About the project

The Database of Byzantine Book Epigrams is hosted by the Greek Section at the Department of Literary Studies at Ghent University.

Our research group works on various, interrelated group and individual research projects. You can find the list below.

Interconnected texts. A graph-based computational approach to Byzantine paratexts as nodes between textual transmission and cultural and linguistic developments.

Funding: The Special Research Fund of Ghent University
Period: 2021-2026
Promotors: Kristoffel Demoen, Klaas Bentein, Floris Bernard, Els De Paermentier, Guy De Tré, Mark Janse, Els Lefever
Researchers: Maxime Deforche, Ilse De Vos, Rachele Ricceri, Anne-Sophie Rouckhout, Colin Swaelens

This project aims to reveal the connections between linguistic patterns and text-historical developments in a corpus of metrical paratexts in Byzantine manuscripts, situating these connections in the historical context of material book production and varying reading strategies. It will develop new digital tools designed to detect patterns and variations in a fluid, fragmented, and heavily entangled textual corpus.

 

Doctoral projects

  • Paratext in Context. An Integrated Approach to Byzantine Manuscript Culture.

    Promotors: Floris Bernard, Els De Paermentier

  • Between Tradition and Innovation. Metrical Colophons as a Formulaic Genre.

    Promotors: Klaas Bentein, Mark Janse

  • You Shall Know a Verse by the Company It Keeps. Detecting Orthographic and Semantic Similarity between Byzantine Greek Epigrams.

    Researcher: Colin Swaelens
    Promotor: Prof. dr. Els Lefever
    Co-promotor: Dr. Ilse De Vos
    Period: 2021-2025

    The overall goal of this project is to detect and link similar hemistichs (half verses), verses and epigrams, which will result in a more dynamic system to connect related epigrams in the Database of Byzantine Book Epigrams (DBBE). To achieve this aim, insights and approaches from two active research lines within natural language processing (NLP) will be investigated, viz. automatic linguistic processing of text and machine learning approaches to measure orthographic and semantic similarity between text strings. In addition, a pilot study will be performed that extends the intra-lingual search for similar epigrams in the medieval Greek DBBE to an inter-lingual search for related epigrams in other languages, and more specifically Latin. To this end, the thriving new NLP research line of cross-lingual embeddings will be investigated.

  • Analysing the Semantics and Interconnectedness of Paratexts and Texts in Byzantine Manuscripts: A Graph-based Approach.

    Researcher: Maxime Deforche
    Promotor
    : Guy De Tré
    Co-promotor: Dr. Ilse De Vos
    Period: 2022-2026

Poetry from the Margins. Literary, linguistic, philological and cultural-historical analysis of a new corpus of Byzantine book epigrams (800-1453).

Funding: The Special Research Fund of Ghent University
Period: 2015-2020
Promotors: Kristoffel Demoen, Marc De Groote, Mark Janse
Co-promotors: Floris Bernard, Klaas Bentein, Koen De Temmerman, Tjamke Snijders, Peter Van Nuffelen
Researchers: Julián Bértola, Julie Boeten, Sien De Groot, Ilse De Vos, Rachele Ricceri, Anne-Sophie Rouckhout, Lev Shadrin, Nina Sietis, Maria Tomadaki, Sarah-Helena Van den Brande

The project Poetry from the margins. Literary, linguistic, philological and cultural-historical analysis of a new corpus of Byzantine book epigrams (800-1453) builds on a previous project of the same team, funded by the Hercules Foundation of the Flemish Government (call 2009).
The previous grant has allowed us to set up a database containing metrical paratexts from medieval Greek manuscripts. This ‘Database of Byzantine Book Epigrams’, is scheduled to be online and open to the academic community by the beginning of 2015, and will contain some 8,000 epigrams from about 4,000 manuscripts, retrieved mainly from catalogues and scholarly publications.
The importance of this ‘marginal poetry’ for several fields of scholarship is obvious. These texts are direct expressions of an evolving cultural identity, historical consciousness, literary taste, of political debates, religious feelings, and existential hope, doubts, or fear. At the same time, they are direct witnesses of metrical forms and linguistic registers that are more natural and flexible than the strongly regulated ‘standard’ literature around which they are to be found.
The Poetry in the Margin project aims to integrate, inspired by recent trends in manuscript studies, several disciplines that are all connected to the study of books in a broad sense: literary studies, linguistics, philology, and cultural history. The promoters of the proposal come from these four fields.

 

Doctoral projects

  • Using Poetry to Read the Past: Unedited Byzantine Verse Scholia on Historians in the Margins of Medieval Manuscripts.

    Researcher: Julián Bértola
    Promotor: Prof. dr. Kristoffel Demoen
    Co-promotor: Prof. dr. Floris Bernard
    Period: 2017-2021

    Byzantine books are not inert containers of classical and medieval Greek texts. They are historically situated artefacts with a story to tell. Part of this story is written in the margins of the manuscripts, in what modern scholars would call their paratexts and more traditional medievalists their marginalia. Some of these marginal texts, remarkably, were composed in verse. Verse form, I argue, invites us to read and study these texts as literature in their own right, and not just as accessory or subordinate by-products of Byzantine book culture. The paratexts in verse in Greek medieval manuscripts are known as “book epigrams”, because epigrams are poems designed to be inscribed in or on a given object (in our case, the book itself). This dissertation puts together for the first time a number of poems that fall under the same category of book epigrams, namely “verse scholia”. Scholia is the conventional name given to marginal commentaries running along the sections of text at issue. Accordingly, verse scholia are book epigrams found in the external margins of the page next to the passages on which they comment. In particular, the corpus of this dissertation is constituted by Byzantine verse scholia on historiographical works.

 

  • A Reader’s Perspective on Early Christian Texts. Book Epigrams in the Byzantine Manuscript Tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

    Researcher: Sien De Groot
    Promotors: Prof. dr. Lieve Van Hoof, Em. prof. dr. Marc De Groote
    Period: 2015-2021

    This thesis offers an edition, commentary and analysis of the book epigrams present in the Byzantine manuscripts of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. These short metrical paratexts, written as reactions to the main text or the production of the books, testify to habits of reading and copying the texts of the corpus in several ways. Some of the epigrams were designed to accompany the main texts, and hence offer us an insight into the reception of the texts and their author. The epigrams are found support and affirm the authenticity of the corpus, and assert the views expressed in the texts. Other epigrams comment on the activities of scribes and patrons of manuscripts. These poems offer unique information on the production of the manuscripts, and Byzantine attitudes towards this. Moreover, the research presented here demonstrates that a careful examination of the manuscript context in which the epigrams were copied is indispensable for our understanding of their readership. By looking at the position in the manuscript, the visual presentation, and additions to the epigrams, we can gain insight into the ways in which scribes presented the poems to the readers, and how the readers, in turn, engaged with these texts. In general, we have found that the corpus was transmitted together with some book epigrams from the sixth century onwards. These poems were closely related to the main texts and have found their way into the majority of the witnesses. Some of these epigrams were also transmitted into the medieval Latin translations of the corpus. Later scribes and readers, in particular from the eleventh century onwards, added a variety of different verses to the books, in which they express their own views on the texts and the activity of copying the texts. The collection of epigrams presented here offer a picture of a lively practice of reading, copying and writing: they constitute unique spaces in the manuscripts where scribes and readers communicate with each other and with the texts.

 

  • Pragmatic Analysis of the Byzantine Meters: a Corpus-based Research of Medieval Book Epigrams.

    Researcher: Julie Boeten
    Promotor: Prof. dr. Mark Janse
    Co-promotor: Prof. dr. Klaas Bentein
    Period: 2015-2021

    In this dissertation I explore Byzantine metre, within the framework of the modern linguistic theory of information structure. I have done this in a corpus of Byzantine book epigrams, in order to come to more generic conclusions about Byzantine poetic texts in general. My focus is mainly on the two typically medieval metres (i.e. the dodecasyllable and the political verse) and their variants. The findings discussed are divided into two main categories: quantitative and qualititative conclusions. The quantitative conclusions are the results of my tagging in my own subdatabase, which is part of the larger Database of Byzantine Book Epigrams. I have tagged several characteristics in my corpus, in order to search for the linguistic properties of a metrical colon (‘What makes a colon tick?’), based on the idea that metrical cola function in a similar way to Information Units. Indeed, the theory of Information Units states that spoken language is never pronounced in long sentences, but rather in short ‘spurts’ or ‘chunks’. These ‘chunks’ (Information Units) have a cognitive basis, since they emanate from a restriction in our short-term memory. On the other hand, we find that medieval metres exhibit a tendency to be divided into prosodic ‘chunks’ as wel: i.e. cola. Indeed, the similarity between the two has been studied several times and implies that metrical cola also have a cognitive aspect to them. Against this background, I have gone searching for different signposts of information structure within the epigrams in my corpus, in order to objectively identify these cola/IUs. All in all, these book epigrams have proven to be a true window into the minds of the scribes that produced them, and have given us some glimpses of what happened there at the moment of verse production.

Book Epigrams from Medieval Greek Manuscripts. Compilation of an Unexplored Corpus and Creation of a Searchable Database.

Funding: The Hercules Foundation of the Flemish Government
Period: 2010-2015
Promotors: Kristoffel Demoen, Gunnar De Boel, Marc De Groote, Koen De Temmerman, Mark Janse
Researchers: Klaas Bentein, Floris Bernard, Renaat Meesters, Delphine Nachtergaele, Raf Praet, Rachele Ricceri, Dimitrios Skrekas, Maria Tomadaki

Byzantine book epigrams do not currently receive the attention from the scholarly world that they certainly deserve. This is due to several reasons. The corpus of epigrams presents itself currently in a very fragmented way. The place where they mostly appear in printed form is in manuscript catalogues. The quality of these catalogues and their attention to our poems vary considerably. Additionally, there have been some studies that collected epigrams grouped around the same subject, but there has been no attempt to gain a broader view of the genre as a whole. In traditional philology, manuscripts were only interesting as testimonies to ancient texts. Many of them were simply put aside when not offering a ‘good’ text. However, one has now begun to consider manuscripts as cultural products in their own right. Furthermore, all forms of textuality have been brought to the attention, lifting the barrier between high literature and other texts. This brings the focus more on book epigrams, and especially on their original state as embedded in manuscripts. Our database wants to respond to these needs. It is not only about unearthing new texts (although this is an important issue), but it is especially about presenting each epigram as it is embedded in its manuscript. The digital world offers unique new opportunities to fulfill this aim: the user can search an extensive corpus for several parameters, and the material can be represented and structured in any way he/she wants.

 

Doctoral projects

  • The afterlife of John Klimax in Byzantine book epigrams: edition, translation and commentary of two poetic cycles.

    Researcher: Dr. Renaat Meesters
    Promotor: Prof. dr. Kristoffel Demoen
    Co-promotor: Prof. dr. Peter Van Nuffelen
    Period: 2013-2017

    The core of this dissertation consists of the editio princeps, translation and commentary of two cycles of book epigrams on John Klimax. The first cycle, dated to the 12th c., includes four poems: a spiritual comparison between Klimax’ Ladder and a garden, a long metrical summary of the Ladder, a laudatory colophon, and finally an extensive prayer to the Trinity. The second (shorter) poetic cycle is preserved anonymously in Bodleian Baroccianus 141, dated to the 14th c. Whereas each of the four poems of the 12th-c. cycle fulfils a specific role, the four of the second cycle pursue one similar goal: describing the mystery of the Ladder and encouraging the reader in his ascent.

Partners

Acknowledgements

We are much obliged to Ioannis Vassis for his help and support at different stages of our project as well as to Marina Detoraki, Marc Lauxtermann and Andreas Rhoby.

We are very grateful to Georgi Parpulov for his constant input and the numerous additions he has pointed to.

The Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung has granted our team members unrestricted access to their collection of digitized microfilms, allowing us for a much more accurate presentation of our occurrences.

We want to express our gratitude to the Academia Belgica in Rome, which over the course of the years has granted our collaborators scholarships and accommodation, as well as to the many Libraries and Monasteries around Europe where we have had the opportunity to consult manuscripts.

Also, we would like to thank all participants of our 2015 workshop for their constructive feedback, which greatly improved this database.

Finally, we are grateful to Mario D’AmbrosiMatteo Di FrancoElina DobryninaNadezhda Kavrus-HoffmannSanto LucàAndrea LuzziIlias TaxidisFrancesco Valerio and Niccolò Zorzi for sharing with us (their) publications and other information relevant to DBBE.