This week we had two fascinating papers by Bram Demulder, a visiting student from the University of Leuven, and our own Valeria Pace.
Bram’s talk was entitled “The Table is an Imitation of the World: Cosmological Ethics at Plutarch’s Symposium.” Plutarch (c. 45 – 120 CE) wrote nine books of Table Talk (Συμποσιακά), in which he presents his intellectual milieu, usually casting himself as one of the interlocutors. In the Dinner of the Seven Sages (Τῶν ἑπτὰ σοφῶν συμπόσιον), he revives Thales cum suis for a night of philosophy and drinking. That cosmology is a popular topic at these symposia is old news. Yet the talk did not focus on the importance of cosmology at the symposium, but rather on the importance of cosmology for the symposium. As it turns out, even a half-decent party planner simply had to know cosmology. Plutarch explains all the elements of the symposium by reference to elements of the cosmos: the organiser and the guests, the lamps and the tables, the food and the wine, and even the ‘room’ (a simple word that makes most readers of Plato’s Timaeus cry). The paper was followed by a thought-provoking discussion on the cosmos-symposium correlation in Plato and the interplay between seriousness and playfulness in Plutarch’s work.
Valeria presented a paper entitled “Intermedial Narrative: Ergänzungsspiel redoubled in Simias’ Egg.” The Egg is a very puzzling poem—featuring flamboyant polymetry, and a bizarre narrative progression – it represents one of the very earliest examples of Ancient Greek pattern poetry. Though its status as figured poem is considered by some controversial, Valeria showed that much can be gained by reading it as an example of multi-medial communication. Drawing on insights developed in critiques of contemporary concrete poetry, she explained how iconic and verbal signifiers interact to construct meaning in the Egg. Though the poem has been transmitted as part of the Anthologia Palatina, Gow and Page have excluded it (together with the other figured poems by Simias) from their collection of Hellenistic epigrams on the grounds that these carmina figurata are ‘in no sense epigrams’. Valeria showed that Simias’ Egg was meant to be conceptualized as an epigram, and that the construction of a multimedial narrative was fashioned in a way that seems consonant with communicative strategies typical of Hellenistic epigrams. Peter Bing, in a seminal essay on the epigrams of Callimachus, has proposed that a fundamental aspect of epigrams’ poetics is the fact that they invite their reader to variously fill gaps of signification left open by the poems, a device he terms the Ergänzungsspiel. Valeria focused on how the poem creates meaning through a number of gestures of de- and re-contextualisation, redoubling the reader’s efforts of supplementation. The paper stimulated a lively discussion until the meeting was adjourned at 6:45 PM.