Monday, November 19, 2018


Andreas Rhoby, Rudolf S. Stefec, Ausgewählte byzantinische Epigramme in illuminierten Handschriften: Verse und ihre "inschriftliche" Verwendung in Codices des 9. bis 15. Jahrhunderts. Veröffentlichungen zur Byzanzforschung, 42. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademia der Wissenschaften, 2018. Pp. 848. ISBN 9783700181040. €200,00.

Reviewed by Rachele Ricceri, Ghent University (

Version at BMCR home site

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The place of epigrams in Byzantine culture and literature is undeniably crucial. A large-scale project entitled "Byzantinische Epigramme in inschriflicher Überlieferung," carried out at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and based on preliminary research by Wolfram Hörandner, has resulted in the collection and edition of some 1200 different inscriptional epigrams, which have been published in four volumes edited by Andreas Rhoby.1 This book is the fourth and last volume in the series, and is devoted to an ample selection of epigrams preserved in illuminated manuscripts. The core of the volume consists of the critical edition, German translation, and commentary on epigrams closely related to depictions to be found in Byzantine manuscripts, such as figure poems and metrical paratexts that accompany miniature images.

The volume opens with a thorough introduction that aims to provide general information about the edited epigrams. The "genre" of book epigrams is pinpointed as the overarching label to characterize the epigrams edited in the book. Rhoby (whose comprehensive study benefited from Rudolf Stefec's preliminary work) frames the discussion of the genre within the path-breaking methodological guidelines of Marc Lauxtermann2 and refers to the terminology adopted to classify the corpus of book epigrams collected in the Database of Byzantine Book Epigrams (DBBE).3 A substantial part of the introduction is devoted to the categorization of the epigrams (pp. 45–55), almost all of which are labelled according to the terminology elaborated by Lauxtermann and DBBE, as well as by means of new labels suitably introduced by Rhoby to point to epigrams that do not fit the categories pointed out elsewhere.

Rhoby accurately places all epigrams within one of the above-mentioned categories, although he wisely specifies that these labels are not meant to be static, as there are fluid transitions between the "genres" of book epigrams (p. 47). The same method of listing a high number of specific cases is consistently adopted in nearly all sections of the introduction (except for the "Metrik"). This way of presenting the various features of the epigrams is solid and thorough. However, the reading of the introduction might be weighed down by the numerous examples inserted in each section. I wonder whether the reader would have benefitted from a more slender structure in the individual sections of the introduction, for instance with theoretical explanations followed by tables containing references to the relevant epigrams.

The section of the introduction concerning the paleographical aspects of book epigrams (pp. 55–66) includes a detailed examination of the visual appearance of the metrical paratexts. A typical feature of these epigrams is the choice of the scribes to use the so-called Auszeichnungsmajuskel to distinguish the poems from the other texts copied on the same folios. The use of a distinctive script greatly enhances the inscriptional value of book epigrams, and its analysis ties in with the aim of the overarching project that guided the research. Moreover, the use of different subtypes of Auszeichnungsmajuskel, namely epigraphische, alexandrinische, and konstantinopolitanische, clearly reflects the willingness of the scribes to create a coherent and harmonious layout, as some types of handwritings were more suitable to be accompanied by a specific kind of Auszeichnungsmajuskel. Moreover, the presence of a distinctive majuscule also refers to an extra-linguistic value of the paratexts, whose function is strengthened by a special script and/or ink. Within the discussion of the material elements of the epigrams, some space is conveniently devoted to the way in which the scribes used to mark the verse division, giving an insight into the fascinating analysis of the appearance and function of punctuation in Byzantine manuscripts (pp. 64–66).

In a volume concerning poetry, one expects to find an examination of the metrical features of the edited poems. This is indeed the case with this volume (pp. 66–70), whose editor is one of the leading experts in Byzantine metrics. The prevalence of dodecasyllables within the corpus of book epigrams is not surprising, as this metrical pattern is the most commonly used for Byzantine epigrams (p. 66 and n. 163).4 The discussion of the metrical peculiarities of the single epigrams is wisely deepened in the commentaries on the single poems.

The actual critical editions of the epigrams (pp. 79–526) are arranged alphabetically by the modern country where the relevant manuscripts are preserved.5 As the main goal of the editor is to offer a comprehensive overview of the epigrams to be found in illuminated manuscripts, the starting points of the study are reasonably the objects, that is the manuscripts, rather than the texts themselves. Therefore, Rhoby does not aim to sketch a full overview of the manuscript tradition of all epigrams that he edits, but rather emphasizes the presence of one or more epigrams in one single manuscript, which is treated as a bearer of inscriptions.

More than 450 different epigrams are impressively edited by Rhoby, whose philological work shows an impeccable methodology and offers the reader a trustworthy text for poems that are often little-known or even unedited (the epigrams for which an editio princeps is provided are listed on p. 42 n. 33). The apparatus criticus is systematically accompanied by the sigla of the manuscripts used to establish the critical text. The manuscripts listed in the apparatus are supplemented quite regularly by the mention of more witnesses in the commentaries to the epigrams. The primary scope of the editions provided by Rhoby is therefore clearly related to the specific manuscripts where the epigrams function as book epigrams next to miniatures or have noteworthy visual peculiarities in illuminated manuscripts. The exhaustive primary and secondary bibliography that accompanies the editions is a precious tool for carrying out further research on these texts. The comments mostly elucidate the most notable formal, textual, and lexical features of the epigrams, whereas the necessary intertextual references are consistently placed in the apparatus fontium below the text.

The edition of the texts is complemented by a conspicuous section of Indices, which will prove to be extremely useful for any further research on the edited epigrams. The Indices highlight the peculiarities of the material analyzed from a variety of viewpoints: besides a list of incipits, loci, names, and manuscripts, the lexical level is opportunely dealt with the Index verborum memorabilium (pp. 561–564), which gives an idea of the rich and manifold language used in book epigrams. The language of book epigrams, characterized as mostly belonging to the so-called Mischstil, is also the object of a short section of the introduction (pp. 70–71).

The second part of the volume consists of a massive corpus of reproductions of the manuscript folios where the epigrams are preserved. The visual material includes 169 color plates (designated by Roman numbers) and 129 black and white ones (indicated by Arabic numbers). Although it was not possible to provide images of all the epigrams edited in the volume (p. 43), the pictures published in the book provide readers with a full overview of the material appearance of book epigrams in illuminated manuscripts. The type of script, ink, and layout used to write the epigrams are important elements to investigate the relationship of text and image, as well as to highlight the peculiar nature of paratexts compared to the main texts transmitted in the manuscripts.

Little in this wonderful volume can disappoint the reader. The amount of material taken into consideration is overwhelming and few small inaccuracies or minor lacks are indeed unavoidable. The dating of the manuscripts, in particular, is quite often based on existing publications or manuscript catalogues and can therefore reflect some imprecisions (e.g., Par. Coisl. 30, dated to the twelfth century on the basis of Devreesse's catalogue,6 but is most probably to be situated a century earlier; Par. gr. 224, whose script closely resembles eleventh-century manuscripts, is rather to be dated back to the first half of the twelfth). Moreover, the reader would have appreciated being provided with systematic references to Vassis's Initia carminum Byzantinorum entries.7

All in all, Rhoby's superb book, together with the three previous volumes in the same series, is destined to become a reference work, for its accuracy, scrupulousness, and lucid textual analysis. It will be of great use for philologists interested in the flourishing field of Byzantine poetry, as well as for art historians, who will be delighted to find meticulous and in-depth reflections on the interesting question concerning the relationship of word and image on the manuscript page (pp. 73–76).


1.   Rhoby, Andreas (ed.). Byzantinische Epigramme in inschriftlicher Überlieferung. Veröffentlichungen zur Byzanzforschung, 15. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademia der Wissenschaften, 2009; Rhoby, Andreas (ed.). Byzantinische Epigramme auf Ikonen und Objekten der Kleinkunst. Nebst Addenda zu Band I "Byzantinische Epigramme auf Fresken und Mosaiken". Veröffentlichungen zur Byzanzforschung, 23. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademia der Wissenschaften, 2010; Rhoby, Andreas (ed.). Byzantinische Epigramme auf Stein nebst Addenda zu den Bänden 1 und 2. Veröffentlichungen zur Byzanzforschung, 35. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademia der Wissenschaften, 2014.
2.   M.D. Lauxtermann, Byzantine Poetry from Pisides to Geometres, Wiener Byzantinistische Studien, 24/1. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2003.
3.   DBBE.
4.   To date (August 2018), the Database of Byzantine Book Epigrams registers more than 6700 dodecasyllabic epigrams out of the 9700 total book epigrams recorded.
5.   It is interesting to notice that Rhoby also provides the relevant Diktyon numbers to identify manuscripts.
6.   R. Devreesse, Le Fonds Coislin, Bibliothèque Nationale Catalogue des manuscrits grecs, II. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1945, p. 25.
7.   I. Vassis, Initia Carminum Byzantinorum, Supplementa Byzantina, 8. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2005.

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