Simias’ technopaignia are poetic forms whose origins are particularly connected with losses of context; part of the general Hellenistic trend of using lyric cola for purposes other than their original association with specific forms of singing and dancing,1 it is widely thought that the silhouette they create with the varied length of their verses is meant to prompt the readers’ imagination to dedicated objects whose entire surface was inscribed with text.2 Such losses are often accompanied by a further loss: of certainty on the reader’s part because of their difficult and riddling nature.3 These poems therefore offer particularly fertile ground to explore questions of medium translation, and varied modes of reader interaction with it.
Although Simias’ technopaignia have been object of recent study,4 a close reading of these poems that uses intermediality and contemporary cultural and literary context as criteria for interpretation has not yet been made.5 Drawing on the insight that concrete poetry, in all its various manifestations, invites “concentration upon the physical material from which the poem […] is made”,6 I am going to read Simias’ Egg as a poem that structures its narrative progression and imagery in a way that recalls the material object it purports to be: a nightingale egg. The translation of visual (spatial) media of communication into narrative (temporal) ones in the Greek literary tradition is often accompanied by a reflection on the distinct potentialities and limitations of discursive and iconic meaning, often paired with the attempt to establish a hierarchical relation between the two.7 Simias’ Egg, by using at the same time both discursive and iconic meanings, seems to escape this paradigm. The poem in fact enacts a sort of Ergänzungsspiel redoubled: posing as the transcribed dedication onto a votive object (presumably some sort of an effigy of an egg, for how could one inscribe a poem onto an actual nightingale egg?), but using the materiality of the actual referent of the effigy (rather than the materiality of the effigy itself) as the structuring device of its own plot and imagery, it makes a statement about the iconic potential of narrative. At the same time, the poem’s narrative makes continuous reference to what images cannot possibly capture: sound and movement. The frequent use of punning and of polysemic words grounds at the level of language use Simias’ interest in multi-media communication.
2 Prier 1994: 82; Cameron 1995: 34–35; Palumbo Stracca 2003: 574; Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 40; Palumbo Stracca 2007: 113; Guichard 2006: 91; Bruss 2010: 123.
4 These relatively marginal poems feature in three publications dating to the second decade of the second millennium Luz 2010; Kwapisz, Petrain, and Szymański 2012; Kwapisz 2013.
6 Solt 1968.
7 Cf. Gutzwiller 2002; Squire 2010.
Bruss, Jon Steffen. 2010. “Epigram.” In A Companion to Hellenistic Literature, edited by James Joseph Clauss and Martine Cuypers, 117–35. Oxford: Blackwell.
Kwapisz, Jan, David Petrain, and Mikołaj Szymański, ed. 2013. The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Luz, Christine. 2010. Technopaignia: Formspiele in Der Griechischen Dichtung. Leiden ; Boston: Brill.
Palumbo Stracca, Bruna M. 2003. “L’‘Uovo’ Di Simia: Metro E Figura.” In Studi in Memoria Di Aristide Colonna, 571–91. Napoli: Ed. Scientifiche Italiane.
Squire, Michael. 2010. “Reading a View: Poem and Picture in the Greek Anthology.” Ramus 39 (2): 73–103.
– . 2013. “Review of: The Greek Figure Poems.” Bryn Mawr Classical Review