The Ancient Library

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P O E T I C A L P E R IO D. 79

ments of longer elegies lamenting with heartfelt pathos the death of per­sons dear to the poet. Among these are the verses concerning Gorgo, who, dying, utters these words to her mother: "Remain here with my father, and become, with a happier fate, the mother of another daughter, who may tend you in your old age."1

XIII. This place is the most convenient for mentioning a subordinate kind of poetry, namely, the Epigram, as the elegiac form was the best suited to it, although there are also epigrams composed in hexameters and other metres.


XIV. The Epigram (^iypa^a) was originally, as its name imports, an inscription either on a tombstone, or on a votive offering in a temple, or on any other object which required explanation. Afterward, from the anal­ogy of these real epigrams, thoughts excited by the view of any object, and which might have served as an inscription, were called epigrams, and expressed in the same form. That this form was the elegiac may have arisen from the circumstance that epitaphs appeared closely allied to la­ments for the dead, which, as we have before remarked, were composed in this metre.- However, as this elegy comprehended all the events of life which caused a strong emotion, so the epigram might be equally in place on a monument of war, and on the sepulchral pillar of a beloved kinsman or friend.


XV. The unexpected turn of thought and the pointedness of expres­sion, which the moderns consider as the essence of this species of com­position, were not required in the ancient Greek epigram; in this noth­ing more is requisite than that the entire thought should be conveyed within the limits of a few distichs ; and thus, in the hands of the early poets, the epigram was remarkable for the conciseness and expressive­ness of its language ; differing in this respect from the elegy, in which a full vent was given to the feelings of the poet.

XVI. Epigrams were probably composed in an elegiac form, shortly after the time when the elegy first arose ; and the collection which has come down to us contains some under the celebrated names of Archilochus, Sappho, and Anacreon. No peculiar character, however, is to be ob­served in the genuine epigrams of this early period. It was Simonides of Ceos who first gave to the epigram the perfection of which, consist­ently with its purpose, it was capable. In this respect Simonides was favored by the circumstances of his time; for, on account of the high con­sideration which he enjoyed both in Athens and throughout the Pelopon­nesus, he was frequently employed by the states which had fought against the Persians, to adorn with inscriptions the tombs of their fallen warri­ors. The best and most celebrated of these epitaphs is the inimitable in­scription on the Spartans who died at Thermopylae, which actually exist­ed on the spot: " Stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians that we are lying here in obedience to their laws."3 Never was heroic courage expressed with such calm and unadorned grandeur.__________________

i Miiller, Hist. Gr. Lit., p. 125. 2 /ft., p. 126,seqq. 3 Simonides, Frag. 27, ed. Gaisf.

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