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This paper examines the points of contact between the epigrams of Nossis and partheneia, arguing that Nossis modeled her dedicatory poems on this genre.

Of the eleven (or twelve) epigrams written by the highly innovative poet Nossis in the third century BCE, seven are dedicatory poems on artwork depicting women. Gutzwiller noted that all of Nossis' epigrams are connected by a consistent narrator, and argued that this evidence suggests that Nossis was among the first to compose epigrams with the intention of publishing them together (Gutzwiller 1998: 82-88) . Scholars have also noticed that Nossis' dedicatory epigrams in particular are meant to be read together, and that this series of poems reads like a tour of an art gallery - another unique innovation in the history of epigram (Skinner 1989: 5, Gutzwiller 1998: 83). This paper argues that while these epigrams are indeed companion pieces, Nossis' innovation is not simply the intertextual connection of seven similar poems. More importantly, she is borrowing many features of partheneia, seen best in those of Alcman (PMG 1 and 3), and importing them into the genre of epigram. These dedicatory epigrams form a single Partheneion.

This paper begins with an examination of AP 9.332 = 4 G-P, the poem commonly accepted as the first in the series. The poem opens with an exhortation for unspecified women (only women, as the participle Ἐλθοá¿–σαι is feminine) to travel to a temple in order to see a statue. This exhortation is peculiar, for the genre of epigram is limited by its inscriptional heritage and does not allow movement (Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 292-93). The movement in AP 9.332 needs to be explained.

The other poems in this series feature a significant amount of movement and deixis, such as when the narrator bids paintings farewell (AP 9.605.4, AP 6.354.4) or instructs the group of unnamed women to look at particular elements of the paintings (AP 9.605.3, AP 6.353.1, among others) . After establishing that movement and deixis are central to these epigrams, Alcman PMG 1 and 3 are considered, an examination which includes close readings of the passages in which Alcman uses deixis and stage direction in order to praise his subjects. Among the passages discussed are 1.78-81 and 3.61-64.

These dedicatory epigrams share a common purpose with partheneia, in that both aim to illustrate the internal and external beauty of the young women in order to show their marriageability. Nossis in her ecphrastic epigrams even praises her subjects for non-physical qualities that cannot be painted, such as blamelessness and prudence, while Alcman's mention at the fragmentary 3.82 of a 'wise child' (presumably Astymeloisa) shows that praise of non-physical characteristics was also an element of partheneia.

The combination of stage direction, deixis, and praise of unpaintable characteristics breaks all of the rules of dedicatory epigram. These poems of Nossis are not supposed to be imagined as standing beside the paintings described in the epigrams; they should be imagined as forming one continuous song in praise of the beauty and marriageability of the young women. Nossis' narrator and the unnamed women enjoined to travel to the temple form a chorus, highlighting the various painting subjects in turn, as the chorus in Alcman PMG 1 does with Hagesichora and Agido.

Scholars have shown some of the ways in which these poems are unlike other epigrams, such as the consistent persona of the narrator or the interconnected nature of the series. This paper takes this scholarship one step further by showing that there is a model for this series of epigrams, and that it is the genre of partheneia, a genre for which Alcman's two poems are perhaps the best surviving representatives. These seven epigrams are Nossis' Partheneion.


  • Fantuzzi, M., and R. L. Hunter. 2004. Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry. Cambridge University Press.
  • Gutzwiller, K. 1997. "Genre Development and Gendered Voices in Nossis and Erinna." Pp. 202- 22 in Y. Prins and M. Shreiber (eds.), Dwelling in Possibility: Women Poets and Critics on Poetry, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Gutzwiller, K. 1998. Poetic Garlands: Hellenistic Epigrams in Context. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Page, D. L. 1951. Alcman: The Partheneion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Skinner, M. 1989. "Sapphic Nossis." Arethusa 22:5-18.
  • Skinner, M. 2001. "Ladies' Day at the Art Institute." Pp. 201-22 in A. Lardinois and Laura McClure (eds.), Making Silence Speak: Women's Voices in Greek Literature and Society. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
  • Tueller, M. 2008. Look Who's Talking: Innovations in Voice and Identity in Hellenistic Epigram (Hellenistica Groningana 13). Leuven: Peeters.

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