This essay addresses various aspects of epigram. It defines this term, gives a brief history of its evolution, cites examples of early and contemporary epigrams, and mentions about the contribution of authors who helped in development of this linguistic tool. Definition An epigram is a short poem treating a pint or event concisely, pointedly, and often satirically. It often ends with witticism or ingenious turn of thought. By extension the term applies to a terse, sage or a witty, often paradoxical, saying, sually in a generalized form. ( epigram) Epigram, originally is a Greek word, ‘ epi-gramma’ – which means, ‘ written upon’. The western tradition of epigram ultimately looks back to the Greek literally models. (Epigram-wiki ) History Epigram began as poems inscribed on stones, statues, and funerary monuments. These did the same job as a short prose might have done, but in verse. Epigram became literary genre, in the Hellenistic period, probably developing out of scholarly collections of inscriptional epigram.
The original Greek epigram were not necessarily short or pointed. Not all Greek epigram end in a punch line or a satirical twist. Epigram is known as short and pointed verse because European Epigram takes Latin poet Martial as its principal model. He had copied and adapted Greek models selectively, and in the process redefined the genre. The Greek epigram was much more diverse. The main source of Greek literary epigram is the Greek Anthology, a compilation from the 10th century AD based on older collections. It contains pigrams ranging from the Hellinistic period through the Imperial period and Late Antiquity into the compiler’s own Byzantine era- a thousand years of short elegiac texts. The Roman epigrams were based on their Greek predecessors and contemporaries.
Roman epigrams were more satirical and often used obscene language to make effect. Many Roman writers composed epigrams for its biting wit. Martial was a master of Roman epigrams. His technique relies heavily on the satirical poem with a joke in the last line, thus drawing him closer to the modern dea of epigram as a genre. In early English literature, the short couplet poem was dominated by the poetic epigram and proverb. Since 1600, two successive lines of verse, that rhymed with each other known as a couplet, featured as a part of longer Sonnet form. Sonnets created by William Shakespeare are very popular. Epigram couplets were in vogue during the Victorian era. In the early 20th century, the rhymed epigram couplet form developed into a fixed verse image form with an integral title as the third line, when Adelaide.
Crapsey, codified the complete form into two line rhymed verse of ten syllables per line. Her collection was first published in 1915. By 1930s, the five line cinquain verse form became very widely known. In the last decade of the 20th century the American poet Denis Garrison developed a two line 17 syllables variation of the image couplet, where euphony is the key component, and the title is optional. ( Epigram- wiki) Comparison – early and contemporary epigrams Two epigrams are chosen here for comparison. One is by Martial , the master f Roman epigram and the second one is by Benjamin Franklin. Learn what you don’t know, one work of Marsus or learned Pedo, Often spreads out over a double sided page, A work isn’t long if you cant take anything out of it, But you, Cosconius, write even a couplet too long. Martial Here the author tries to emphasize the importance of knowledge and learning. He appeals not to underestimate the importance of knowledge. Perhaps he is trying to address a lesser learned person, and urges him to learn to do things properly.
This epigram has the characteristics of both, its predecessor the Greek epigram and its successor, the English epigram. Its length and its lack of short witty content is a sure characteristic of the earlier Greek epigrams. It does not have the two distinct features of the English epigram which became popular later, short length and wit. Martial was well known for inducing a sense of humor in the last line, which is evident in this example. Little Strokes, Fell great Oaks Benjamin Franklin This epigram explains the importance of one of the greatest virtues man has ith him – efforts. There may be books written on this subject, but the author puts everything in so few words. This epigram has the characteristics of the style prevailing in English literature. It is short , witty, and pointed. This trend was set by Shakespeare when he created couplets for sonnets. Prominent authors Much information on the names of authors of ancient Greek epigrams is not available except Lucillius and Nicarchus. Amongst the Latin authors, Martial is considered to be the master of epigrams and is the most effective.
Other Latin authors were Graffitti and Pompeii, Domitius, Marsus, Cicuta, Lucan, Pharsalia, and Catulus. In English, the leading authors were William Shakespeare, William Blake, Byron, John Gay, Alexandar Pope, Emily Dickson, George Eliot, Adelaide Crapsey, and Denis Garrison. The main non-poetic epigram authors are , Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker and Macdonald Carey. ( Epigram-wiki) Details of the impact of innovations of Martial, and William Shakespeare are given below. These two authors are trend setters in their own right. Martial : He was a Latin poet from Hispania.
He is best known for his twelve books of epigrams published in Rome between 86 and 1 03 AD. He cheerfully satires city life and his provincial upbringing in these short, witty poems. Martial had a keen sense of curiosity and power of observation. His epigrams contain colorful references to human life. He also brings to life the spectacle of brutality in Imperial Rome. His epigrams are noted for their biting sense of wit, and their lewdness. This is why he has acquired the place of the ‘original insult comic’ in literary history. Martial) William Shakespeare : He was an English poet and playwright widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language. He is often considered to be England’s national poet. Most of his work was published between 1586 and 1612. His Sonnets are a collection of 154 poems that deal with themes such as love, beauty and mortality. ( William Shakespeare ) He used innovative epigrams as building blocks for these sonnets. He was the founder of short, witty and pointed epigrams, with rhyming lines, which were non- xistent till his times. ( epigram-wiki)
Conclusion Epigram is a linguistic tool, in a poetic form, to express various human emotions. It is perhaps as old as the invention of language itself. Greeks were the first to use epigrams as a form of expression. Later this skill was adopted by Latin poets and since 1600, they have found a prominent place in English literature also. Martial, a Latin poet is considered to be the master of Latin epigram. He lived in the first century, and authored epigram which are even today regarded as lassics. Inducing comic element in epigram was his distinct style. William Shakespeare, the all time great English poet and playwright brought many innovations to the style of writing epigram. He made them short, two lined, witty and pointed. He initiated rhyming of lines in epigram and used them as building blocks for his very famous sonnets. Lastly, this essay will not be complete without citing the very famous, non- poetic epigram by Osar Wilde, “ I can resist everything except temptation”.
Works- cited page
1. Epigram, Encyclopedia Britannica online, Retrieved on 17 April 07 from; < http://www. britannica. com/ebc/article-9363783 > 2. Epigram-wiki, wikipedia the free encyclopedia, 17 April 07, Retrieved on 17 April 07 from : < http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Epigram > 3. Martial, Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, 17 April 07, Retrieved on 17 April 07 from : < http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Martial > 4. William Shakespeare, Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, 16 April 07, Retrieved on 17 April 07 from : < http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/William_Shakespeare%27s >