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Tablet editions: the 'Iliac tablets', which compress entire epic poems into hand-held objects, offer a remarkable insight into the Roman fascination with concepts of scale. With their complex interplay between images and texts, these tiny objects raise much larger questions about visual and verbal representation in the classical world.

Rome's Musei Capitolini have many highlights. For me, though, the ultimate 'must-see' is to be found in a corner of the Sala delle Colombe (Fig. 2), on the first floor of the Palazzo Nuovo. Most visitors do not notice the oak cabinet, never mind its miniature marble contents: they are too busy scouting out the acknowledged 'greats'--the neighbouring Capitoline Gaul, for example, or the Capitoline Venus (coyly presiding over her eponymous Gabinetto della Venere next door). (1)

But the select few who do stop at the glass-topped case directly beneath the window will not be disappointed. On first impressions, the four objects within may look rather unpromising: each of them is fragmentary, and all have surfaces that are worn and pared ('as if they had been in the bath too long', as one friend uncharitably put it). Push your head up close against the glass, however, and your perspective may suddenly change. For one thing, you will see how laboriously these objects have been carved--some 250 figures crammed into an area roughly equivalent to an A4 sheet. For another, you may now notice the Greek texts inscribed alongside the pictorial scenes: those tipped off to bring a magnifying glass will be able to make out the individual Greek letters, the smallest measuring a mere 0.7mm in height (12 lines of text occupying the space of a fingernail [Fig. 9]).

Although the four tablets in the Sala delle Colombe have various subjects, three of them relate to Greek literary themes. Take the largest tablet, the so-called Tabula Capitolina (Fig. 1). The surviving fragment is both minuscule and light (25cm x 30 cm x 1.5cm; 1.515 kg). Despite this, the tablet depicts the grandest of epic panoramas. A large inscription confirms as much: the overall topic is said to be 'Trojan', while the literary subjects range from the 'Ilioupersis [destruction of Troy] according to Stesichorus, the Iliad by Homer, the Aethiopis by Arctinus of Miletus, and the Little Iliad as told by Lesches of Pyrrha'. (2)

It is relatively easy to explain the Tabula Capitolina's structural composition. To the left of the fragment, we see the walled city of Troy (at the very moment of its fall--observe the 'Trojan horse' on the upper right-hand side). (3) Beneath this are two self-contained friezes, relating to two earlier 'Epic Cyclical' themes (the Aethiopis and Little Iliad). To the far right are 12 lateral friezes, each corresponding to a single book of the Iliad (and labelled from nu to omega--that is, from books 13 to 24, the second half of the poem). (4) As though the visual synopsis were not enough, an inscribed pilaster adds its own textual epitome, summarising events from the seventh to 24th Iliadic books (the 108 lines are crammed into a space measuring around 17 cm in height). (5) Although we are dealing with a fragment, the layout of the tablet's missing left-hand section is beyond reasonable doubt (Fig. 3). (6) Another stele once adorned the space to the left of the Trojan cityscape (inscribed with a summary of earlier Iliadic events); to the left of that stele, 12 additional friezes originally flanked the tablet's left-hand side, relating to the 12 earlier books of the Iliad (a section of the upper frieze survives, relating to the first book, and stretching above the central Trojan cityscape). A fragmentary elegiac couplet, occupying the frame above the two lower central friezes, explained the underlying rationale: 'understand [the art that is Theod-] orean so that, knowing the order of Homer [toxin Homerou], you may have the measure of all wisdom'. (7)

The three fragments displayed alongside this particular tablet prove at once similar and different. Two of them are circular rather than four-sided (see below, pp. 51-52), while a fourth tablet relates not to the Iliad, but to an all-encompassing historical 'chronicle' (from the time of Solon in 6th-century BC Athens to Sulla's exploits in Rome). Each tablet is individual and unique, but there are nonetheless some striking resemblances between them. This holds equally true of other examples. Although the Musei Capitolini houses the largest (and arguably most important) collection, related objects can be found in museums across Europe and North America--not only in Rome, but also in Berlin, London, Malibu, Naples, New York, Paris, the Vatican and Warsaw. Some 22 objects have been catalogued in total, and scholars have learned to discuss them as the 'Iliac tablets' or Tabulae Iliacae. (8)

So what do these Iliac tablets have in common? The subjects, as mentioned, are all different, although the majority relate to Trojan (hence 'Iliac') themes. There are other similarities besides. For one thing, all the objects are inscribed in Greek (never Latin), and all combine words and pictures in their truly minuscule compositions. The tablets also share related find spots, materials and dates: where provenances are known, the fragments seem to have been found in or around Rome; all of them are carved from precious materials (above all from palombino and giallo antico); with one notable exception, moreover, all can be dated to between the late 1st century BC and early 1st century AD. (9) It is also clear that at least some of the tablets were painted. Although the detail has previously gone unnoticed, one tablet in Paris preserves distinct remnants of gold leaf in its upper band (above the figure labelled as Chryses) [Fig. 4], just as another relief in the Musei Vaticani exhibits the unmistakable traces of gold and red paint. (10) We know little about the tablets' artists or workshops. It is nonetheless intriguing that six examples (including the Tabula Capitolina) associate themselves with someone (or something?) 'Theodorean'. (11)

I am by no means the first to find the Iliac tablets remarkable. As early as the 11th century, Michael Psellos mentioned an apparently similar relief inscribed with Odyssean scenes (in a letter to Emperor Constantine X Doukas). (12) The Tabula Capitolina was admittedly a later discovery, found in the late 17th century near Bovillae (some 12 miles south-east of Rome); still, it quickly became the subject of antiquarian interest--scrutinised by Raffaello Fabretti in his 1683 Latin dissertation on Trajan's column, for example. (13) Other extant examples were discussed much earlier, among them a tablet dealing with the life and labours of Heracles (already mentioned by Pietro Vettori in the 1530s). (14) Following the rise of classical archaeology in the 19th century, numerous studies have been dedicated to the tablets' imagery and inscriptions. Three catalogues stand out in particular: firstly, Otto Jahn's interpretative discussion of 12 Greek Bilderchroniken (chronicles in pictures), published posthumously in 1873; secondly --and almost a century later--Anna Sadurska's 1964 catalogue of 19 fragments; finally, Nina Valenzuela Montenegro's splendid book of 2004, derived from her 2002 Munich doctoral dissertation (with reference to 22 objects in total). (15)

For all their conspicuous learning and scholarship, none of these previous studies captures my own fascination with the Iliac tablets. The books and references grow bigger and bigger (Valenzuela Montenegro's alone boasts 2,531 footnotes). For all their size, though, catalogues can all too easily lose sight of the medial fun and games. Scholarly interpretations have tended to revolve around two issues in particular. On the one hand, those interested in the tablets' 'literary' debts have tended to use them as stepping stones for reconstructing lost epic poems--the Aethiopis, Little Iliad and (above all) Stesichorus' Ilioupersis. Where classical philologists have busied themselves with the texts behind the pictures, most classical archaeologists have treated the objects as passive preservers of lost iconographic models (so-called Vorbilder). Particularly influential here has been the work of Kurt Weitzmann in the mid 20th century, who attempted to relate the Tabulae Iliacae to a supposed tradition of book illustration in Hellenistic Alexandria. (16)

My interest in the Iliac tablets is rather different: for me, what makes these objects so captivating is their knowing and self referential poetic-pictorial games. From this perspective, two aspects of the tablets stand out in particular, the first relating to their miniature scale, the second to their combined visual-verbal (or perhaps better 'iconotextual') medium. (17) To deal first with the conceits of size: these objects take the biggest and weightiest texts in the classical canon and shrink them to something small and portable. In Greek antiquity, Homeric epic was celebrated for its literal and metaphorical 'greatness' (megethos); on these tablets, by contrast, the Homeric poems (no less than other epics in similar mould) are cut down to size, visible all at once, held in the palms of the hands (Fig. 5). (18) That issue of visibility all at once--which Aristotle labelled synopsis in the 4th century BC--goes hand in hand with a second fiction. (19) For the tablets do not simply shrink epic; they also visualise it, transforming text into picture. On the Tabula Capitolina, for example, we encounter the Iliad and other poems not as words for reading --or rather, not just as words for reading but, simultaneously, as images for viewing. Readers metamorphose into viewers, just as viewers metamorphose back into readers: the tablets provide their audiences with miniaturised synopses in both words and pictures alike. (20)

Such conceits of size and medium find numerous parallels, in the Greco-Roman world no less than in our own. One pertinent ancient anecdote comes in the seventh book of the Elder Pliny's Natural History, written in the 70s AD. Discussing 'keenness of sight' (oculorum acies), Pliny relays an apocryphal tale about an Iliad written on a parchment so small as to fit within the husk of a nut (hence the origin of our phrase in nuce, or 'in a nutshell'). Other artists were said to have gone one further: Pliny, for example, is one of several Roman imperial authors to tell how Myrmecides and Callicrates created miniature sculptures that could be 'concealed by the wings of a fly'; according to Plutarch and Aelian, writing soon after Pliny, the same duo were also said to have miniaturised the Iliad and Odyssey--not this time on a nut-contained parchment, but on a still tinier sesame seed. (21)

Myrmecides' and Callicrates' feats have been lost (if they ever existed). But more recent artists have taken up their miniaturist mantra. One thinks, for example, of contemporary British 'micro-sculptor' Willard Wigan (b. 1957), whose carved scenes fit within the eye of a needle or else on the head of a pin (Fig. 6). (22) No less revealing are the various attempts to miniaturise the western world's grandest tome. In 2003, the Guinness World Record for the smallest version of the King James Bible went to a Bulgarian team, producing a book with 1,514 pages that measured just 1.3cm x 1.4cm (Fig. 7). Two years later, that particular feat was itself outsized, this time by an Israeli team who inscribed the entire New Testament onto a crystalline chip with a surface area of just 0.5cm x 0.5cm. (23)

What lies behind this ancient and modern obsession with size? As Susan Stewart has discussed in her essay On Longing: Narratives on the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir and the Collection, there is more to miniaturisation than first meets the eye. For all their tiny size, miniatures are no trifling matter: the very reductions of scale serve to magnify the mechanics of making meaning. 'Nearly invisible, the mark continues to signify,' Stewart writes: '[the miniature] is a signification which is increased rather than diminished by its minuteness.' (24) Ancient writers lacked the (post)modern jargon. But they nonetheless delighted in the same underlying paradox. Consider the famous 'line-painting' by Parrhasius and Apelles, also evoked in Pliny the Elder's Natural History. (25) Pliny tells how a competition between the duo resulted in a painted line with two additional lines traced within it, each drawn in different colours: the mise-en-abyme of painterly traces, each contained within this huge tablet (tabulam magnae magnitudinis), was so small as to recede from sight (lineas uisum effugientes); paradoxically, though, this otherwise 'empty' painting came to be more esteemed than every other work (omnique opere nobiliorem)--precisely because of the three miniature lines within it. Of course, Pliny is here talking about the miniature strokes of painting, not writing. But, as his very talk of 'lines' suggests, miniaturisation collapses any straightforward distinction between images and texts. Technology allowing, one might try to read the Bulgarian Bible. As material artifact, though, such 'texts' simultaneously champion a different mode of response: encased in a nutshell, inscribed on a sesame seed, or enclosed within a thumbnail-sized book, micrographic manuscripts take on a 'paratextual' significance that transcends their significance as 'lexigraphic' signs. (26) Collapsing semantic differences between reading and viewing, the miniature casts the art of mediation itself under the microscope. (27)

This interpretive framework helps to shed light on the critical thinking behind the Iliac tablets. Consider two other objects displayed alongside the so-called Tabula Capitolina in the Sala delle Colombe (Fig. 8 shows a plaster cast of one, tablet 4N). (28) The shared subject of both tablets is once again Homeric: one relief is inscribed on its reverse with the words 'the Achillean shield, Theodorean after Homer', while the other declares that it is 'the Achillean shield: the Theodorean art'. (29) Both objects are referring to Homer's famous description of a shield--part of the 'marvellous' armour that Hephaestus crafts for Achilles in the 18th book of the Iliad (Il. 18.478-608). (30) Homer dedicates some 130 verses to Achilles' 'great and mighty shield' ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), forging it, like Hephaestus, with all manner of figurative scenes. The passage spurred its fair share of allegorical readings in antiquity: the shield (or at least Homer's poetic encapsulation of it) was thought to emblematise the whole world in its miraculous frame. (31) Still more importantly, Homer's own 'marvellous' description was read as the founding paradigm for all subsequent projects of descriptive evocation. The Homeric description was much imitated by Greek and Latin authors; in time, it was also associated with a grander tradition of set-piece rhetorical evocation. Later writers would coin the word ekphrasis (literally 'speaking-out') to describe that phenomenon, referring to rhetorical attempts to summon up images through words. (32)

With that Homeric source in mind, we are able to see the associated 'marvel' of the two miniature 'Achillean shields'. For the Iliad's 'ekphrastic' translation of images into words is here reversed. Where Homer described the shield's imaginary reliefs, these two objects materialise that verbal, descriptive representation: if Homer evoked pictures through words, these reliefs evoke the Homeric words through their pictures. As ever, the games of medium go hand in hand with a conceit of size. In the poem, Homer's 'great and mighty shield' was forged for the larger-than-life Achilles: Hephaestus is said to have worked with a 'mighty hammer', using no fewer than 20 bellows. The marble imitations in the Musei Capitolini are quite different. The better surviving of the two fragments measures just 17.8cm in diameter, weighing a mere 1.29kg (the original weight cannot have been more than 2kg). Although the object can easily be grasped in a single hand, its artist has paid extraordinary attention to the descriptive literary prototype: the whole macrocosm of the Homeric text finds its pictorial counterpart on this tablet, from the 'city at peace' (shown at the upper top left), through the various landscape scenes (depicted in the lower half, underneath a central inscription), to the sun, moon and stars (Helios and Selene are shown as personifications spinning around the outer rim, while the constellations metamorphose into 12 astrological symbols, occupying the space between the outer flame and inner convex surface). (33)

Such fictions of medium and size cast light on the wavy squiggles around the tablet's perimeter. According to Homer, who 'ring-composed' his poetic description around the motif, this is the space where Hephaestus set 'the great might of the river Ocean, around the outermost rim of the well-made shield'. Inspect the circular edge of our hand-held tablet, by contrast, and we instead find the oceanic source of Homer himself: the entire length and breadth of his shield description, running around the object in 10 columns of text (Fig. 9). (34) It is a staggering feat: although the rim is just 2cm, each column is inscribed with as many as 15 lines, and each gramma (at once a 'letter' and 'picture' in ancient Greek) measures as little as 0.7mm in height. The result is an additional--albeit associated game--of both size and ekphrasis. You might scarcely be able to read this tiny text, after all, but you can nonetheless see it, carved within this larger realisation of Homer's literary 'original'.

I mentioned above that the reverse side of this particular tablet was inscribed with a titular text ('the Achillean shield, Theodorean after Homer'). This was shorthand--and not quite true. What one actually finds on the verso of both 'Achillean shields' is an elaborate word game: not a text as such, but rather a patterned picture, each one comprising a grid of encased alphabetical letters (grammata). In one case, the grid is arranged into the form of an altar (Fig. 10); on the other tablet, the letters take the shape of a 12-sided polygon. Something similar can be found on the reverse of five other Iliac tablets (making seven examples in total). (35) Regardless of which tablet one examines, the rationale seems to have been the same: so long as we begin with the central letter and proceed to one of the outer edges, readers can proceed in whatever direction they like. On two surviving examples, a fragmentary hexameter inscribed above the lettered square gives explicit voice to the principle: 'seize the middle letter [gramma] and glide whichever way you choose'. (36) Try out the game for yourself (Fig. 11). Starting with the central letter (in this case, an iota, right at the heart of the dizzying square), you can navigate your own readerly adventure, even change your path along the labyrinthine way--upwards, downwards, left or right ('whichever way you choose'). However one proceeds, the text holds fast: I-[LAMBDA]-I-A-[SIGMA]-O-M-H-P-O-Y-[THETA]-E-O-[DELTA]-[OMEGA]-P-H-O-[SIGMA]-H-I-T-E-X-N-H ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'The Iliad is Homer's, the art [techne] Theodorean'). (37)

Numerous ancient Greek and Latin parallels can be found for these grammata games, from riddlesome picture-poems (so-called technopaegnia, arranged in the lettered form of the objects evoked--such as panpipes, wings, an axe, an egg, altars), to more humble graffiti (including so-called 'palindrome squares', with their words readable at once from left to right and from top to bottom). (38) Such lettered conceits were also a literary obsession among scholars in the Hellenistic library at Alexandria: many of them turned to elaborate acrostic puzzles to underline the medium--or medial nature --of their newly composed poems. Latin poets took due visual note, especially the so-called 'neoterics' of the 1st century BC. In the hands of a 4th-century AD poet such as Optatian Porphyry, hidden patterns could spell out encrypted messages, simultaneously collapsing the poles between Latin and Greek on the one hand, and between image and text on the other: so it is, for example, that Optatian's 23rd poem (Fig. 12) weaves a zig-zagging Greek hexameter into its Latin textual fabric, one that cuts through the various poetic conventions at work; convert the Latin letters into their figurative Greek counterparts ('A' as alpha, delta or lambda; 'C' as sigma; 'H' as eta; 'P' as rho; 'X' as chi, etc.), and one arrives at [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--'Marcus, Neilos is banging your wife Hymnis'! (39)

The letter games on the versos of these seven Iliac tablets are at once similar and different. To my mind, though, the elaborate arrangements of letters only make sense in conjunction with the combined games of medium and scale found on the tablets' rectos. Just as one side of the tablets transforms the grandest subjects of literary epic into miniature visual synopses, the other side quite literally reverses the process: in each case, the visual presentation translates the images of the recto into new titular encapsulations into texts that, thanks to their lettered presentation, are at once big and small, designed to be read and viewed at once. At the same time, these verso 'magic squares' call into question the very processes of how we read. The invitation to experiment with sequential order --the explicit prompt to go 'whichever way we choose'--extends as much to the pictorial grammata of the recto as to the alphabetic grammata of the verso: tell an Iliadic story, yes, but do so in your own lettered way, playing fast and loose with the 'order' (taxis) of Homer himself. (40)

The emphasis on the middle has another significance besides. Look back to the Tabula Capitolina, and we find a striking iconographic motif at its compositional centre: Aeneas--the mythical founding father of Rome--is shown with his own father Anchises and son Ascanius (this particular schema was very famous in Rome, serving as a sort of 'logo' for Augustus' principate). (41) Although the Capitoline tablet is not decorated on its verso, other tablets celebrate the same centrality of Aeneas, and at least two of these were inscribed with verso letter games. Given the importance of Aeneas to Augustan foundation myths--championed above all in Virgil's Aeneid (published posthumously in 19 BC)--one might deem the centrality of Aeneas hardly surprising. Read the accompanying inscriptions, though, and there is no mention of Virgil or his Roman Imperial Latin epic. The verso prompt to privilege the middle perhaps encouraged viewer-readers to spin a rather different visual tale about the stories depicted on the recto --to expand horizons beyond the Greek, putting Aeneas at the literal and metaphorical Roman centre. (42)

All this helps us to understand the cultural framework in which the Iliac tablets operated. 20th-century critics--especially those writing in English--have been quick to belittle these objects: the tablets' 'illustrative' pictures are as 'faulty and jejune' as the inscribed texts, complains one prominent scholar; 'a pretence of literacy for the unlettered' expounds another, labelling the tablets 'tawdry gewgaws intended to provide the illusion of sophistication for those who had none'. (43) But such rhetoric reveals more about the prejudices of modern-day classical philologists that it does about antiquity: if we can be sure of one thing, it is that these objects catered to ancient audiences well versed in ancient Greek epic, as well as in more recent literary and artistic responses to it.

So what find of context might we imagine for the Iliac tablets? We have only limited evidence about how the tablets were displayed --or indeed, about who collected them and why. The little evidence that we do have suggests rich domestic contexts, among the villas of Rome's rich literati. (44) The Tabula Capitolina, for example, seems to have been found in the same villa that yielded the famous relief of The Apotheosis of Homer by Archelaos, today housed in the British Museum: although that relief is markedly larger than the Tabula Capitolina, the Homeric homage is clearly related (in the case of the Archelaos relief, Homer is shown being crowned by Time and World, with various personifications paying their respects before him). (45) Like the Iliac tablets, the Archelaos relief addresses an audience au fait with the Greek literary past. But the Iliac tablets prompted a slightly different mode of response: they invited audiences to re-tell the stories of Greek epic, adding their own distinctive innovations, above all, perhaps, within the cultural flame of the Roman cena (dinner parry). As even Petronius' Trimalchio knew (despite getting his own wonderfully wrong), 'it is necessary one to know one's philology at dinner'. (46) There are numerous parallels for displaying (and discussing) literary subjects at the Roman cena. Quite apart from precious plates and vessels impressed with cyclical epic stories (Fig. 13), (47) one thinks of the gigantic sculptures installed in the Sperlonga grotto, transforming a natural cave into a sort of epic theme park (Fig. 14). (48) Although occupying the opposite scale from the Iliac tablets, the Sperlonga sculptures also served as prompts for poetic innovation, as is reflected in a surviving Latin hexameter poem displayed alongside the sculptures in later antiquity. (49)

The Iliac tablets therefore lead us back to some of the grandest subjects of Greco-Roman art and poetry. (50) Just as importantly, though, their intellectual games still arrest us today, some two millennia after they were produced. To my eyes, at least, this is what makes these objects so deeply humbling: like the best artworks of other times and places, they repay close and sustained reflection.


This short article derives from a larger research project, much of it now published in my recent monograph (Michael J. Squire, The lliad in a Nutshell: Visualizing Epic on the Tabulae Iliacae, Oxford, 2011). The Alexander yon Humboldt-Stiftung supported that original research, which was only possible thanks to the additional collaboration of varinus museum curators (not least Angela Carbonaro and Daniela Valestino at the Musei Capitolini in Rome).

(1) For the room (and the other objects displayed in it), see M. Albertoni et al., The Capitoline Museums, translated by D. A. Arya and S. Mari, Milan 2000, pp. 54-59.

(2) The Greek text (inscribed directly underneath the Trojan city walls, and bisected by the receding row of Greek ships) reads: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The most important discussion of the tablet remains Umberto Mancuso, 'La "tabula iliaca" del Museo Capitolino', Memorie della R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, series S, vol. XIV, 1909, pp. 661-731; more recent contributions include Daniele F. Maras (ed.), La Tabula Iliaca di Bovillae, Boville, 1999, and Nina Valenzuela Montenegro, Die Tabulae Iliacae: Mythos und Geschichte im Spiegeleiner Gruppe fruhkaiserzeitlicher Miniaturreliefs, Berlin, 2004, pp. 22-149. The tablet's inscriptions are catalogued in Inscriptiones Graecae, vol. XIV, 1890, pp, 328-33 no. 1284; cf. Maras, op. cit., pp. 18-53, with Italian translations.

(3) On the cityscape's 'bird's eye perspective', see Tomasz Mikocki, La perspective dans l'art romain, Warsaw, 1990, pp. 112-16. More generally on the tablet's compositional games (not least the iconographic repetitions --including the 'Trojan horse' itself, repeated in the Little Iliad frieze below), see Michael J. Squire, The Iliad in a Natshell: Visualizing Epic on the Tabulae Iliacae, Oxford, 2011, pp. 165-76.

(4) On the Hellenistic division of the Iliad into 24 books, see Rudolf Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship from the Beginnings to the End of the Hellenistic Age, Oxford, 1968, p. 195; Carolyn Higbie, 'Divide and edit: A brief history of book divisions', Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. CV (2010), pp. 1-31 (discussing this tablet and others on pp. 10-11).

(5) On the relationship between this inscribed text and other known mythological epitomai (above all those by Dindorus Siculus and Apollodorus), see Monique van Rossum-Steenbeck, Greek Readers' Digests? Studies on a Selection of Subliterary Papyri, Leiden, 1998, pp. 70-71; Valenzuela Montenegro, op. cit. in n. 2 above, pp. 402-407.

(6) Fig. 3 was first published in Michael J. Squire, 'Three new Tabulae Iliacae reconstructions (tablets 2NY, 9D, 20Par)', Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik. vol. CLXXVIII (2011), pp. 63-78, at p. 72, Figure 1.

(7) [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. For the (certain) supplement, see Mancuso, op. cit. in n. 2 above, pp. 729-30, More generally on the epigram's interpretative backdrop and combined pictorial-poetic critical language, see Michael J. Squire, 'Texts on the tables: The Tabulae Iliacae in their Hellenistic literary context', The Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. CXXX (2010), pp. 67-96, at pp. 69-77; idem, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 102-26.

(8) So far as I know, the earliest usage of the name Tabulalliaca is by Laurentius Beger, Bellum et excidium Trojanum ex antiquitatum reliquiis, tabula praesertim, quam Raphael Fabrettus edidit, Iliaca delineatum, et adjecto in cake commentario illustratum, Berlin and Leipzig, 1699 (in association with the Tabula Capitalina). I provide an indexed 'curtain-call' of all 22 tablets in Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 387-412; for the publication of a supposed 23rd tablet from Cumae (excavated in 2006), see Carlo Gasparri, '23 Ky: un nuovo rilievo della serie delle "Tabulae Iliacae" dal Foro di Cuma', in Carlo Gasparri and Giovanna Greco (eds.), Cuma: indagini archeologiche e nuovescoperte, Pozzuoli, 2009, pp. 251-57 (along with my response in The lliad in a Nutshell, op, cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 413-16).

The following list provides the relevant museum and inventory information for all 22 known tablets:

1A. Tabula Ilinca Capitolina. Rome, Musei Capitolini, Sala delle Colombe, no. 316.

2NY. Tabula New York. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 24.97.11.

3C. Tabula Veronensis I. Paris, Cabinet des Medailles (Bibliotheque Nationale de France), no. 3318.

4N. Tabuin Aspidis I. Rome, Musei Capitolini, Sala delle Colombe, no. 83a.

5O. Tabula Aspidis II. Rome, Musei Capitolini, Sala dalle Colombe, no. 83b.

6B. Tabula Sarti. Lost.

7Ti. Tabula Thierry. Lost.

8E. Tabula Zenodotea. Paris, Cabinet des Medailles (Bibliotheque Nationale de France), no. 3321.

9D. Tabula Veronensis II. Paris, Cabinet des Medailles (Bibliotheque Nationale de France), no. 3319.

10K. Tabula Borgiana. Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, no. 2408.

11H. Tabula Rondanini. Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe, no. 147975 MN.

12F. Tabula Parensis. Pads, Cabinet des Medailles (Bibliotheque Nationale de France), no. 3320.

13Ta. Tabula Tarentina. London, British Museum, no. Sc. 2192.

14G. Tabula Homerica. Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Antikensammlung, Sk. no. 1785.

15Ber. Tabula Dressel. Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Antikensammlung, Sk. no. 1813.

16Sa. Tabula Tomassetti: Vatican City, Museo Sacro del Vaticano (Biblioteca Vaticana), no. 0066.

17M. Tabula Chigi. Rome, Palazzo Chigi, no inventory. Lost? (cf. David Petrain, 'The archaeology of the epigrams from the Tabulae Iliacae: Adaptation, allusion, alteration', Mnemosyae, vol. LXV, nos. 4-5 (2012), pp. 597-635, esp. pp. 632-33).

18L. Chronicum Romanum. Rome, Musei Capitolini, Sala delle Colombe, no. 82.

19J. Tabula Albani. Rome, Villa Albani, no. 957.

20Par. Tabula Froehner I. Paris, Cabinet des Medailles (Bibliotheque Nationale de France), Froehner no. VIII 148.

21Fro. Tabula Froehner II. Paris, Cabinet des Medailles (Bibliotheque Nationale de France), Froehner no. VIII 146.

22Get. Tabula Gettiensis. Malibu, Getty Villa, no. 81.AA.113.

(9) The preceding sentences offer a selective summary of Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 27-86--discussing, amongst other things, the tablets' subjects (ibid, pp. 31-54), provenance (pp. 65-67), materials (pp. 64-65; cf. pp. 254-55), and dates (pp. 58-63). On the archaeological contexts, compare also David Petrain, Epic Manipulations: The Tabulae Iliacae in their Roman Context, unpublished PhD dissertation (Harvard University), 2006, pp. 139-47: I am grateful to David Petrain for allowing me to read the second and fifth chapters of this thesis.

(10) On the traces of paint on tablets 3C and 16Sa, see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 64-65. We should probably agree with Georg Lippold in thinking that 'certain details were marked out through the use of colour' ('Tabula iliaca', in August Pauly, Georg Wissowa, Wilhelm Kroll, Kurtt Witte, Karl Mittelhaus, Konrat Ziegler, (eds.), Real-Encylopadie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Stuttgart, 1893-1980, vol. IV, no. 2, pp. 1886-96, quotation from p. 1896, my translation).

(11) For my own take on the Theodorean name, see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 283-302; idem, 'Ars in their "I"s: Authority and authorship in Graeco-Roman visual culture', in Arma Marmodoro and Jonathan Hill (eds.), The Author' s Voice in Classical and Late Antiquity, Oxford, forthcoming 2013.

(12) For Psellos' text, see Eduard Kurtz and Franz Drexl (eds.), Michaelis Pselli scripta minora (magnam partem adhuc inedita) , Milan, 1951, pp. 207-209, no. 188, with excellent discussion by Ruzena Dostalova, 'Tabula iliaca (Odysseaca) Ducaena: au sujet d'une epitre de Psellos', Byzantinoslavica, vol. XLVII (1986), pp. 28-33.

(13) See Raffaello Fabretti, De columna Traiani syntagma. Accesserunt explicatio ueteris tabellae anaglyphae Homeri Iliadem, atque ex Stesichoro, Arctino et Leschellii excidium continentis, & Emissarii Lacus Fucini descriptio. Rome, 1683, pp. 315-84. For a recent reappraisal of Fabretti's important contribution, see Maria E. Micheli, 'Raffaele Fabretti illustratore di un cicio epico', in Danilo Mazzoleni (ed.), Raffaele Fabretti, archeologo ed er udite: Atti della Giornata di Studia, 24. maggio 2003, Vatican City, 2006, pp. 77-102.

(14) See, for example, Ludolf Stephani, 'Der ausruhende Herakles: Ein Relief der Villa Albani', Memoires de l'Academie dez Sciences de St Petersbourg. VI Serie (Sciences politiques, histoire, philologie), vol. VIII (1854), pp. 1-288 (at pp. 4-13); Hans-Ulrich Cain, 'Votivrelief an Herakles'. in Peter C. Bol (ed.), Forschungen zur Villa Albani. Katalog der antiken Bildwerke. I: Bildwerke im Treppenhausaufgang und im Piano nobile des Casino, Berlin, 1989, pp. 192-97 (at pp. 194-95); Ingo Herklotz, Cassiano Dal Pozzo und die Archaologie des 17 Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1999, pp. 90-91.

(15) Otto Jahn, Griechische Bilderchroniken (aus dem Nachlasse ales Verfassers her ausgegeben und beendigt von Adolf Michaelis) , Bonn, 1873; Arma Sadurska, Les tables iliaques, Warsaw, 1964; Valenzuela Montenegro, op. cit. in n. 2 above. Other more recent contributions are surveyed by Paola Puppo. 'Le Tabulae Iliacae: studio per una riedizione', in Carmine Ampolo (ed.), Immogine e immagini della Sicilia e di altre isole del Mediterraneo antico, Pisa, 2009, pp. 829-40.

(16) Kurt Weitzmann, Illustrations in Roll and Codex, Princeton, 1947, esp. pp. 36-44; idem, Ancient Book Illumination, Cambridge MA, 1959, pp. 31-62 (esp. pp. 34-37); cf. idem, 'A Tabula Odysseaca', American Journal of Archaeology, vol. XLV (1941), pp. 166-81 (esp. pp. 180-81). For a timely critique of Weitzmann's method, see Gideon Nisbet's important article in this magazine, 'Barbarous verses: A mixed-media narrative from Greco-Roman Egypt', Apollo, vol, CLVI, no. 485 (July 2002), pp. 15-19, expanded and revised as idem, 'An ancient Greek "graphic novel" (P. Oxy. XXII 2331)', in George Kovacs and C. W. Marshall (eds.), Classics and Comics, Oxford, 2011, pp. 27-42. My own views on the problematic ideology of 'illustration' are explained in Michael J. Squire, Image and Text in Graeco-Roman Antiquity, Cambridge, 2009, pp. 122-39; cf. Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 129-48.

(17) My talk of 'iconotexts' here has learned especially from Peter Wagner, Reading Iconotexts: From Swift to the French Revolution, London, 1995; cf. idem (ed.), Icons--Texts--Iconotexts: Essays on Ekphrasis and Intermediality, Berlin, 1996, pp. 1-40.

(18) Cf. Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 1-25,247-302. On Homer's acknowledged 'greatness' in antiquity, see, for example, Froma Zeitlin, 'Visions and revisions of Homer', in Simon D. Goldhill (ed.), Being Greek Under Rome: Cultural Identity, the Second Sophistic, and the Development of Empire, Cambridge, 2001, pp. 195-266; Richard Hunter, Critical Moments in Classical Literatare: Studies in the Ancient View of Literature and its Uses, Cambridge, 2009, pp. 149-60.

(19) The key discussion comes in Aristotle's Poetics (esp. 1450b34-1451a6): cf. Alex C. Purves, Space and Time in Ancient Greek Narrative, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 24-32, along with Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 250-59.

(20) As such, the Iliac tablets resonate with contemporary Greek and Latin epigrams on artworks, giving metaphorical voice to short and pithy poetic responses to pictures and sculptures: among the many recent discussions, see, for example, Irmgard Mannlein-Robert, Stimme, Schrift und Bild: Zum Verhaltnis der Kunste in der hellenistischen Dichtung, Heidelberg, 2007; Evelyne Prioux, Petits musees en vers: epigramme et discours sur les collections antiques, Paris, 2008; Michael A. Tueller, Look Who's Talking: Innovations in Voice and Identity in Hellenistic Epigram, Leuven, 2008; Michael J. Squire, 'Making Myron's cow moo? Ecphrastic epigram and the poetics of simulation', American Journal of Philology, vol. CXXXI (2010), pp. 589-634; idem, 'Reading a view: Poem and picture in the Greek Anrhology', Ramus, vol. XXXIX (2010), pp. 73-103.

(21) Pliny, Natural History 7.85 (cf. ibid.36.43,34.83); Plutarch, Moralia (Coram. Not. ) 1083d-e; Aelian, Historical Miscellany 1.17. 0n these and other similar tales, see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 1-11, 260-61, 287-88. For the collected stories about Myrmecides and Callicrates, see Johannes A. Overbeck, Die antiken Schriftquellen zur Geschichte der bildenden Kunste bei den Griechen, Leipzig, 1868, pp. 422-23, nos. 2192-201. The smallest modern-edition Iliad and Odyssey known to me is a two-volume set printed by Charles Whittingham in 1831, and measuring 9cm x 5cm (see Louis W. Bondy, Miniature Books: Their History from the Beginnings to the Present Day, London, 1981, pp. 89-90).

(22) For a catalogue of Wigan's work (and an explanation of the thinking behind it), see Willard Wigan, It's a Small World After All, Birmingham, 2009, esp. pp. 48-59. I am grateful to Willard Wigan for sending me additional photographs of his work.

(23) On the Bible 'as the book of greatest significance, the book holding the world both past and future', and hence 'often chosen for miniaturisation', see Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, second edition, Baltimore, 1993, p. 40. For the silicon chip reduction o f the New Testament (in 24kt gold), see Anne C. Bromer and Julian I. Edison, Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures, New York, 2007, p. 199.

(24) Stewart, op. cit. in n. 23 above, pp. 37-59 (quotation from p. 38).

(25) Pliny the Elder, Natural History 35.81-3. For the story, see most recently Kathryn Gutzwiller, 'Apelles and the painting of language', Revue de Philologie de litterature et d'histoire anciennes, vol. LXXXIII (2009, published 2011), pp. 39-63, esp. pp. 39-62; for my own views of these 'lines', see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 271-73; idem, 'Mesurer l'hellenistique: la semantique intermediatique de l'echelle dans l'art et la litterature hellenistiques', in Pascale Linant de Bellefonds, Evelyne Prioux and Agnes Rouveret, Memoire, deconstruction, recreation dans les arts visuels et la poesie de l'epoque hellenistique au premier siecle apr. J-C., Rennes, forthcoming.

(26) My use of the term 'paratext' derives from Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Jane E. Lewin, Cambridge, 1997, esp. pp. 1-15: Genette defines the 'paratext' after Philippe Lejeune as 'the fringe of the printed text which in reality controls one's whole reading of the text' (p. 2).

(27) Those versed in their Derrid a will recognise my intellectual debt (as well as Stewart's own--cf. Stewart, op. cit. in n. 23 above, p. 37). In Derridean terms, the miniature problematises the unspoken alliance between words and books, as indeed between writing and text: the book, that 'encydopaedic protection of theology and of logocentrism', is shown to be at once more and less than the 'aphoristic energy' of writing that it contains (Jacques Derrida, Of Grammarology, trans. Gayatri Chakravor ty Spivak, Baltimore, 1976, p. 18). Extremes of scale, we might say, capture the Derridean proposition in nuce: namely, that writing 'supplements' rather than simply conveys meaning.

(28) For amore detailed discussion of these two objects (tablets 4N and 50), see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 303-70.

(29) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (tablet 4N-Lhe first half of the hexameter is repeated on the obverse side); [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (tablet 5O).

(30) On the passage and its literary and artistic reception in antiquity, see Michael J. Squire, 'Ekphrasis at the forge and the forging of ekphrasis: The shield of Achilles in Graeco-Roman word and image', Word and Image, vol. 29.2 (fthc. 2013) (with more detailed bibliography): among the best discussions is Andrew Sprague Beeker, The Shield of Achilles and the Poetics of Ekphrasis, Lanham MD. 1995; cf. most recently A.-M. Lecoq, Le bouclier d'Achille: un tableau qui bouge, Paris, 2010, esp. pp. 23-114, discussing these two 'Tables iliaques' on pp. 28-29.

(31) On those various allegorical readings, see, for example, Felix Buffiere, Les mythes d'Homere et la pensee grecque, Paris, 1956, pp. 155-68; James Porter, 'Hermeneutic lines and circles: Aristarchus and Crates on the exegesis of Homer', in Robert Lamberton and John K. Keany (eds.), Homer's Ancient Readers: The Hermeneutics of Greek Epic's Earliest Exegetes, Princeton, 1992, pp. 67-114; Philip Hardie, 'Imago mundi: Cosmological and ideological aspects of the shield of Achilles', Journal of Hellenic Studies, vo1. CV (1985), pp. 11-31.

(32) For ancient views of ekphrasis, see the excellent survey by Jas Elsner, 'Introduction: The genres of ekphrasis', Ramus, vol. XXI (2002), pp. 1-18. On ancient rhetorical discussions of ekphrasis in the so-called Progymnasmata, see Ruth Webb, Ekphrasis, Imagination and Persuasion in Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Practice. Farnham, 2009 (with my review in Aestimatio, vol. V (2008, published 2010), pp. 233-44).

(33) For a more detailed discussion of the iconography, see Valenzuela Montenegro, op. cit. in n. 2 above, pp. 239-49, and Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 211-24 (with further bibliography on p. 305, note 3).

(34) For a presentation of the text and some comments on its epigraphic presentation, see Michael J. Squire, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: An early Imperial text of Il., 18.483-557'. Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. CLXXXII (2012), pp. 1-30. Although Lecoq, op. cit, in n. 30 above, mentions 'le Soleil menant son quadrige et la Lune son bige' (p. 29) around the tablet's rim, she omits reference to this fascinating text.

(35) On the verso inscriptions (on tablets 2NY, 3C, 4N, 50, 7Ti, 15Ber and 20Par), see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 197-246. The foundattional discussion is Maria Teresa Bua, 'I giuochi alfabetici delle tavoie iliache', Memorie della R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, series 8, vol. .XVI (1971), pp. 1-35.

(36) The above reading follows the reconstruction favoured by Bua, op. cit. in. 35 above, pp. 6-9: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. For other supplements, see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 204-05.

(37) For the 'magic square' to work, an odd number of letters is required (27 rather than 26, yielding 53 lettered 'boxes' within the grid)--hence the superfluous iota after the definite article (see Bua, op. cit. in n. 35 above, pp. 6,14).

(38) For parallels, see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 210-235. Among the most important discussions of the Greek picture-poems (and other literary 'riddles') is now Christine Luz, Technopaignia: Formspiele in der griechischen Dichtung, Leiden, 2010; one might also compare the various contributions in Jan Kwapisz, David Petrain and Mikolaj Szymanski (eds.), The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry, Berlin, 2013.

(39) Optatian's poetas are collected in Giovanni Polara (ed.) Publilii Optatiani Porfyrii, Carmina. I. Textus adiecto indice verborura, Turin, 1973 (whose numbering of the poems I follow); Polara provides an Italian translation in idem, Optaziano Porfirio: Carmi, Turin, 2004. For further analysis, see, for example, William Levitan. 'Dancing at the end of the rope: Optatian Porfyry and the field of Roman verse', Transactions of the American Philological Association, vol. CXV (1985), pp. 245-69; Ulrich Ernst, Carmen figuratum: Geschichte des Figurengedichts von den antiken Ursprungen bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters, Cologne, 1991, pp. 95-142; Meike Ruhl, 'Panegyrik im Quadrat: Optatian und die intermedialen Tendenzen des spatantiken Herrscherbildes', Millennium, vol. III (2006), pp. 75-102. R. Scanzo, 'Leggere l'immagine, vedere la poesia: Carmina Figurata dall'antichita a Optaziano e Rabano Mauro, al "New Dada" e oltre', Maia, vol. XLVIII (2006), pp. 249-94. The most important reappraisal of Optatian's poetry is an unpublished French doctoral dissertation: Marie-Odile Bruhat, Les Carmina Figurata de Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius: la metamorphose d'un genre et l'invention d'une poesie liturgique imperiale sous Constantin, unpublished PhD dissertation (Paris 4), 1999, with conclusions on pp. 439-51; compare also David Pelttari, The Reader and the Poet: The Transformation of Latin Poetry in the Fourth Century, unpublished PhD dissertation (Cornell University), 20 12, esp. pp. 84-96.

(40) For the rhetorical games of taxis, see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, esp. pp. 195-96, developed (with additional literary and artistic comparanda) in idem, 'The order of rhetoric and the rhetoric of order', in Jas Elsner and Michel Meyer (eds.), Art and Rhetoric in Roman Culture, Cambridge, forthcoming.

(41) For the iconography, see Valenzuela Montenegro, op. cit. in n. 2 above, pp. 130-32, 306-307, along with Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp, 59, 148-58. On the way in which 'the central panel ... transforms the end of an episode into a beginning in medias res, for which a past has been given circumstantially, and circumferentially, while the future has been left to the imagination of the viewer', see Richard Brilliant, Visual Narratives: Story-telling in Etruscan and Roman Art, Ithaca NY, 1984, p. 58.

(42) Cf. Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 240-43.

(43) Nicholas Horsfall, 'Stesichorus at Bovillae?', Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. XCIX (1979), pp. 26-48 (at p. 33); Wallace McLeod, 'The "epic canon" of the Borgia table: Hellenistic lore or Roman fraud?', Transactions of the American Philological Association, vol. CXV (1985), pp. 153-65 (at pp. 164-65).

(44) Further comments can be found in Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, pp. 67-86.

(45) For the relief (British Museum, no. sc. 2191), see Doris Pinkwart, Das Relief des Archelaos von Priene und die 'Musen des Philiskos', Kallmunz, 1965, pp. 19-90, along with (most recently) Zahra Newby, 'Reading the allegory of the Archelaos relief', La Zahra Newby and Ruth Leader-Newby (eds.), Art and Inscriptions in the Ancient World, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 156-78. On the villa from which both the relief and the Tabula Capitolina were discovered (in an area known as Messer Paolo, east of Marino in the Alban hills), see Squire, op. cit. in n. 3 above, p. 66.

(46) Petronius, Satyricon 39.3: oportet enim inter cenandum philologiam nosse, with further parallels discussed in Squire, Image and Text, op. cit. in n. 16 above, pp. 218-22.

(47) On Fig. 13, see especially Elisabeth Alfoldi-Rosenbaum, Herbert Adolph Cahn and Annemarie Kaufmann-Heinimann (eds.), Der spatromische Silberschatz von Kaiseraugst, Derendingen, 1984, pp. 225-308; cf. Ruth Leader-Newby, Silver and Society in Late Antiquity: Functions and Meanings of Silver Plate in the Fourth to Seventh Centuries, Aldershot, 2004, pp. 125-41 on the Sevso 'Achilles plate'.

(48) I have discussed the Sperlonga sculptures (and their cultural contexts) in an earlier issue of this magazine: Michael J. Squire, 'Giant questions: Dining with Polyphemus at Sperlonga and Baiae', Apollo, vol. CLVIII, no. 497 (July 2003), pp. 29-37.

(49) See Michael J. Squire, 'The motto in the grotto: Inscribing illustration and illustrating inscription at Sperlonga', in Zahra Newby and Ruth Leader-Newby (eds.), op. cit. in n. 45 above, pp. 102-27 (revised and expanded in Squire, Image and Text, op. cit. in n. 16 above, pp. 202-38).

(50) The tablets also raise the fascinating question of exactly how Greek/Roman artists went about making them: can we really agree with the current archaeological consensus, namely that magnifying lenses were more or less unknown in the Greco-Roman world? (Cf. Dimitris Plantzos, 'Crystals and lenses in the Graeco-Roman World'. American Journal of Archaeology, vol. CI, no. 3 (July 1997), pp. 451-64, esp. pp. 457-59.)

Michael Squire is Lecturer in Classical Greek Art at King's College London and author of several books, including The Art of the Body: Antiquity and its Legacy (2011).
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