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Byzantine Epigrams on Icons and Objects of Minor Arts

Andreas Rhoby, Institut für Byzanzforschung, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, Summer Fellow 2008

In the summer of 2006, I had the great chance to use the facilities of Dumbarton Oaks for the first time (as a reader). I was then working on the first volume of the Vienna-based project Byzantine epigrams on objects, supervised by Wolfram Hörandner. Completing this volume dedicated to Byzantine epigrams on frescoes and mosaics would have hardly been possible without consulting Dumbarton Oaks’s Library and Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives.

About one year ago, I started working on the second volume of the above-mentioned project. It focuses on Byzantine epigrams preserved on icons and objects of minor arts. Despite the fact that the library of the Institute of Byzantine Studies at the University of Vienna is one of the best in our field, I soon recognized that dozens of books and articles would not be available for me (not even by interlibrary loan). Knowing that I would find them at Dumbarton Oak, and being familiar with all the other very helpful Dumbarton Oaks resources, I applied for a summer fellowship.

In the last weeks, after consulting the missing publications, my work on Byzantine epigrams on icons and objects of minor arts is now more or less completed. I have already started the process of reviewing the manuscript that contains the presentation of almost two hundred epigrams preserved on icons and objects of minor arts. The presentation of each epigram includes the description of the object and the position of the inscribed verses, the critical edition of the Greek text, its translation in German, and a commentary on linguistical, philological, and historical/prosopographical, etc., matters.

The second purpose of my stay was to look for proper images of the described objects. I was not only able to find them in several books belonging to the Dumbarton Oaks Library but also in the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives.

Before submitting the volume to the Austrian Academy of Sciences (hopefully in the first half of 2009), the following things still have to be done. First, the process of reviewing has to be completed. Second, a long introductory chapter with general remarks on meter, language, and the interaction of word and image has to be written. And third, several indices (index locorum, index verborum, etc.) have to be created.

To sum up: Without using Dumbarton Oaks’s facilities both the first and the second volume of the project Byzantine epigrams on objects would have remained incomplete. By consulting the missing publications and by finding new epigrams both in books and on images preserved in the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, I am now better informed about the function and the circulation of Byzantine epigrams. The argument (which can be read in earlier publications) that the number of Byzantine epigrams still preserved on objects is very small cannot be maintained any more. Our projects now include more than one thousand inscriptional epigrams, of which several were found during research at Dumbarton Oaks.

I deeply hope I will have another chance to work at Dumbarton Oaks, perhaps for the third volume of the project, which will be dedicated to the large number of Byzantine epigrams preserved on stone. It has always been a fascinating experience.