Tuesday, February 26, 2019


Doris Meyer, Céline Urlacher-Becht (ed.), La rhétorique du « petit » dans l'épigramme grecque et latine: actes du colloque de Strasbourg (26-27 mai 2015). Etudes d'archéologie et d'histoire ancienne. Paris: Éditions de Boccard, 2017. Pp. 343. ISBN 9782701805238. €39,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Taylor Coughlan, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (tscoughl@umbc.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Smallness is a big topic in this edited volume, which derives from a conference with the same title held in Strasbourg in May of 2015. The publication of the conference brings together 19 contributions that examine the topic of smallness (and its antithesis) in epigram, both Greek and Latin, from the third century BCE to late antiquity. This "approche globale" (11), which the editors highlight in their introduction, is a strength of the volume as it brings authors writing in different languages from varied temporal periods and geographic locales into conversation. Given its importance to the definition of the genre, smallness is an ideal theme through which to explore "les éléments de continuité et de rupture" (11) in this generic tradition, and though not every chapter is equally successful, the editors should nevertheless be applauded for producing a volume that will provide a model for future comparative work in the genre.

Following a general introduction in which the editors underscore the centrality of the "petit" to the definition and aesthetic sensibilities of the genre and then provide a synthetic summary of the contributions, the volume divides itself into three, roughly equal sections organized by period (Hellenistic, imperial, and late antique). Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review. The volume concludes with an up-to-date bibliography and helpful index locorum.

The papers collected in the first part of the volume approach the concept of smallness in both quantitative and qualitative terms, but are generally united by an interest in smallness—physical size or social standing—as a metapoetic reflection of an increasingly influential aesthetic that privileges the small, humble, and refined. Thus the shadow of Callimachus looms large over these papers (and generally throughout the volume)—perhaps too much so in certain instances. Doris Meyer, one of the volume's editors, opens the section with a chapter on the "discours quantitatif" in Posidippus and Callimachus, whose surviving epigrams, she argues, demonstrate two different approaches to smallness. Meyer observes that Posidippus artfully juxtaposes (and integrates) the small and large, particularly in his epigrams on stones and statues, whereas Callimachus champions brevity as a defining aesthetic of epigram. Though primarily synthetic, Meyer's paper ably provides the conceptual background for the papers that follow.

Next are a trio of papers on Leonidas of Tarentum and his poems on subjects from the lower social classes. Christophe Cusset casts his critical eye over Leonidas' epigrams on fishermen, contributing some sensitive and novel treatments of Leonidean diction, meter, and style (some more convincing than others. e.g. the metrical crux in AP 6.4.1 [εὐκαμπές ἄγκιστρον, – – ⏑ ] as an intentional metapoetic marker of the poem's "torsion" of its humble content and poetic language), which ultimately reinforce our appreciation of Leonidas' adept play with the tensions between the poetic refinement of his language and the humble character of the subject matter it describes. Fittingly for a collection on literary epigrams, the papers of Évelyn Prioux and Claire-Emmanuelle Nardone are companion pieces, both interested in demonstrating the influence of Callimachus' Hecale on Leonidas' aesthetic program. Prioux lays out the case: Callimachus and Leonidas share certain resemblances in diction, subject matter, and themes, although a recognized lack of chronological clarity hinders reading Leonidas' epigrams as directly borrowing from and engaging with the Hecale. Organizing her contribution around a close reading of HE 33=AP 7.736, in which the voice of the speaker advises someone to give up a life of wandering for stable poverty as exemplified by simple foodstuffs, Nardone argues that here Leonidas uses these same (and additional) Callimachean intertexts to declare the introduction of humble themes (e.g. the λιτὴ…φυστή, "simple cake", which the addressee will have to eat) into epigram, as Callimachus similarly innovated in epic.

The final two contributions in the section return to issues of size. Expanding on the theme of her 2013 monograph,1 Flore Kimmel-Clauzet explores the language of big and small in epitaphs for poets, where the literary greatness of the deceased is paradoxically contrasted with a focus on the meagerness of their memorial. Antje Kolde surveys the nineteen epitaphs for "small" animals—insects and birds—discussing their relationship to the conventions of epitaphs for humans. She offers some stylistic observations on those epitaphs written in Doric (the rationale for this particular choice is not made clear), and concludes with (yet another) metapoetic explanation for their composition.

The second section of the volume consists of seven chapters that examine the theme of smallness in imperial Greek and Latin epigram, sometimes in isolation and other times productively in conversation. Francesco Pellicio illuminates Philip's professed predilection for ὀλιγοστιχίη (poems of "few verses"), drawing attention to the fact that Philip's Garland (what we have of it) contains a much larger percentage of poems in three (56.7%) and four (17%) distichs when compared to the distribution in Meleager (26.3 and 13.7%, respectively) where epigrams in two distichs predominate (41.8% compared to 19.4% in Philip). In a similar fashion to his slimmed down proem (14 lines to Meleager's 52), Philip's standardization of the length of the poems (even if they are longer on average) in his collection is another way that the poet engages with and refines his editorial model. Lucia Floridi explores the "demetaphorization" of potent literary (read Callimachean) terms like λεπτός and μικρός in satirical epigrams on very thin or short figures by Lucillius and Nicarchus, who, in making the metaphorical literal, reappropriate the Alexandrian rhetoric of smallness for the purpose of blame. Floridi's focus on an anti-Alexandrian response to the "petit" offers a refreshing mental palate cleanser, and the contribution continues her fine work on the language and style of imperial satirical epigram. Alfredo Mario Morelli offers a comparative study of the development of "rhétorique du petit" in Latin and Greek satiric epigram. While sharing a common origin, unsurprisingly the two traditions become independent in their sensibilities, as Morelli demonstrates through a study of the joke of the small farm, which is especially prominent in Latin satirical epigram but practically unattested in its Greek counterpart. Loosely connected to the first, the second half of the article explores the sexualized language of smallness, primarily related to the mentula, in Catullus and Martial. Callimachus is again the centerpiece of analysis in Annemarie Ambühl's study of Greek gift epigrams addressed to emperors or members of the imperial family in which the poets characterized the size of the gift or the exchange itself in terms that evoke the Alexandrian poet. As sometimes happens in studies of this sort, not every parallel adduced is equally convincing, and the chapter will be primarily of value to scholars working on individual epigrams treated by Ambühl.

The next pair of chapters tackle Martial. First, Catherine Notter, in a fittingly brief contribution, ably examines the overlap in terminology the Latin poet uses for the brevitas of his epigrams and the miniaturization particularly associated with the codex. Next, Sara Sparagna focuses on the "multiforme e prismatico contrasto 'grande'…e 'piccolo'"(179) in Book XII in which Martial confronts the present of his small-town existence in Spain where he is beset with ennui and writer's block with his big-city past among the literati in Rome. Sparagna's reading of the geographic and temporal dimensions in Book XII is rich and dense, but in short she argues that Martial seeks in his final book of epigrams to integrate the small (Spain) with the large (Rome) through the image of the literary fama awaiting his Spanish composition back in Rome. Greek and Latin epigram are placed into dialogue in the section's concluding chapter. Francesca Romana Nocchi compares two small corpora of epigrams on small private baths and highlights a development in the topos: the anonymous Greek epigrams from the Greek Anthology focus on their object's refined qualities through allusions to the Graces, whose number is a perfect fit for the baths, while in the late antique Latin epigrams, such as those by Naucellius from Epigrammata Bobiensia, the small baths are emblematic of an elite Roman's triumph over nature and separation from the commons.

Romana Nocchi's discussion of the Naucellius epigrams acts as a bridge to the final section of the volume, with contributions on the works of Ausonius, Sidonius Apollinaris, and Eugene of Toledo among others. In her study of the prefatory epistle and first two poems of Ausonius' incomplete Bissula, Silvia Mattiacci explores how the poet constructs a programmatic discourse for his tenuem…libellum (Biss. 2.1) through a complex of allusions, drawing not only on the usual suspects—Catullus and Martial—but also on other "genres mineurs", such as Roman comedy (e.g. in Biss. 1), with the poet casting Paulus, his addressee, in the role of the Phormion to his senex amator). While this article will be primarily of interest to scholars of Ausonius, it also serves as an accessible and observant introduction to the poetics of this interesting collection. The next two contributions explore associations between epigrammatic poetry, otium, and an aristocratic ethos in the letters of Symmachus and Sidonius Apollinaris. In correspondence with his father and the poet Naucellius, Symmachus articulates, so argues Camille Bonnan-Garçon, a defense of epigram not only on stylistic grounds (it shares a brevitas with epistolography) but also because the composition and exchange of epigrams (both reliant on otium) are part of and thus support aristocratic behavior. Marie-France Guipponi-Gineste surveys some of the rhetoric Sidonius Apollinaris deploys when writing to others about his improvisational or sympotic poetry and draws particular attention to how Sidonius depreciates these types of compositions while simultaneously underscoring the importance of the convivium to aristocratic social bonds. Both contributions nicely illuminate the late antique reception and development of aesthetic and cultural practices known to most classical scholars from Cicero, Catullus, Pliny, and Martial. In a second study of Sidonius, the rhetoric of nugatory poetics is the focus of Luciana Furbetta's bipartite article. In the first part, Furbetta argues that Sidonius' conception of "la petitesse" is significantly informed by Pliny, though this reviewer was not entirely convinced that Sidonius was as closely imitating Pliny as the author suggests. In the second part, she demonstrates Sidonius' engagement with neoteric watchwords with an analysis of Carm. 8, a poem in praise of Priscus, in which the poet balances self-deprecation with panegyric. Étienne Wolff surveys the Latin Anthology. This diverse collection of authors and topics share an interest in the epigrammatic topos of smallness—be it the scale or form of the poem (e.g. the serpentine distichs), brevity of expression, quotidian subject matter, or poetic modesty—which leads Wolff to ask in his conclusion if the editor of the anthology selected these epigrams precisely as a "contrepoint aux grands genres" (275). The volume ends, just as it began, with a contribution by one of the editors, an organizational decision that underscores the editorial commitment to a holistic approach to ancient epigram. Céline Urlacher-Becht examines the monodistic and monostichic poems by Eugene of Toledo, which are a notable feature of his corpus. She lucidly demonstrates that Eugene's composition of such short epigrams has a primarily didactic, rather than ludic, purpose; such short poems can aid readers in memorizing religious and profane information, such as the days of the creation or features of a parrot, as well as secular or religious aphorisms. The function-focused, educational epigrams of Eugene are a fitting counterpoint to the Callimachean aesthetic with which the volume began, and so highlights the variety and development of the genre and theme.

As is true with most edited collections of conference proceedings, few will read this volume cover-to-cover, and despite the emphasis the editors have placed on providing their readership with a cohesive approach to the topic of smallness in Greek and Latin epigram, the dialogue between chapters and sections is uneven, though a few chapters adeptly build upon one another's arguments (e.g. Floridi and Morelli; Guipponi-Gineste and Furbetta). Nevertheless, many individual chapters will be of great value to students and scholars and the volume as a whole will serve as model for future scholarship to consider aesthetic and intellectual trends in epigram across periods and languages—no small feat.

Table of Contents

Abréviations, 9
Introduction (Doris Meyer et Céline Urlacher-Becht), 11-18
I. La rhétorique du « petit » dans l'épigramme hellénistique: entre esthétique et éthique
1. Rhétorique du « petit » et « discours quantitatif » dans les épigrammes de Posidippe et de Callimaque (Doris Meyer), 21-36
2. Léonidas, poète de l'humilité. L'exemple des pêcheurs (Christophe Cusset), 37-44
3. Léonidas et l'Hécalè de Callimaque (Évelyne Prioux), 45-58
4. Pour une lecture métapoétique de l'épigramme AP VII, 736 (= 33 HE) de Léonidas de Tarente (Claire-Emmanuelle Nardone), 59-67
5. La rhétorique du « petit » dans les épigrammes funéraires des grands poètes grecs (Flore Kimmel-Clauzet), 68-86
6. De la mort de petits animaux (Antje Kolde), 87-97
II. Canonisation, différenciation et évolutions du « petit » entre Grèce et Rome
1. Alla ricerca della brevità : l'ὀλιγοστιχίη nella Corona di Filippo (Francesco Pelliccio), 101-112
2. La rhétorique du « petit » dans les épigrammes satiriques grecques de Lucillius et Nicarque (Lucia Floridi), 113-130
3. Entre le « petit » et le « ridicule ». Pour une histoire comparée de l'épigramme satirique grecque et latine (Alfredo Mario Morelli), 131-147
4. De petits poètes et de grands empereurs : poétique et panégyrique du « petit » dans l'épigramme grecque de l'époque impériale (Annemarie Ambühl), 148-160
5. L'usage du vocabulaire du « petit » à propos de la matérialité du livre d'épigrammes dans l'œuvre de Martial (Catherine Notter), 161-170
6. La dinamica del "grande" e del "piccolo" nel XII libro degli epigrammi di Marziale (Sara Sparagna), 171-184
7. Balneolum breue sum: le topos des thermes privés à mi-chemin entre les évocations mythologiques et une dimension plus intime (Francesca Romana Nocchi), 185-201
III. Contextes et enjeux du « petit » dans la latinité tardive
1. Le tenuis libellus pour Bissula d'Ausone : rhétorique du « petit » et de l' « improvisation » pour un cycle de vers compromettants (Silvia Mattiacci), 205-222
2. Quare elaboratam solci filo accipe cantilenam. La place de l'épigramme dans la correspondance de Symmaque, une rhétorique de défense de ce « petit » genre ? (Camille Bonnan-Garçon), 223-234
3. Le lusus poétique à la lumière du conuiuium et autres formes d'otium dans les poèmes de la correspondance de Sidoine Apollinaire (Marie-France Guipponi-Gineste), 235-250
4. La rhétorique du « petit » dans les épigrammes de Sidoine Apollinaire : stratégies littéraires et enjeux politiques (Luciana Furbetta), 251-266
5. Le thème de la petitesse dans les recueils épigrammatiques inclus dans l'Anthologie latine (Étienne Wolff), 267-275
6. Vt multa breuiter paruo sermone perorem… : les usages du distichon et du monostichon chez Eugène de Tolède (Céline Urlacher-Becht), 276-297
Bibliographie, 299-330
Index locorum, 331-343


1.   Kimmel-Clauzet, F. 2013. Morts, tombeaux et cultes des poètes grecs. Bordeaux.

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