Kyriaki Giannikou, Navigating Digital Frontiers: Unveiling Formulaicity in Byzantine Book Epigrams


Byzantine book epigrams, featuring as paratexts in manuscript margins, seamlessly intertwine poetic expression with practical details, illuminating aspects such as the manuscripts’ patrons and the identities of the scribes involved in transcription. Although deeply rooted in traditional book production practices and very formulaic in nature, these epigrams present noteworthy linguistic variation. While their formulaicity has been acknowledged, a thorough exploration of the formulaic sequences present in the Database of Byzantine Book Epigrams (DBBE) or similar corpora remains a gap in current research. My research, to be conducted on the well-established DBBE corpus, acts as a bridge between linguistic research on formulas inherent in everyday speech and those studied within the context of oral poetry.

This interdisciplinary project, adopting a corpus-driven approach, seeks to combine close-reading along with digital methods for navigating a vast corpus of Byzantine book epigrams. This research addresses the challenge of identifying formulaic constructions (i.e. pairings of form and meaning in the context of Construction Grammar) that function as “verse building blocks” and their variation within a historical linguistic corpus that combines poetic expression and practical information. However, the digital journey of pattern identification encounters challenges arising from inherent complexities of Greek – from flexible syntax to extensive morphological variety – compounded by great linguistic variation across registers, ranging from Homeric and classicizing Greek to medieval forms interwoven with vernacular elements. The absence of critical texts for numerous epigrams further complicates matters, preserving the idiosyncrasies of original scribal choices on the one hand, but impeding uniformization for digital analysis on the other.

This presentation serves to illuminate the challenges inherent in working on Byzantine paratextual material in the Digital Humanities context of a project that endeavours to unravel the intricate linguistic nuances within Byzantine book epigrams, displaying commitment to deeper understand the complexities inherent in the intersection of Byzantine literature and Digital Humanities.

Practical information

This lecture will be given at the international workshop ‘The Impact of Digital Methods and Approaches on Ancient Studies Research‘ (13-14 May 2024, Berlin).

Date & time: Monday 13 May 2024, 4:40 pm

Location: Freie Universität Berlin (Hittorfstraße 18, 14195 Berlin)


More information about this workshop and the full programme can be found here.