The modern term “epyllion” commonly refers to a narrative poem in hexameters, which is shorter than a full epic. Literary overviews tend to focus on Hellenistic Greek epyllia, considered pioneers of the genre, and the classical Latin tradition, chiefly represented by Catullus’ Poem 64. Late antique epyllia, however, have received much less attention, both as individual poems and as exponents of a period of revival for hexameter poetry in general. This project proposes a first comprehensive study of Greek and Latin epyllia from Late Antiquity (3rd-6th AD).
The primary focus lies on the generic self-presentation of these poems. Is their shortness thematized? By which means (generic topoi and intertextuality, explicit references, selfpresentation of the narrator, characterization of the heroes) do these miniature epics define themselves within the epic/epyllic tradition? The late antique context complicates the already problematic delineation of what can be regarded as an epyllion. The period is characterized by a remarkable prolificacy of hexameter poetry (didactic, ecphrastic, panegyric epic) as well as the emergence of the first high-brow Christian poetry, which led to genre experiments. By focussing on how these texts present themselves to their audience, this project aims to lay bare the mechanisms of tradition and innovation that allowed these learned poets constantly to reinvent the essentially "epic" genre of hexameter narrative.