‘Comic’ is an adjective one would not normally use in connection with Byzantine riddles. The insistent recourse to isopsephy, the excessive fondness for dull wordplay and the repetitive structure makes them the very opposite of comicality. But ancient Greek riddles cannot be defined ‘comic’ either: the oldest ainigmata we are acquainted with were very serious, both in their textual shape and in the deadly consequences they provoked, as Oedipus’ riddle shows. Greek riddles started to show their comic side as well since the Fifth century BCE, when they became one of the typical symposiac pastimes; some witnesses (Aristophanes and the poets of Middle comedy) demonstrate how, at a certain point, ainigmata turned into griphoi, and, according to the definition given by the Peripatetic philosopher Clearchus of Soli, became a problema paistikon (“a problem put in jest”), a definition that contains a clear reference to the verb paizein (“play”). A certain level of playfulness can be seen in ancient riddles as well, though. The most famous example is the unexpected solution of the aenigma that, according to the ancient biographers, caused Homer’s death: the louse, the disgusting insect the fishermen had hinted at through the enigmatic formulation “What we caught, we left; what we did not catch, we bring with us”. However, the comicality we see in the many griphoi Athenaeus took from Athenian comedy and handed down to us in the tenth book of the Deipnosophists is much more evident (and much less dangerous) – and everybody agrees that such drollery is mostly absent from Byzantine riddles. But a survey of some edited (but also some unedited) poems will show how the unknown Byzantine authors who took pleasure in composing these little conundrums were even able, in some cases, to jest with Holy Scripture (the riddle on the prophet Jonas attributed to Basilius Megalomytes: 24 Boissonade = 53 Milovanovic) and to linger on topics more suitable for Old Comedy (a riddle attributed to John Eugenikos: 95 Milovanovic).
|Titolo:||'Do you think you're clever? Solve this riddle, then!' The comic side of Byzantine enigmatic poetry.|
BETA, SIMONE (Corresponding)
|Appare nelle tipologie:||2.1 Contributo in volume (Capitolo o Saggio)|