(ἐπίγραμμα). Properly an inscription, such as was often written upon a tomb, a votive offering, a present, a work of art, and the like, to describe its character. Inscriptions of this sort were from early times put into metrical form, and the writer generally tried to combine good sense and spirit in them. They were generally, though not always, written in the elegiac metre.
The greatest master of Greek epigram was Simonides of Ceos, the author of several of the sepulchral inscriptions on the warriors who fell in the Persian Wars. His lines are remarkable for repose, clearness, and force, both of thought and expression. Fictitious inscriptions were often written, containing [p. 606] brief criticisms on celebrated menas poets, philosophers, artistsand their productions. The form of the epigram was also used to embody in concise and pointed language the clever ideas or the passing moods of the writer, often with a tinge of wit or satire. The occasional epigram was a very favourite form of composition with the Alexandrian poets, and remained so down to the latest times. Some writers, indeed, devoted themselves entirely to it. Many of the choicest gems of Greek literature are to be found in the epigrams. The epigrammatists used other metres besides the elegiac, especially the iambic. In later times more complex and almost lyrical measures were employed. The Greek Anthology has preserved some 4500 epigrams, of the greatest variety in contents, and from the hand of more than 300 poets. (See Anthology.) Among these are found some of the most celebrated names of ancient and of later times. A great number of epigrams are also found in inscriptions.
Of all the Greek varieties of lyric poetry, the epigram was earliest welcomed at Rome. It lived on in an uninterrupted existence from Ennius till the latest times, being employed sometimes for inscriptions, sometimes for other and miscellaneous purposes. In the first application, the epigram was used after Ennius on sepulchral monuments, utensils, works of art, etc. In the first century B.C. epigrams were written by Pompilius, Q. Lutatius Catulus, Varro Atacinus, Licinius Calvus, and by others to whom erotic verses are ascribed. Many of the short poems of Catullus are truly epigrammatic, and in the second half of the first century A.D. Martial handled the epigram in various forms and with the power of a master. Augustus Caesar, Pedo , Cornificia, Sulpicia , and Gaetulius also wrote epigrams. Ausonius has several examples. We also have a collection of epigrams by Luxorius in the sixth century a. d. Many such poems are preserved in inscriptions, besides a great number in manuscript, which in modern times have been collected into a Latin Anthology. In its last form of development, the epigram figures largely in the writings of modern Latiniststhe most successful of whom in this department were Bembo, Scaliger, Buchanan, More, Stroza, Sannazarius, Melanchthon, Porson, and Landor. Scaliger, in the third book of his Poetics, classifies the epigram according to its possession of mel (adulatory epigram), fel (vindictive epigram), sal (witty epigram), and acetumwith a fifth class combining two or more of these components. An excellent epigrammatic definition of the epigram is the following of unknown authorship:
Omne epigramma sit instar apis: sit aculeus illi;
Sint sua mella; sit et corporis exigui.
This has been cleverly paraphrased in English as follows:
The qualities rare in a bee that we meet,
In an epigram never should fail:
The body should always be little and sweet,
And a sting should be left in its tail.
A French writer, Lebrun, has left the following epigrammatic comparison of the merits of Catullus and Martial:
Par ses traits fins Martial nous surprit,
Mais la finesse a sa monotonie.
De l'pigramme il n'avait que l'esprit;
Catulle seul en eut tout le genie.
Bibliography.A collection of Greek epigrams of the earlier sort can be made from the works mentioned under Epigraphy; and the various editions of the Anthologies should be consulted e. g. that of Boissonade, Jacobs, and Dbner in Didot's Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum; and the Anthologia Latina of Riese (Teubner series) and Bhrens (1883). See also Corraeus, De Toto Eo Poematis Genere Quod Epigramma Dicitur (1590); Cottunius, De Conficiendo Epigrammate (1632); V. Gallus , De Epigrammate (1641); Vavassor, De Epigrammate Liber (1669); Heumann, Anthologia Latina (1721); Fayolle, Dictionnaire d'Epigrammes (1817); Booth, Epigrams, Ancient and Modern (1863); and Dodd, Epigrammatists of Medival and Modern Times, 2d ed. (1875), which last contains a bibliography of the subject. A number of metrical verses in English of the best Greek epigrams is published by Bell (London, 1880), and a very good selection, with introduction, Greek text, translation, and notes, is that of Mackail (London, 1892). See Butler, Amaranth and Asphodel (1881).