The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry ed. by Jan Kwapisz, David Petrain, Mikołaj Szymański
Although riddles play a very significant role in Greek and Latin literatures, as in the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx, this interesting topic has never received the attention it deserved. The proceedings of this Polish conference, held in May 2011 by the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of Warsaw, are therefore a very welcome publication. Organized by Jan Kwapisz, a professor of classical philology who has recently published an edition and commentary of the six technopaegnia preserved in the fifteenth book of the Palatine Anthology (The Greek Figure Poems, Leuven 2013), together with David Petrain (Vanderbilt University) and Mikołay Szymański (University of Warsaw), this conference has brought together a large group of scholars whose papers have been divided into five different sections.
The task of introducing the twenty papers has been entrusted to Joshua Katz, the author of an excellent study on the Indo-European background of the riddle of the Sphinx. The three papers of the first section (“Discourses of Play”) deal with the enigmatic allusions we find in symposiastic poetry (E. Bowie: “The Sympotic Tease”); with the allusive language of dithyrambic poetry (P. A. LeVen: “‘You Make Less Sense Than a (New) Dithyramb’: Sociology of a Riddling Style”); and the linguistic wordplays carved on the Pompeiian walls (R. R. Benefiel: “Magic Squares, Alphabet Jumbles, Riddles and More: The Culture of Word-games Among the Graffiti of Pompeii”).
The second section (“The Ancient Riddle: Theory and Practice”), the very heart of the volume, starts with a paper on the riddles of the fourteenth book of the Greek Anthology, where Christine Luz (the author of Technopaegnia. Form-spiele in der griechichen Dichtung, Leiden 2010) divides the poems into four main categories according to the different devices (metonymy/analogy, pun/double meaning, paradox, myth) used by their authors to disguise the solutions (“What Has It Got in Its Pocketses[sic]? Or, What Makes a Riddle a Riddle?”). [End Page 423] Two papers are dedicated to the oracular language: while L. Maurizio challenges the scholarly commonplace about the oracular mode of Heraclitus’ works (“Technopaegnia in Heraclitus and the Delphic Oracles: Shared Compositional Techniques”), F. G. Naerebout and K. Beerden discuss the nature of Greek divination (“’Gods Cannot Tell Lies’: Riddling and Ancient Greek Divination”). The other three papers of this section deal with the earliest collections of Greek riddles, starting from those attributed to Simonides and the mysterious Cleobulina (J. Kwapisz: “Were There Hellenistic Riddle Books?”); the most famous enigmatic composition of the Greek literature (C. Cusset and A. Kolde: “The Rhetoric of the Riddle in the Alexandra of Lycophron”); and the most celebrated collection of Latin riddles (E. Sebo: “In scirpo nodum: Symphosius’ Reworking of the Riddle Form”).
The four papers of the “visual” section (“Visual Poetry in the Text and on the Stone”) begin with a detailed survey of the Greek calligrams (A. Pappas: “The Treachery of Verbal Images: Viewing the Greek Technopaegnia”) and include a discussion of the two acrostics discovered by Edgar Lobel in two poems of Nicander (M. B. Sullivan: “Nicander’s Aesopic Acrostic and its Antidote”) as well as a thorough examination of a corpus of Greek and Latin acrostic poems by Valentina Garulli (“Greek Acrostic Verse Inscriptions”) and R. Mairs (“Sophia grammata: Acrostichs in Greek and Latin Inscriptions from Arachosia, Nubia and Lybia”).
The fourth section (“Case Studies”) is dedicated to some specific riddles: K. Bartol analyzes a comic fragment (“Versus anacyclici: The Case of P.Sorb. 72v [= adesp. com. fr. 52 K-A]”); J. Danielewicz gives the solutions to three so far unsolved conundrums (“A Palindrome, an Acrostich and a Riddle: Three Solutions”); and D. Lowe discusses the most famous enigmatic composition of the Latin literature (“Triple Tipple: Ausonius’ Griphus ternarii numeri”).
The final section of this curious book (“Playful Receptions”) on a very promising field of studies (something that surely deserves the organization of other similar conferences) is made up of a specific contribution on a Neo-Latin adaptation of a Plautine comedy (M. Fontaine: “The Aulularia inversa of Joannes Burmeister”) and a general discussion on the poetry that combines verbal and visual effects (B. Milewska-Waźbinśka: “Waste of Time or Artistic Expression? Notes on Poesis Artificiosa of the Modern Era”).