Recently we came upon an instance of classical reception that's explicitly epigrammatic. It's Season 8, Episode 15, 'The Shot in the Dark' (2013), and the team are questioning colleagues at Brennan's research institute (the crime of the week is an inside job). One researcher gives the following alibi for her whereabouts during the latest bizarre murder:
I had to catalogue some papyrus Hellenistic epigrams; we're having an exhibit on the Posidippus scroll.This is of course the Milan Posidippus papyrus, first published to great excitement in 2001. Harvard has lots of information about it along with a link to the most up-to-date translation, all for free. I'm not the first classical-reception enthusiast to note the arrival of the papyrus at Bones's 'Jeffersonian'. Kristina Killgrove on her blog Powered by Osteons sharply disses the scene, and she's not wrong:
-some random woman who can't pronounce Posidippus or talk about epigraphy properly.However, this may not be the end of the episode's engagement with epigram. The titular 'Shot in the Dark' is the mystery the team must solve -- two people have been shot, one fatally, but their wounds contain no trace of a bullet. The answer turns out to be that the assailant used a bullet made of blood that had been frozen with liquid nitrogen, and fired from a tube using compressed air. Once in the body, it simply melted away.
Whether or not the writers knew it, the 'ice bullet' gambit is out of Martial. I've blogged about this poem before -- it's 4.18:
Where the gate drips with rain next to Agrippa's portico and the stone is slippery-wet from the constant runoff, a water-flow heavy with winter ice fell upon the neck of a boy who was passing under the dripping roofs; and when it had performed its brutal execution on the poor child, the fragile dagger melted away in the still-warm wound. Does Fortune place no limit on her own cruelty? What place is safe from Death, when waters turn cutthroat?Practical experimentation is necessary to establish whether a falling icicle can really impale a child, but it is now known that a bullet made of frozen water is not a viable murder weapon: an early episode of the TV show Mythbusters (2003) debunked it through practical experimentation. Accordingly, the writers of Bones replace ice with blood and have their fictional science squad run experiments to establish its feasibility.
Mythbusters only bothered to blow up the 'ice bullet' because the myth had such traction in popular culture, as a staple of locked-room mysteries. My SO and her childhood friends loved to rack their brains over death-themed riddles along just these lines. In film it goes back at least as far as Double Exposure (1933, originally titled Corruption), written by Charles Edward Roberts. I wonder if he had read Martial; and I wonder how many 'ice bullets' are out there, in stories of this kind? I'd love to hear from readers who recognise the trope and can suggest examples.