Greek Poetry: Epigrams

Ruth Scodel

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:
Greek Poetry: Epigrams

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Very soon after Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet, they began writing inscriptions in verse, most often in elegiac couplets, to declare who made or owned precious objects, to accompany dedications in sanctuaries, and to provide information on funeral monuments. Scholars disagree about when it is appropriate to say that epigram is a truly literary form. Simonides’ name is associated with both inscribed poems and with obviously fictitious ones, but the authenticity of many is disputed; by the 5th century, though, a famous poet might compose epigram. By the 4th century bce, poets composed works that were not intended for inscription but used the forms of inscribed epigram, while a few inscribed epigrams are signed by their authors. In the Hellenistic period, epigram became an independent and important genre. While many of its forms retained a connection to the tradition of inscribed poetry, erotic and symposiastic epigrams, with roots in elegy and lyric instead of inscription, were also important. Epigrams circulated in collections in which individual poems were artfully arranged, and there were probably multiauthor books and collections of various types. The artistic anthology, though, was created by Meleager of Gadara with his famous Garland, an anthology of as many as one thousand epigrams by himself and forty-six other poets, in the 1st century bce. Meleager began a complex tradition of anthologizing. Philip of Thessalonica in the 1st century ce collected fifty-two epigrammatists. In the 6th century Agathias anthologized recent and contemporary epigrams in his Cycle. In the 10th century, Constantine Cephalas assembled the great collection that became what we call the Greek Anthology. This comes down to us in two forms. The 1301 anthology of Planudes was published in 1494. The Palatine Anthology (AP) was rediscovered in 1606. Its fourth book contains the prefaces to the Garlands of Meleager and Philip and the Cycle of Agathias, and it is clear that Cephalas often directly followed these older sources in ordering the poems. In general, the Palatine anthology is more valuable, because Planudes bowdlerized and rearranged, but Planudes preserves poems not in the Palatine, including ecphrastic epigrams; this material is sometimes included in editions of the Palatine as AP 16. Greek epigram has been extremely influential on poetry in European languages since the Renaissance.

Article.  8653 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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