram of Gregory of Nazianzus (AP VIII 79) and Borges’ “Poema de los dones”; note 479 retrieves Kepler’s Latin translation of AP IX 577.

Guichard’s book presents the richness of the Greek Anthology to a modern reader and shows him the protean nature and longevity of the Greek epigram, a genre that was still cultivated by 20th century poets (p. 57). The inclusion of nine samples of that “cabinet of curiosities” that is the XIV book of the Greek Anthology (problems, riddles and oracles) and four bilingual epigrams of Ausonius manifests that endeavor. This anthology should be praised, not only because Guichard’s harmonious and intelligible translations and impeccable selection, but also because of its economy: condensing the quintessence of the Greek Anthology in less than 500 pages.


[1] Isopsephia is kindred with gematria (“Gematria” JewishEncyclopedia).

[2] Guichard also included in his anthology AP IX 11 (p. 171). This epigram was written by Philippus and is the non isopsephic version of Leonidas’ epigram.

[3] Whether the isopsephic values (7666, 5699, 9117, etc.) of the fifteen epigrams of Leonidas selected by Guichard affect the semantics of the poems or not is an open question but there is no doubt that some isopsephic values had a hidden meaning and were used esoterically. For example, ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ= 365, ΙΑΩ= 811; see T. C. Skeat, ZPE 31, 1978, 45-54.