Monday, May 30, 2022

Working with literary epigraphs in Wikidata

This post is part of the series on epigraphs. Many tabletop roleplaying games use this literary technique.

In 2019, a new property named epigraph (P7150) was created in Wikidata to index epigraphs in literary works*. This is a very interesting initiative as it proves that Wikidata can have a rich ontology with precise qualitative descriptions. For the moment, the property is quite little used (most of the contributions come from me**).

I dream that one day the data will be complete and meaningful enough to produce interesting results in digital humanity. This would be a nice topic for a thesis. 

Hypothesis (developed in a future post): Perhaps fantasy literatures are more referenced than the "normal" literary works, in the sense that they contain more diverse references to other works or sources.

Some examples of use

In speculative fiction

  • Foundation: the intra-diegetic epigraphs reveal the success of Hari Seldon's Encyclopedia Galactica project and thus frame the narrative.
  • In Dune, the epigraphs come from characters such as Princess Irulan, who will become central character later in the work. In general, they create a chorus style (before it was fashionable).
  • The Lord of the Rings: with its famous epigraphic poem that synthesizes past history, present situation and issues. Partly in the words of the main antagonist. Brr.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: with sourced epigraphs that reveal the conflict of values at play in the novel.
  • The King in Yellow contains one epigraph per chapter/novella, as well as an epigraph for the collection: some epigraphs refer to existing works, others to fictional ones. This creates an effect of confusion and surreal proper to the decadent movement, as well as a playful effect with the reader.

In the tabletop role-playing games

Some SPARQL queries

  •     To find all the epigraphs in speculative fictions
  •     To list the works containing the most epigraphs
  •     To count how many epigraphs are indexed in Wikidata

How to contribute ?

Exemple d'indexation
Indexing example

  • P7150 (epigraph)
    • Typing the body of the epigraph. No quotation marks like « » or "" "".
    • Indicating the language of the epigraph : en or fr or la (latin) or others. In case of multiple languages : mul. In case of unknown language : und.
  • Qualifiers of P7150 :
    • P1545 (series ordinal) : in case of several epigraph : 1, 2, 3,…
    • P5997 (stated in reference as): the reference of the epigraph as written in the work.
    • P1552 (has quality)
      • = Q96102813 (in-universe perspective) : in case of an epigraph from a fictive work in the work (true in the fiction). (Example : the poem at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings).
      • = Q112046597 (made up quotation) : in the case of a false, invented, apocryphal quotation (Example : false quotation of Eleanor Roosevelt in Talladega Nights).
  • References of P7150:
    • P248 (stated in): QID of the work from which the epigraph is taken.
    • P50 (author) : QID of the author of the epigraph.
    • P792 (chapter) : where is the epigraph in the work (if not at the beginning : in this case don't indicate the location). Or P958 (section, verse, paragraph, or clause).

* I have also clarified the ontology and other definitions of the term epigraph (in archaeology, mathematics, etc.).
** I have indexed the 84 crazy epigraphs of Moby-Dick for example.


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  3. Anonymous14 June, 2022

    Thank you Andy, noted.