Ancient Greek Epigrams

Ancient Greek Epigrams: Major Poets in Verse Translation

Gordon L. Fain
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnw7r
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  • Book Info
    Ancient Greek Epigrams
    Book Description:

    After Sappho but before the great Latin poets, the most important short poems in the ancient world were Greek epigrams. Beginning with simple expressions engraved on stone, these poems eventually encompassed nearly every theme we now associate with lyric poetry in English. Many of the finest are on love and would later exert a profound influence on Latin love poets and, through them, on all the poetry of Europe and the West. This volume offers a representative selection of the best Greek epigrams in original verse translation. It showcases the poetry of nine poets (including one woman), with many epigrams from the recently discovered Milan papyrus. Gordon L. Fain provides an accessible general introduction describing the emergence of the epigram in Hellenistic Greece, together with short essays on the life and work of each poet and brief explanatory notes for the poems, making this collection an ideal anthology for a wide audience of readers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94776-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction to Ancient Greek Epigrams
    (pp. 1-34)

    When we think of an epigram, we think of a short, witty poem with a clever ending. The ancient Greeks had a very different conception. Epigrams to them were verses written on something, as the word implies. At least initially, they were poems engraved on tombstones or monuments, or on statues or other offerings to the gods. Many of these inscriptions have survived to the present day in ancient shrines and cemeteries. Like inscriptions on our own memorials and gravestones, they are forthright expressions of patriotism or personal sentiment, sometimes moving but often formulaic and usually short, occasionally consisting of...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Anyte
    (pp. 35-46)

    The most famous woman poet of ancient Greece was of course Sappho, whose work has come down to us mostly as fragments cited by other authors or in papyri rescued from the sands of Egypt. We have only two, perhaps three of her poems in their entirety. From Anyte, on the other hand, we have at least twenty, which may never reach the summit of the greatest of Sappho’s verses but nevertheless deserve more attention than they have received. Anyte’s lovely and affecting epigrams about young women and animals are among the most enjoyable poems of Meleager’sGarland. She is...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Leonidas of Tarentum
    (pp. 47-73)

    Meleager preserved more epigrams of Leonidas of Tarentum in hisGarlandthan of any poet apart from Meleager himself. Leonidas may have been a special favorite of the anthologist or particularly prolific, but the large number of his poems must surely also reflect his immense reputation in antiquity. Leonidas’s epigrams were the most frequently imitated of any of the Hellenistic poets; they were cited by Cicero, translated by Propertius, and inscribed on the walls of houses in Pompeii. He was famous for his portraits of simple working people, of weavers and carpenters and fishermen, in poems that have a touching...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Asclepiades
    (pp. 74-90)

    Asclepiades is one of the most interesting and appealing figures of the third century. Among the first of the Hellenistic poets to write love epigrams, he helped turn a genre consisting mostly of epitaphs and dedications into a personal form of expression with many of the hallmarks of lyric poetry. The invention of the love epigram had an enormous effect on the development of Greek verse in the Hellenistic era, and much later on the Latin love poetry of Catullus and the elegists Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid. Although Asclepiades wrote traditional dedication epigrams and epitaphs, it was his love epigrams...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Posidippus
    (pp. 91-118)

    Posidippus was born perhaps twenty years after Asclepiades in the city of Pella, the capital of Macedonia and the birthplace of Alexander the Great. Some of Posidippus’s poems can be dated from their subject matter and show that he was active at least from 284 BCE to 250 BCE, the period of the greatest flowering of Hellenistic literature. During much of this time he wrote epigrams in honor of his rulers and other prominent figures in the Ptolemaic kingdom, so he is likely to have spent a large part of his life in Alexandria associated with the court. Surviving inscriptions...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Callimachus
    (pp. 119-146)

    Callimachus was the most famous and influential of all the Greek poets of the third century. His epigrams were read by schoolchildren, his poetry quoted and translated into Latin, and his name mentioned (usually with approval) in the verse of many of the most important Latin poets, including Catullus, Horace, Propertius, and Ovid. Since Callimachus used Asclepiades as a model in several of his epigrams, he probably belongs (like Posidippus) to the next generation of poets, born perhaps about 300 BCE. Callimachus came from the African city of Cyrene, originally a Greek colony but later a part of the empire...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Theocritus
    (pp. 147-158)

    Theocritus was born about 300 BCE in the important Greek city of Syracuse in Sicily, but he spent much of his life further east in Alexandria. One of his poems describes the streets and palace of the Egyptian capital in some detail, and another is addressed to Ptolemy. Theocritus may also have spent some time on the island of Kos near Rhodes, where he seems to have met the doctor Nikias, who appears in several of his poems (see epigram VIII). Theocritus is most famous for his “bucolic” or pastoral poetry, which was included in a collection of longer poems...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Meleager
    (pp. 159-183)

    Meleager tells us (in epigram I) that he was born in Coele-Syria or Palestine in a city called Gadara, now Umm Qais in present-day Lebanon. Gadara was one of ten cities collectively known as the Decapolis, founded by Greek settlers in land conquered by Alexander the Great and occupied mostly by people of Semitic descent (including Jews), in much the way Alexandria was established in Egypt. Earlier critics such as Henri Ouvré explained some of the characteristics of Meleager’s verse from his birth and upbringing in the Middle East, calling them “Syrian,” but this is somewhat like calling the poetry...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Philodemos
    (pp. 184-206)

    Nearly 150 years after the appearance of Meleager’sGarland,a second anthology of epigrams was assembled by the poet Philip of Thessalonica, just before or during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. Of all the poets Philip included I have selected only one, who is not only the best of the poets of this secondGarlandbut also one of the very finest of all the Greek composers of epigrams. Philodemos was born around 110 BCE, about fifty years after Meleager in the same city of Gadara in Palestine. Like Meleager he left Gadara at an early age, probably...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Lucillius
    (pp. 207-234)

    If an epigram in English is a short, amusing poem with a clever ending, then the credit (and blame) goes first to Lucillius. Like Leonidas, Callimachus, and the other poets of Meleager’sGarland,Lucillius grounded his poems in the form of actual inscriptions—epitaphs and dedications, as well as monument inscriptions on the bases of statues of famous athletes. He differed from his predecessors, however, in that he used this tradition to write poems that were almost entirely satirical in nature, poking fun at generic types rather than actual historical figures. Poems like this had been written before; Leonidas VI...

  14. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 235-242)
  15. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. 243-244)
  16. ILLUSTRATION CREDITS
    (pp. 245-246)
  17. INDEX OF FIRST LINES
    (pp. 247-252)