We name “calligramme” or pattern poem or visual poem it that with the arrangement of its verses and words written in the text draws the shape that the content of the poem refers to extend the emotional content. It is therefore a beautiful visual poem; that’s what “calligramme” means.

Calligramme is a modern word, derived from the French Calligramme, created by the poet GuillaumeApollinaire in his work entitled  "Calligrammes. Poèmes de la Paix et de la Guerre 1913-1916 ". The word is composition of the Greek adjective καλός, kalós, which means beautiful, good and substantive γράμμα, gramma, meaning letter. writing. So properly it means "beautiful letter, beautiful written."

Ausonius was the the first used “technopaegnia” in his work  XII, 1 to refer to a poem in hexameters in which each verse ends with the monosyllable with which  the next begins. It is a Greek word composed of τέχνη, techne, art, and παἱγνιον, paígnion, game, thus meaning "art game", referring to the special ability of the poet, but it doesn’t  had the meaning we ascribe now.

On Latin it is called carmina figurata and naturally they are numerous by the Roman tendency to imitate everything Greek.

Poem-figure Pattern Poetry are  a good names.

Visual poetry and concrete poetry are two modern terms to refer to a kind  of poetry in which the visual and space work with rhyme and rhythm to the objective representation (objectualization) of abstract ideas.

Such poems are somehow put in value in modern times by Guillaume Apollinair  (1880-1918), and by the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948), to the point that there will be many people who consider the creators without knowing who already the Greeks as Simias of Rhodes, author of the fourth century BC, lived about 300 BC , famous because he was the first of whom we preserved  some in our Western tradition, and Theocritus, the poet of Idylls, wrote them. In our modern pride we should not ignore that in the Arab world poems also are drawn taking advantage of the graphical beauty of the signs that the Arabs used in their writing.

The ancient Greek technopaegnia or poems-figure are six: of  Simmias of Rhodes we retain three  that have darken wowing since ancient times, which are titled Wings, Axe and Egg. Of Theocritus we have the poem called the Syrinx. Of Dosiadas, a contemporary of the previous we preserve, "The Doric altar," and of a Besantinus, who was identified with the Latin lexicographer of II century A.D., Lucius Julius Vestinus, contemporary of Hadrian, the poem "The Ionic altar." Besantinus" would be a corruption of the name" Vestinus" through "Bestinus". But all these authorships have been questioned at some point; of these authors only Theocritus is well known for us.

Naturally, there were similar poems in Latin in Roman times. So Levius, in the first century, used them in its Pterygium Phoenicis (the Wings of Phoenix), and in the IV century the poet Publilius Porfirius Optacianus writes  poems entitled also Syrinx, the Altar and Water Organ, proof that he knew the Greeks. Venantius Fortunatus, in the sixth century and later Rabanus Maurus, in time of Charlemagne, wrote some poems-figure.

Since the Renaissance they had a great development throughout Europe; actually in Spain it was lower because its Humanism had less knowledge of Greek.

Modern and currently its development is enormous, given the importance that all visual and designs of the things have in our culture, given to know by effective mass media

Generally the six Greeks have been preserved in manuscripts attached to the end of the work of Theocritus since Antiquity and in the tenth century they were included by the Byzantine compiler in the Greek Anthology as book number XV. But these are scholars details that do not interest us at the moment.

On the origin of these poetic forms it has been thought, perhaps without much foundation, they were poems to be inscribed in the object they describe, because there are certainly many objects with allusive inscriptions. Thus the "Axe" would be enrolled in an "axe", the "wings" on the wings of a statue of Eros, etc ..

With less ground although its origin should be  in magic formulas. Probably its origin is in the mannerism of the educated Hellenistic poets interested in their eruditeness about  ancient inscriptions when poetry is no longer oral and does not fulfill a social function being sung or recited on certain occasions, to become a purely bookish creation oriented to mere reading.

It should be taken into account that that the manuscripts often present us  two settings of the lines: the setting that makes up the figure to the terms and the setting of the verses in the order in which they are to be read. In the latter case, not all scholars are agree with that the manuscripts transmit;  generally they respected the order of Wings, Syrinx and the two Altars, but not with the Egg or the Axe.

Another question to consider is that both the Greek metric as the Latin and its various types of verses are based on the amount or duration of syllables and not in number, so they have an added difficulty to performing the visual forms. The solve it using and mixing different types of lines to adjust its visual form.

I offer the printing these poems as it appears in the edition of Jean Crispin 1570, forming the corresponding figures and its Latin version in case  of The Axe, The Wings, The Egg, and The Syringx or Pipe:

Theokritou Syrakoisiou Eidyllia kai epigrammata sozomena. Simmiou Rodiou, Moschou Syrakosiou, Bionos Smyrnaiou = Theocriti, Simmiae, Moschi, & Bionis Eidyllia & Epigrammata quae supersunt, cum Musaei poemario, omnia graecolatina & exposita. Genevae : apud J(ean) Crispinum.1570:

Simias: The Axe

Epeus devoted to the goddess Athena the axe with which he built the famous Trojan horse


Note: in the Loeb Classical Library edition, The Greek Antohology, vol V, translation by W.R. Paton. London. 1918 it appears with this form for easy reading. But the reading would form a spiral from the outer verses 1-2 left towards 11-12 interiors, according to proposal by P.E. Legrand. The double axe, called on Greek labrys λάβρυς is itself already of Cretan culture; then the Greeks called the ax of double edge pelekys (πέλεκυς) and the Romans bipennis, word which has passed as a historical and archaeological technical term.


Phocian Epeius, in gratitude for her strong device, gave to the virile goddess Athena the axe with which of old he laid in ruin the high, god-built towers, then when he burnt to ashes with fire-breathing doom the holy city of the Dardanidae and dashed down from their seats the gilded kings, a man who was not reckoned among the chieftains of the Achaeans, but one of low degree who carried water from the pure fountains. But now he has entered on the path of Homer, thanks to thee, holy Pallas of many counsels. Thrice blessed he whom with a gracious mind thou watchest over. This blessedness ever lives and breathes.  ( Loeb Classical Library, The Greek Antohology, vol V, translated by W.R.Paton. London. 1918)

Simias: the Wings

Note: it is supposed that it was engraved on the wings of a statue of Eros. The poem presents  a young and old Eros at the same time. Eros is the god of love and sexual attraction, but also he is the cosmological god who emerged from the egg laid by Night after the original Chaos and brings order to the Cosmos.

Behold the ruler of the deep-bosomed Earth, the turner upside-down of the Son of Acmon, and have no fear that so little a person should have so plentiful a crop of beard to his chin. For I was born when Necessity bare rule, and all creatures, moved they in Air or in Chaos, were kept though her dismal governance far apart. Swift-flying son of Cypris and war-lord Ares – I am not that at all; for by no force came I into rule, but by gentle-willed persuasion, and yet all alike, Earth, deep Sea, and brazen Heaven, bowed to my behest, and I took to myself their old sceptre and made me a judge among gods. (The Greek Bucolic Poets. Translated by Edmonds, J M. Loeb Classical Library Volume 28. Cambridge, MA. Harvard Univserity Press. 1912.)

Simias: the Egg

Lo here a new weft of a twittering mother, a Dorian nightingale; receive it with a right good will, for pure was the mother whose shrilly throes did labour for it. The loud-voiced herald of the gods took it up from beneath its dear mother’s wings, and cast it among the tribes of men and bade it increase its number onward more and more – that number keeping the while due order of rhythms – from a one-footed measure even unto a full ten measures: and quickly he made fat from above the swiftly-slanting slope of its vagrant feet, striking, as he went on, a motley strain indeed but a right concordant cry of the Pierians, and making exchange of limbs with the nimble fawns the swift children of the foot-stirring stag. – Now these fawns through immortal desire of their dear dam do rush apace after the beloved teat, all passing with far-hasting feet over the hilltops in the track of that friendly nurse, and with a bleat they go by the mountain pastures of the thousand feeding sheep and the caves of the slender-ankled Nymphs, till all at once some cruel-hearted beast, receiving their echoing cry in the dense fold of his den, leaps speedily forth of the bed of his rocky lair with intent to catch one of the wandering progeny of that dappled mother, and then swiftly following the sound of their cry straightway darteth through the shaggy dell of the snow-clad hills. – Of feet as swift as their urged that renowned god the labour, as he sped the manifold measures of the song. (The Greek Bucolic Poets. Translated by Edmonds, J M. Loeb Classical Library Volume 28. Cambridge, MA. Harvard Univserity Press. 1912.)

Note: It is a difficult to translate and difficult to read poem, whose reading should be made from the first verse to the last, from the second to the penultimate and so until to the center; but Legrand proposes another reading from the center to the periphery. It is made a comparison with an egg of nightingale, which grows with the rhythm that  the god Hermes set with his foot. The increasing rate is then compared with a fawn running around looking for his mother. It seems that the poet is referring to the fact of poetic creation itself: the poet is a nightingale, frequent identification in antiquity, and therefore he makes a poem as would the bird egg. But there he is who gives a more transcendent and cosmological interpretation, relating it to the poem of the wings of Eros and by referring to the cosmic egg.

Theocritus: The syrinx

Note: Theocritus offers a syrinx or pipe  the god Pan. With it he will play sweetly to Echo, his beloved nymph. Curiously, the poem draws a syrinx or shepherd's flute in which the reeds are decreasing, when the figure we have of it from pictures or reliefs is of all same reeds, which were covered with wax at different distances for different sound.


The bed-fellow of nobody and mother of the far-fighter gave birth to the swift director of the nurse of him whose place a stone took, not Cerastas, whom the child of the bull once reared, but him whose heart once was burnt by the edge of a shield lacking a Pi, whole by name, a double animal who felt desire for the Meropian girl born of a voice and like to the wind, who put together for the violet-crowned Muse a shrill wound, the monument of fiery love ; he who quenched the bravery that had the same name as the slayer of his grandfather and freed the Tyrian maiden from it ; he to whom Paris Simichidas offered this beloved possession of the blind-bearers ; rejoicing in thy soul at which, O treader of flocks, tormentor of the Saettian woman, son of a thief, without a father, box-footed, mayst thou sweetly play to the mute girl. Calliope the invisible. (Loeb Classical Library, The Greek Antohology, vol V, translated by W.R.Paton. London. 1918)

“The bed-fellow” is Penelope; “of nobody” is Odysseus“the far-fighter” is Telemachus; “a stone”  is Juppiter; “Cerastas” is long-horned = Comatas, long-haired; “child of the bull” is the bees, because it was believed that bees are born from the bowels of the bulls;
"Edge shield" because if we add a “p” to “itys” (shield) we have “pitys”, which means “pine tree”  and Pine is also the name of a nymph loved by the god Pan, word which means ”all”; “double animal” because is goat-legged; “girl born of a voice” is Echo; “a shrill wound” because  Syrinx also = fistula; “monument of fiery love” for Syrinx; “the bravery” for the Persian at Marathon; “the slayer of his grandfather” is Perseus, word that sounds similar to Persian; “freed the Tyrian maiden” because Europa (Euroep) was daughter of a Phoenician; “the blind-bearers”  because the pastors  carry satchel, which in Greek is called “pera” and it sounds similar to  “perós”, " which means "crippled" and the blind are disabled; “treader of flocks” because Pan walks on  rocks  and "laos”, the" people, sounds like "laas", the stone,  and Deucalion made men  throwing stones over his shoulder; “Saettian woman”  is Omphalè; “son of a thief” ,  son of Hermes; “box-footed”, Pan has hooves and the Greek word for hoof khele reminds khelos, box,  which is synonymous with larnax and because it  Pan is Larnakógulos; “the mute girl” is Echo, who cannot speak of herself; “Calliope” means “of beautiful voice”.

It is a difficult text to read without the notes to clarify many puns in Greek. The scholiasts or ancient commentators devoted good efforts to this task. This poem is full, like following Doric Altar, of guessing or "griphos" that is necessary to be solved in order to understand.

Dosiadas:  The Doric Altar

The poem presents itself as inscribed on the altar, which Jason made; Philoctetes is bitten by a snake when contemplates and suffers terrible pain until  Odysseus and Diomedes go to look him to conquer Troy.


The husband of the woman clothed in male attire, a man who was twice young, made me ; not he who lay on the fire, the son of the Empusa, whose death was due to the Trojan cowherd, offspring of a dog, but the friend of Chryse, when the cook of men struck the brazen-limbed watchman whom the faithless husband of two wives, he who was cast away by his mother, toiled to fashion. And when he had looked on my structure, the slayer of Theocritus, the burner of him of the three nights, called out . . . for it afflicted him with its poison, the belly-creeper that had put off old age. And him … in the sea-girt place, the husband of Pan's mother, the thief with two lives and the son of the man-devourer, for the sake of the shafts that destroyed Ilion, brought to the Teucrian city thrice sacked.
(Loeb Classical Library, The Greek Antohology, vol V, translated by W.R.Paton. London. 1918)

Notes: the poem is also  unintelligible without the explanatory notes, because it is also plagued, like Syrinx, of "guessing" or "griphos". “The woman clothed in male attire” is Medea fleeing from Athens disguised as a man; The poet  names the husband, Jason, saying  he was not Achilles, who was born from Thetis who changed shape often like the ghost Empusa: who lay on the fire, because his mother got him into the fire except for the heel, which was vulnerable;  “the Trojan cowherd”, is Paris; offspring of a dog because his mother Hecuba became dog after the fall of Troy; Chryse  is a goddess of the northern Aegean; the cook of men" is Medea who cooked  Pelias with the false promise of restoring youth;  "the brazen-limbed watchman " is the Talos automaton, built by Hephaestus; the faithless husband of two wives because  was born only of Hera, "the two wives" for Aglaia and Aphrodite; he who was cast away by his mother because the sky threw his mother;  the slayer of Theocritus, is Philoctetes ; Theocritus is Paris, who  prepared the pyre of Heracles, who is" the man of three nights "because Zeus begetting him lasted up night to three times its normal length; the belly-creeper that had put off old age is the snake which crawls and take the old skin; the husband of Pan's mother, the  mother is Penelope, whose husband is Odysseus (see the Siringa ); the "Thief" because he had stolen the Palladium or image of Pallas that protected Troy. “with two lives" because he came under the Hades and returned alive;  the man-devourer  is Diomedes, son of Tydeus who had eaten the head of Melanippus.

Besantinus, ( Iulius Vestinus):  Ionic Altar

Note: It is not a normal altar, stained by the blood of the victims, but the altar of the Muses where the poets can come  to make their offerings without snakes, like the altar of Jason.


The black cloud of victims does not, like purple, dye me with its reddening stream, and the knives sharpened on the Naxian stone spare the flocks of Pan ; the sweet-scented juice of the Arabian trees does not blacken me with its curling smoke. Thou seest in me an altar not composed of golden bricks or the clods of Alybe, nor let that altar be like to me which the two gods born in Cynthus built, taking the horns of the goats that feed about the smooth ridges of Cynthus. For together with the children of Heaven did the earth-born Nine rear me, the Muses to whose art the King of the gods granted immortality. And mayest thou, who drinkest of the spring that the Gorgon's son opened with a blow of his hoof, sacrifice and pour on me libations in abundance sweeter than the honey of Hymettus'bees. Come to meet me with a confident heart, for I am pure of the venomous monsters which lay hid on that altar in Neae of Thrace that the thief of the purple ram dedicated to thee. Trito-born, hard by Myrina.  (Loeb Classical Library, The Greek Antohology, vol V, translated by W.R.Paton. London. 1918)

Note: the initials of each verse in Greek, read vertically, makes  an acrostic  phrase that can be translated as “I hope you can, Olympic, sacrificing many times”. "Olympic" was one of the titles of Hadrian, and so it seems that the author is his contemporary. the children of Heaven  are the Graces. the earth-born Nine  are the Muses.  the Gorgon's  son  is  Pegasus. Trito-born is an epithet of Athena.

These examples and explanations may serve to illustrate and imagine the eruditeness, mannerism and aestheticism reached by the Greeks of the Hellenistic period. Again, everything, almost everything, were found or invented by the Greeks.

I indicated how this Mannerist and erudite practice continued at the end of the Roman era, during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when they are edited  profusely and in modern times.

One example of the  Renaissance by Michel de Montaigne in his Essays,


There are a sort of little knacks and frivolous subtleties from which men sometimes expect to derive reputation and applause: as poets, who compose whole poems with every line beginning with the same letter; we see the shapes of eggs, globes, wings, and hatchets cut out by the ancient Greeks by the measure of their verses, making them longer or shorter, to represent such or such a figure.  Of this nature was his employment who made it his business to compute into how many several orders the letters of the alphabet might be transposed, and found out that incredible number mentioned in Plutarch. (ESSAYS OF MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE. Translated by Charles Cotton. Edited by William Carew Hazilitt 1877)

Des Vaines Subtilitez
Il est de ces subtilitez frivoles et vaines, par le moyen desquelles les hommes cherchent quelquesfois de la recommandation: comme les poetes qui font des ouvrages entiers de vers commençans par une mesme lettre: nous voyons des oeufs, des boules, des aisles, des haches façonnées anciennement par les Grecs avec la mesure de leurs vers, en les alongeant ou accoursissant, en maniere qu'ils viennent à représenter telle ou telle figure. Telle estoit la science de celuy qui s'amusa à conter en combien de sortes se pouvoient renger les lettres de l'alphabet, et y en trouva ce nombre incroiable qui se void dans Plutarque.

The modern examples are countless and  the imagination of artists is exuberant. I will offer only this one of Apollinair, this representing the Eiffel Tower:

Salut monde dont je suis la langue èloquente que sa bouche o Paris tire et tirera toujours aux allemands.

Hello world, of which I am the eloquent tongue which your mouth, O Paris, and will always  stick out at the Germans.

Or this poem Wrectched Wars of Miguel Hernandez,  to celebrate the first century birth in 2010.

Wretched wars

Wretched wars
if not fought for love.

Wretched. Wretched.

Wretched weapons
if they are not words.

Wretched. Wretched.

Wretched men
if they do not die of love.

Wretched. Wretched.


Tristes guerras
si no es amor la empresa.
Tristes, tristes.

Tristes armas
si no son las palabras.
Tristes, tristes.

Tristes hombres
si no mueren de amores.
Tristes, tristes.

Calligramme, technopaegnia τεχνοπαíγνια, Carmina figurata, Pattern Poetry, figure poem, visual Poetry, concrete Poetry, creative writing .

This website uses cookies so that you have the best user experience. If you continue browsing you are giving your consent for the acceptance of the aforementioned cookies and the acceptance of our cookie policy , click the link for more information.

Aviso de cookies