An epigram was originally an inscription on an object or monument to say whose it is or who made it, who dedicated it to which god, or who is buried beneath it. The earliest known are in hexameters, but by c.500 they were predominantly in what was to be the classic metre of epigram, the elegiac couplet (see metre, greek, 3–4). The earliest consist largely of formulae plus the appropriate proper names in stereotyped epicizing phraseology.
Epigrams written for monuments are normally anonymous; the earliest signed by the author date from c.350. The first poet credited with writing epigrams is Simonides, though only one of the many ascribed to him can be accepted, the simple and dignified epitaph on the seer Megistias. Many others are attributed in Hellenistic and later times to famous poets. It is hard to believe Euripides wrote the undistinguished couplet that Plutarch read on a monument to the Athenians who died in Sicily, but there seems no reason to doubt Aristotle's authorship of the epigram on a statue of his friend Hermias at Delphi.
See too anthology and individual epigrammatists, esp. meleager 2.
Subjects: Classical Studies.