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Enigmatic Literature in Byzantium: Authors and Texts

Simone Beta, University of Siena, Fellow 2011–2012, Fall

In the research proposal I submitted at the end of 2010, I proposed to edit the full Greek text of the Byzantine riddles, translate the poems into modern English, and write a commentary. After preliminary work in Italy (January–August 2011) and after the semester at Dumbarton Oaks (September–December 2011), I am not so positive about the first part of my goal. Producing a thorough edition of Byzantine enigmatic poetry provided with a critical apparatus is a very difficult task indeed, since the number of Greek riddles written between the sixth and the fifteenth centuries is much greater than what can be guessed by the current published collections (including the most recent one, Čelica Milovanović’s Byzantina ainigmata, with Serbian translation and commentary, edited in 1986). Moreover, the fact that these riddles are scattered through so many manuscripts, in such different versions, and with such different attributions, makes the task almost impossible (as shown by the case of the Greek scholar Spyridon Lampros, who spent most of his life collecting Byzantine riddles from Greek manuscripts without being able to publish a complete edition).

But after my work at Dumbarton Oaks and the fruitful discussions with the excellent people I have had the chance to meet here (Jan Ziolkowski, Margaret Mullett, Alice-Mary Talbot, and the other Byzantine fellows), I am very positive about the other two parts. I think it is possible to collect and to edit in a serious and scholarly way a fairly good number of the enigmatic Byzantine poems. I am also sure that translating these riddles into modern English, together with an introduction and a commentary, would really fill a gap. The work I am going to do in the following months will not only shed light upon a peculiar (and so far neglected) feature of Byzantine culture, but it will also make known to a wider audience a kind of poetry that can still be appreciated in our times as well.