Metrical ekphrastic epigrams are a bright phaenomenon of Byzantine art. They are known to be written in the dodecasyllabic verse. This equivalent of the antique iambic trimeter was strictly regulated (obligatory caesura and stress on the penultimate syllable of the metric foot), allowed the authors to rhyme words with different quantity of syllables and highly appreciated for harmonious sounding and eurhythmy (εὐρυθμία).
We would speak about five artworks adorned with ekphrastic epigrams from the Byzantine collection of the Moscow Kremlin Museums: four of them belong to the mid-Byzantine period, one comes from the late-Byzantine time.
The so-called Staurotheke of Philotheus is dated to the 11th–12th centuries (inv. no МЗ–1141). Crossed sequence of the epigram’s phrases is noteworthy. The name of the customer who ordered the reliquary — someone called John — is placed left at the foot of Golgotha, which symbolizes worship of Christ the Saviour. The sequence of the inscription symbolically repeats the prayer’s crossing. Particularly interesting is lexical and semantical analysis of the words’ combination ‘ζωηφόρον πέφυκε τοῦ σταυροῦ ξύλον’ (verbatim: ‘grew up the life-bringing stick/beam of cross’), which is a direct allusion to the legend of the True Cross.
The reliquary of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki shaped as a ciborium (inv. no МЗ–1148) was created in Constantinople in 1059–1067. The two inscriptions form a brilliant dodecasyllabic verse, telling us the story of execution of the piece upon the order of a mistographos named John. This artwork ‘telling its story’ gives us a showy example of pious ‘theatre’ in Byzantine court culture. So does the 12th century silver reliquary of St Barbara (inv. no МР-1750/4).
The epigram on the frame of the relics of St. Dorotheos of the 10th–13th centuries (inv. no МР–1757/3) has particular poetic value. The absence of artistic decoration and paleographic data makes the exact dating of the piece quite difficult. However, the correctness and high quality of the verse allow us to link it with a large cultural centre.
A small 15th century turquoise gem with the Crucifixion (inv. no МР–6076) bears a reminiscence from the Speech of Theophila in the work of St. Methodius of Patara “Symposium, or on Virginity” (Oratio II cap. IV–V), created following the Plato’s “Symposion.”