BMCR 2023.09.13

Stylistique et poétique de l’épigramme Latine

, , Stylistique et poétique de l’épigramme Latine. Lyon: MOM Éditions, 2022. Pp. 240. ISBN 9782356680778.

Open access

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review]


The 4th volume of the series Littérature et Linguistique collects the proceedings of the colloquium Sylistique de l’épigramme à Rome (16th–17th May 2019, Saint Étienne-Lyon) organised by the Laboratoire HiSoMa (Histoire et Sources des Mondes Antiques), the Jean Monnet University of Saint Étienne, and the University Lumière Lyon 2. In particular, its ambitious goal is to investigate some crucial aspects of the epigram, one of the most long-lived (2nd century BCE–7th century CE) and complex genres in Rome, also renowned for the variety of its subgenres, themes (uarietas), and styles (uariatio) .

In the Introduction the editors, Florence Garambois-Vasquez and Daniel Vallat, point out how scholarship has failed to recognize the general poetic intentions in epigrammatic texts and authors (with some exception for Catullus, Martial, and the satiric epigram). [1] In fact, new studies on poetic substance are needed and must be supported by a more concrete analysis of its form and linguistic-stylistic challenges (p. 9). [2] Faced with this inexhaustible topic (inépuisable p. 10), the authors declare that their goal is to identify some specific stylistic and poetic features of the genre, as well as their the macro- and micro-textual implications. Thus, the results of this approach will make it possible to identify some indispensable criteria for future research on this topic.

The volume is divided into three sections, each treating some pivotal aspects of the epigrammatic style. The first part shows different approaches to the matter: Jean-Louis Charlet applies a statistical method to trace back and contextualise the use of the phalaecian hendecasyllable and of the scazon (a variant of the iambic trimeter). These meters, together with the elegiac couplet, are identified as a trait of epigrammatic polymetry, for their constant presence from Catullus and Martial to Late Antiquity (although less evidently), and even to the Renaissance.

An experimentally engaged approach to the matter is Nina Mindt’s on the search for a properly outlined “Translationsgrammatik”. She proposes to apply the recent theoretical discoveries on translation (p. 23, n. 9, 10) to the epigram: this choice is strategic because of the breuitas of the genre, its strongly rhetorically condensed form, and also the challenges of its translation into another language. She uses the interdisciplinary process of “Latin translatology” (oriented towards the Text-Linguistic, Text-Pragmatic, and Text-typologies) and lists some criteria for a translation that will be the most faithful to its original. Then, she discusses her case study on the features of aprosdoketon and the final pointe in Martial (epigr. I, 10; III, 8), assigning a new explanatory role to the textual apparatus.

The first section ends with the reflection of Nicolas Cavuoto-Denis on the influence of the epigrammatic style in the Epistulae of Symmachus (epist. III, 10; VIII, 49 esp. VII, 26; VIII, 71–72); as a matter of fact, some short letters (billet) look similar to certain types of epigrams, not only for their breuitas, but also for the use of some typical traits, such as sententia, rhythm, anaphora, and refined and exclusive lexical choices. Thus, Cavuoto-Denis convincingly argues, the same poetic intentions lead in both genres to the use of specific stylistic resources. These indicate the influence that the epigram has on a prosaic genre such as the letter.

In the second part, the volume presents studies mainly focussed on some classic authors of epigrams, such as Catullus and Martial. In the first contribution, Alfredo Mario Morelli takes into consideration Catullus’ definition of his own verses (carm. 16, 9–11) and its reinterpretation in Martial (epigr. I, 4. 35; XI, 16; XII, 95). On one hand, he argues that the sexual oppositions between softness and hardness (uersiculi molliculi as pueri opposed to duri and pilosi) conveys in Catullus a meta-poetic discussion. From this perspective, the poet refers to the effect of his own art (lepos) on the reader: refined literary lepos would be sharpness of mind, but also aggressive ostentation of virilism. Martial, on the other hand, displays some stylistic strategies in emulating Catullus; in fact, the poet of Bilbilis interprets this metaphor backwards in a more priapic and sexual meaning, underlining the cheeky and scandalous nature of his own verses.

Frédérique Fleck analyses the direct and indirect form of the reported speech in the first three books of Martial’s Epigrammata. She identifies the choice of the place the reported speeches occupy in the verses as a typical trait of the epigrammatic style. This depends ultimately on the role the speeches play in the epigram, as well as on Martial’s intention of captivating the reader’s attention.

Another feature of Martial’s epigrammatic style is studied by Chaterine Notter. First, she outlines the use of the technique of circular composition in Martial (epigr. II, 6; IV, 64. 89; VI, 42; VII, 26; X, 37). She also shows the poet’s ability to reuse this feature in a more refined and less aggressive way than in Catullus. In particular, Martial seems to adapt the circular composition to his own esthetical concept of satiric epigram: he uses it for the most violent satire, for praising friends and protectors, for humour, and for poetic reflection.

The art of the question, as a specific feature in the corpus Martial’s Epigrammata, is then investigated in detail and from three different angles by Emmanuele Vallette and Daniel Vallat. Their goal is to find the author’s interest and purpose in the use of this mainly rhetoric-centered tool in such a short literary genre. First, they analyse the position of the questions in Martial’s satiric epigrams, as well as in other epigrammatic sub-genres. Second, they take into consideration the stylistic and rhetorical choices at play: the question’s stereotypes or variations, the relationship between question and answer, and the use of tools simulating the act of communication (“outil phatiques” p. 123). Finally, they focus on the pragmatic implications of the use of questions (esp. in epigr. XIII and XIV) as a way of captivating the reader’s attention and to explore an extra-textual dimension.

Concluding the second part, the suggestive contribution of Emmanuel Plantade applies the results of S. Mattiacci’s analysis on archaic and classic echoes in Apuleius’ corpus of elegiac couplets (p. 140 n. 4). Rejecting S.J. Harrison’s interpretation of Apuleius’ use of polymetry (p. 140, n. 5), Plantade firstly executes an accurate metrical examination on Apuleius’ Apologia, 9, 12 (= fr. 3 Blänsdorf); 9, 14 (= fr. 4 Bl.) and Metamorphoses, 4, 33 (= fr. 6 Bl.), focussing on clausulae and caesurae. Then, he analyses Apuleius’ techniques of composition (especially rhetorical and accentual rhythm), outlining with success the specific style of this author: it is clearly characterised by virtuosity, but is also original in its archaic colour and in the use of multiple intertextual references.

The third section of the volume is concerned by the different layouts of the epigrammatic style in the last period (4th–7th century CE). The opening contribution of Florence Garambois-Vasquez explores the stylistic variety in the epigrams of the Ausonian corpus, fully or almost fully, written in Greek (esp. epigr. 32 Green, 33 G, 34 G, 35 G, 85 G, 96-98 G). Focussing particularly on Ausonius’ audacious use of Latin and Greek, Garambois-Vasquez convincingly argues that the linguistic choices of this author follow a specific strategy of connotation and communication. This is true especially for the asyndetic enumeration which hides an elaborate enigma.

Fabio Nolfo analyses the treatment of Niobe’s myth in Ausonius’ epigr. 57 G and its original dialogue with its illustrious model in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (met. 6, 146–312). Nolfo first identifies Ovid’s pervasive and allusive presence in the Ausonian corpus of epigrams, with the exception of the only explicit citation in epigr. 72 G. Secondly, he shows in detail how Ausonius changed the Ovidian version of Niobe’s myth and “Romanised” it. Finally, he gives an accurate analysis of Ausonius, epigr. 57 G, its main intertextual references, its status as a figurative epigram in absentia (without referring to a real work of art), and its relationship with the contemporary rhetorical practice of the progymnasmata. This draws attention to some compositional techniques and specific poetic features of this author.

Luciana Furbetta treats the “letter epigram” in Catullus and Martial and investigates its developments in Ausonius (epist. 2 G; 4 G), Claudianus (carm. min. 19; 31; 40; 41; 46–48), Sidonius Apollinaris (carm. 17; 20), and Venantius Fortunatus (carm. 10, 12). Accordingly, she is able to show the linguistic and stylistic specificity of each author and to outline the intertextuality at play in the use of rhetorical strategies. These allow a better understanding of the Late antique epigram in its depth and complexity, as well as a better appreciation of its functional enlargement throughout the centuries.

Étienne Wolff points out that the style depends on the personality of the author as much as on the age in which he lives. Then, focussing on the epigrammatic genre in the Late Antique period, he shows how Luxorius’ epigrams and the anonymous ones of Anthologia Latina 90–197 Riese2 (both of the 6th century CE), can be compared as for their lexicon, intertextuality, structure, metric, figure, conciseness and wit. This process, Wolff points out, is of great use in properly identifying the specificity of the epigrammatic composition of this period: the hapaxes, rare words and poetic compounds in the analysed texts are used to elevate the style or in a heroic-comic tone; the structure of the poem is very elaborate; the anonymous authors play more with the disposition of the verses, while Luxorius plays more with the metric.

The third section concludes with the captivating contribution of Céline Urlacher-Becht [3] concerning the epigrammatic production of Eugenius of Toledo in Visigothic Spain of the 7th century CE. Regarding Eugenius’s thematic and stylistic originality, Urlacher-Becht shows that, even if he renovates the genre also in its religious inspiration, the same features can be found in his other religious poems. Therefore, it is urgent to find a clearly outlined ad hoc (that is non generic) process for analysing the late epigram’s specific features. Thus, Urlacher-Becht looks at Eugenius’ poetic project and at his use of metra to identify some pivotal characteristics of the genre in its Late period.

This volume is important not only for its experimental approach and the novelty of its discoveries, but also for its scientific rigour and the internal consistency with which each author carries on the overall vision of the Introduction. The abstracts in English and French at the beginning of each study, as well as the titles for internal sections in each contribution can also be seen in this perspective. Thus, even a reader more interested in the overall question of the volume is able to effectively benefit of the results here at display. Ultimately, these proceedings, if conveniently applied to other literary matters and genres, promise new insights on multiple levels for future scholarship on Poetic and Style.


Authors and Titles

Introduction / Florence Garambois-Vasquez, Daniel Vallat (pp. 9–12)



Y a-t-il une spécificité métrique de l’épigramme latine ? / Jean-Louis Charlet

Stileigenschaften des lateinischen Epigramms aus translatologischer Perspektive / Nina Mindt

De l’épigramme au billet / Nicolas Cavuoto-Denis



Catulle, carm. 16, Martial et la poétique des vers et des livres « sexués » : les ressources rhétoriques de l’allégorie et de la similitude / Alfredo Mario Morelli

L’insertion des propos représentés dans les Épigrammes de Martial / Frédérique Fleck

La répétition du vers initial à la fin de l’épigramme : quelques remarques sur l’usage du procédé chez Martial / Catherine Notter

L’art de la question chez Martial : formes et enjeux stylistiques et pragmatiques / Emmanuelle Valette (Université Paris-Cité), Daniel Vallat

Aspects métriques et rythmiques de la couleur archaïque dans les distiques élégiaques d’Apulée / Emmanuel Plantade



La uarietas stylistique d’Ausone : l’exemple du grec dans quelques épigrammes / Florence Garambois-Vasquez

The late antique literary epigram between progymnasmatic fictionality and mythopoetic exemplarity: the case study of Ausonius’ Niobe in Epigr., 57 Green / Fabio Nolfo

L’usage des procédés rhétoriques et leur fonction communicative dans l’épigramme latine : l’« épigramme-lettre » comme cas d’étude / Luciana Furbetta

Traits de style spécifiques à Luxorius et à l’auteur de la série 90-197 Riese / Étienne Wolff

L’expression du sentiment religieux dans les « Épigrammes » d’Eugène de Tolède / Céline Urlacher-Becht



[1] See also E. Santin, L. Foschia (eds.), L’épigramme dans toutes ses états: épigraphiques, littéraires, historiques, Lyon: ENS Éditions, 2016 on Greek and Latin epigram from a broader perspective.

[2] On Latin stylistic, see I. Mariotti, Stilistica latina (Rassegna bibliografica), Atene e Roma 3 (1958), pp. 65-76 (in id., Scritti minori, Bologna 2006, pp. 55-65); recent developments in the chapter of R. Oniga, Aggiornamenti, in A. Traina (ed.), J.B. Hofmann, A. Szantyr, Stilistica Latina, Bologna, Patròn, 2003, pp. 272-278; G.B. Conte, Virgilian Parerga. Textual Criticism and Stylistic Analysis, De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston 2021, p. 67.

[3] Recently curator of the Dictionnaire de l’épigramme littéraire dans l’Antiquité grecque et romaine (2voll., Turnhout, Brepols, 2022) with insights on authors and important key-topics of the genre.