« AnteriorContinuar »
have failed to discover, is placed at the end. They are arranged in such chronological order as the repositories whence they are gleaned, or their own internal evidence, warrants. Other anonymous pieces are scattered through the work. Many of these epigrams are of great beauty, and it is a subject of regret that my efforts to recover the names of the writers have not been successful. Some, however, which have hitherto been generally given as anonymous, I am glad to be able to ascribe to their authors. The epigrams have been obtained from many sources, but whenever I could find out the volumes in which they originally appeared, I have examined them, in order to ensure correctness. The old spelling is generally modernised, with the exception of that of Spenser and Herrick, which is preserved to show the orthography of their day.
The translations are by many different writers, whose names will be found attached to their renderings. Elegance has been sought, but closeness to the original has always been considered of greater importance.
Many of the translations from the Greek are by Bland and Merivale, the “ associate bards" distinguished by Byron; and a few are by the late Dr. Wellesley. I have inserted none by Major Macgregor, as his " Greek Anthology” is a work of very recent date, which can be easily consulted by all who take an interest in the subject. For a considerable number of translations marked C., I am indebted to a friend. For the few marked D., I am responsible; but I have never had recourse to my own pen when I could find renderings by others which faithfully represented the originals. In some cases I have made slight alterations in versions which were not sufficiently exact, but never without stating that change has been made. It has been difficult to find translations of the epigrams of the mediæval and early modern Latin poets ; for these Epigrammatists, being so little known, have found very few to array them in an English dress. Use
has been made of about a dozen excellent renderings in the 233rd No. of the “ Quarterly Review.”
The reference of the Greek Epigrams is to Jacobs' “ Anthologia Græca,” 1794–1814. The reference of the Mediæval and Early Modern Latin Epigrams is, with a few exceptions, to the Anthology, entitled “Delitiæ Delitiarum,” of Abraham Wright, 1637. General references will, I trust, be found to be carefully given. This is a point to which I have felt it of importance to pay special attention. I have not, however, considered it necessary to give particular references, when the epigrams are published in the wellknown works of their authors, or in the editions of the British poets, known as Bell's, Johnson's, and Chalmers'.
The Introduction contains a brief sketch of epigrammatio literature from the earliest times. My own views of the best style of epigram-writing, which have governed me i the general selection, will be there seen. A list of books, which may be useful to students in this department of literature, is added as an Appendix.
It remains to express my earnest thanks to the friend whose translations, marked C., display so conspicuously the accurate and the elegant scholar. His encouragement induced me to commence this work, and gave me energy in its progress; and the interest he has shown in it has rendered his advice as agreeable to seek as it has been valuable to receive. The obligation which I feel is a pleasure, for it is the evidence of a friendship which I prize.
RAMSGATE. January, 1870.
NO FORM of poetic composition is more universally popular than the epigram. The orator uses it in the Legislature to point his satire; the conversationalist at the dinnertable to display his wit; and the correspondent in his Letters to enliven his subject. Short, it is easily retained in the memory; pithy, it contains in the compass of a few lines the sum of an argument; and the result of experience, it often expresses the wisdom of ages. Changed much in its character, it has yet retained its essentials, and, though shorn of its elegant simplicity, it has gained in the breadth of its application.
So ancient is the epigram, that its earliest use must be sought in the uncertain traditions of an age, the literature of which has descended but in fragments. So varied has been its form, that at one time largely employed for monumental inscriptions to honour the dead, at another it has been commonly used for satire to vilify the living. For example, Artemidorus, the Greek, composed the following for the tomb of Theocritus (Jacobs 1. 194, i., translated by Polwhele):
Theocritus my name-of Syracuse-
The foreign bays that others' brows adorn. With this let a well-known and worthless modern epigram be compared, on James Moore, or More, who was not averse to wear the bay's belonging to others :
Moore always smiles whenever he recites;
Both these are epigrams; yet, except in the number of lines, there is no similitude. Agreeably to modern phraseology, the former is an epitaph, the latter an epigram. But the Greeks had not this distinction, nor does the etymology of the word “ epigram” warrant it. The epitaph is only one of the forms of the epigram.
According to its etymology, the epigram is a writing on -an inscription. The word was first appropriated by the Greeks to certain short sentences attached to offerings in the temples. It was afterwards more generally used for all inscriptions on religious and other public edifices; and was in time employed to express any record, whether in prose or verse, which was engraved on statues of gods and men, and on the wayside tombs of the dead. It was invariably short, because, being cut in brass or marble, a long inscription would have been, not only inappropriate, but inconvenient. A fine example of a short and noble epigram on the tomb of Plato, by Speusippus, may be cited (Jacobs I. 109, translated by Merivale):
Plato's dead form this earthly shroud invests :
His soul among the godlike heroes rests. In process of time the brevity of the epigram recommended it for other purposes than mere superscriptions. Striking events in contemporary history, the noble deeds of illustrious patriots, and the important decisions of wise lawgivers, were embodied in a few terse lines, which were readily fixed in the memory of the people. Nor was this all. Love breathed forth its tender and impassioned sentiments in short thrilling verse, and spoke in the epigram of the ancients as in the love-sonnet of the moderns. Thus every subject which kindles the heart of man,- devotion, affection, patriotism, chivalry, love, wine,- found its expression in the epigram; and the word, which was originally confined to an inscription, became the term for every short poem which expressed one definite idea.
Such was the epigram at the period at which it is first presented to view in the earliest specimens which the Greek Anthology contains. For this Anthology we are indebted to Meleager, the Syrian, who flourished about a century before the Christian era, and who was the first collector of epigrams. He gathered into a garland the scattered fragments, which, engraved on marble or dispersed abroad as fugitive pieces, were in danger of being irretrievably lost. This garland, or Anthology, received subsequent additions, and at a later period sustained severe loss through the decay of manuscripts, and the indifference of librarians in an ignorant age. But a noble store of Greek epigrams is still extant, gathered together in the “ Anthologia ” of Jacobs, 1794-1814, where a collection of these beautiful pieces is presented, which have defied the ravages of time, and are preserved as models of simplicity of thought and elegance of language.
A few examples from the earlier Greek authors will show the simplicity, and display the character, of the epigrams. The first is an inscription by Simonides, which serves the double purpose of commemorating the deeds of the dead, and of impressing on the living the glory gained by the Athenian arms (Jacobs I. 68, xlv., translated by Merivale):
Hail, great in war! all hail, by glory cherish'd !
Athena's sons, in chivalry renown'd!
When Hellas leagued in hostile ranks was found.
It can well be imagined with what feelings an Athenian would read these pregnant lines ; how he would cherish them in his heart; act upon their spirit in future wars; and repeat them to his children, when in old age
He counts his scars, and tells what deeds were done.
The next example, by the poetess Anyte, is of a very different character. It displays the devotion to their deities, as the guardian beings who presided over wood and water, calm and tempest, as well as over every incident of life, which was so forcibly felt by the Greeks; and which