Home“Μάρτυρι μύθῳ”. Poetry, History and Society in Roman Empire and Late Antiquity

Home“Μάρτυρι μύθῳ”. Poetry, History and Society in Roman Empire and Late Antiquity

“Μάρτυρι μύθῳ”. Poetry, History and Society in Roman Empire and Late Antiquity

« Μάρτυρι μύθῳ ». Poésie, histoire et société aux époques impériale et tardive

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Published on Friday, September 17, 2021


Poetry was very much a part of the social and cultural life of the Empire, throughout the Mediterranean basin.This conference aims at exploring the poet’s view of his own time, the way he hints at his culture or takes part in a controversy, in a word, his role as a witness.



The last few decades have helped to dismiss the idea that, in the imperial period, Greek poetry was a marginal practice, annexed to the expansion of the rhetorical genre. Recent studies have shown that far from being overshadowed by rhetoric - which in fact incorporated a number of its characteristics while influencing it in return - poetry did not cease to exist under the Roman Empire. And even if it was hit hard by the ravages of time, stones, papyri and manuscripts have given us enough works and fragments to allow us to know or guess at its remarkable vitality. The geographical expansion of its practice - the best-known poets are often attached to peripheral areas of the Empire - is matched by the flowering of the genre of epigram, the variety of themes and the metrical renewal of hexametric poetry. In addition, in the imperial period, poetry came to life through a number of theatrical performances by itinerant artists - rhapsodes, epic poets and other homerists - who combined the techniques of recitation, composition and mime to embody works of circumstance or represent timeless myths. Whether in the High Empire or in Late Antiquity, whether in Pagan or in Christian literature, the various poetic genres were thus renewed in their practice, their functions, their forms and their contents. The Greek poems of these periods are often melting pots where centuries of poetic practice, openly claimed by the poets, meet a desire for innovation, displayed to varying degrees.

This erudite dialogue with the thick strata of a literary past, the knowledge of which was both a cornerstone and a touchstone of Roman Hellenism, is partly responsible for the idea that these poetic works are merely scholarly entertainments for a small audience of pepaideumenoi able to decipher the allusions left for them by the poets. At the same time, the search for new subjects, which led some poets to exhibit highly technical knowledge, may have reinforced this image of imperial or late poetry turning its back resolutely on contemporary issues. In fact, poetry was very much a part of the social and cultural life of the Empire, throughout the Mediterranean basin. And the works that have come down to us are far from being impervious to the questions and societal phenomena of this era, which saw the acme of the Roman power, the birth of Christianity, the division of the Empire, its partial collapse and the transfer of power to Constantinople.

It is precisely these issues that we would like to explore during this conference by proposing a synthesis of the results obtained to date, while seeking to open up new perspectives: to what extent do the poetic works of the first six centuries of our era, far from constituting a belletristic or disengaged literary production, reflect directly or indirectly the great questions and the great mutations of their time? How do the poets relate to the imperial power and represent it? By the way they approach and describe war, empire, power, religion and nature, these works are part of their time, even when they distort or divert their representation. It is the poet’s view of his own time, the way he hints at his culture or takes part in a controversy, in a word, this witness, that we would like to examine in this conference, whose Greek title pays homage not only to an expression dear to Nonnus of Panopolis, but also to the great French specialist of imperial poetry, Francis Vian.

For this examination of the relationship between poetry, society and history, we will intend the latter term in its broadest meaning, which will enable us not only to ask how poetry bears witness to historical events, informs us about mentalities, social and political representations, living conditions and technical knowledge, but also to understand how it contributes to the cultural, philosophical and religious debate of its time or how it reflects it.

The proposed papers may deal with all the poetic genres practiced in the imperial, late and protobyzantine periods, whether they belong to the Pagan or Christian domain, and whether they have been the object of codicological, papyrological or epigraphic transmission. This includes epic poetry (Quintus of Smyrna, Orphic Argonautica, Gregory of Nazianzus, Vision of Dorotheus, Blemyomachie, Nonnus of Panopolis, Metaphrasis Psalmorum…), epyllion (Triphiodorus, Musaeus, Coluthus) and epigram (Palladas, Paul the Silentiary, Agathias), but also didactic and scientific poetry (Dionysius Periegetes, Manetho, Marcellus of Side, Andromachus, Oppian of Cilicia, Pseudo-Oppian, Maximus, Orphic Lithika…), poetry of circumstance and ekphraseis (Pamprepius, John of Gaza, Christodorus of Coptos, Dioscorus of Aphrodito), theater (plays attributed to Lucian of Samosata), oracles (Chaldean Oracles, Sibylline Oracles, Chaldaïques, Sibyllins, Theosophy of Tübingen), hymns (Mesomedes, Synesius, Proclus) and other anonymous works, the present list being given only as examples.

Submission guidelines

Confirmed and young researchers are invited to submit their abstracts of no more than 500 words to poesiehistoire@sciencesconf.org

before the 31st of December 2021.

The abstracts should be written in any language used in the field of Greek studies. The scientific Committee will deliver the results of his reviews by the end of February 2022. Shortly after the conference, the papers will be collected in order to be published in a collective book.

Scientific Committee

  • Gianfranco Agosti, Università di Roma La Sapienza
  • Alain Billault, Sorbonne Université
  • Jean-Luc Fournet, Collège de France
  • Jane Lightfoot, New College, University of Oxford
  • Helmut Seng, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt


  • morgane.cariou@sorbonne-universite.fr
  • N.Zito@em.uni-frankfurt.de
  • poesiehistoire@sciencesconf.org


  • Paris, France (75)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Friday, December 31, 2021


  • poésie grecque, poésie impériale, poésie tardive, haut-empire romain, bas-empire romain, époque impériale, poésie épique, poésie didactique, épigrammes, antiquité tardive


  • Morgane Cariou
    courriel : morgane [dot] cariou [at] sorbonne-universite [dot] fr
  • Nicola Zito
    courriel : n [dot] zito [at] em [dot] uni-frankfurt [dot] de

Information source

  • Morgane Cariou
    courriel : morgane [dot] cariou [at] sorbonne-universite [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« “Μάρτυρι μύθῳ”. Poetry, History and Society in Roman Empire and Late Antiquity », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, September 17, 2021, https://calenda.org/909639

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