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EPIGRAM

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Originally appearing in Volume V09, Page 690 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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EPIGRAM, properly speaking, anything that is inscribed. Nothing could be more hopeless, however, than an attempt to discover or devise a definition wide enough to include the vast multitude of little poems which at one time or other have been honoured with the title of epigram, and precise enough to exclude all others. Without taking account of its evident misapplications, we find that the name has been given—first, in strict accordance with its Greek etymology, to any actual inscription on monument, statue or building; secondly, to verses never intended for such a purpose, but assuming for artistic reasons the epigraphical form; thirdly, to verses expressing with something of the terseness of an inscription a striking or beautiful thought; and fourthly, by unwarrantable restriction, to a little poem ending in a "point," especially of the satirical kind. The last of these has obtained considerable popularity from the well-known lines " 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 " which represent the older Latin of some unknown writer—" Omne epigramma sit instar apis: sit aculeus illi; Sint sua mella; sit et corporis exigui." Attempts not a few of a more elaborate kind have been made to state the essential element of the epigram, and to classify existing specimens; but, as every lover of epigrams must feel, most of them have been attended with very partial success. Scaliger, in the third book of his Poetics, gives a fivefold division, which displays a certain ingenuity in the nomenclature but is very superficial: the first class takes its name from mel, or honey, and consists of adulatory specimens; the second from fel, or gall; the third from acetum, or vinegar; and the fourth from sal, or salt; while the fifth is styled the condensed, or multiplex. This classification is adopted by Nicolaus Mercerius in his De conscribendo epigrammate (Paris, 1653); but he supplemented it by another of much more scientific value, based on the figures of the ancient rhetoricians. Lessing, in the preface to his own epigrams, gives an interesting treatment of the theory, his principal doctrine being practically the same as that of several of his less eminent predecessors, that there ought to be two parts more or less clearly distinguished,—the first awakening the reader's attention in the same way as an actual monument might do, and the other satisfying his curiosity in some unexpected manner. An attempt was made by Herder to increase the comprehensiveness and precision of the theory; but as he him-self confesses, his classification is rather vague—the expository, the paradigmatic, the pictorial, the impassioned, the artfully turned, the illusory, and the swift. After all, if the arrangement according to authorship be rejected, the simplest and most satisfactory is according to subjects. The epigram is one of the most catholic of literary forms, and lends itself to the expression of almost any feeling or thought. It may be an elegy, a satire, or a love-poem in miniature, an embodiment ' For an illustration, see Kathleen Schlesinger, Orchestral Instruments, part ii. " Precursors of the Violin Family," fig. 165, p. 219. s Athenaeus, iv. p. 183 d. and xiv. p. 638 a. 3 Dialogo delta musica antica e moderna, ed. 1602, p. 4o.of the wisdom of the ages, a bon-mot set off with a couple of rhymes. " I cannot tell thee who lies buried here; No man that knew him followed by his bier; The winds and waves conveyed him to this shore, Then ask the winds and waves to tell thee more." ANONYMOUS-" Wherefore should I vainly try To teach thee what my love will be In after years, when thou and I Have both grown old in company, If words are vain to tell thee how, Mary, I do love thee now? "
End of Article: EPIGRAM
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EPIGONION (Gr. errcryovewv)
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EPIGRAPHY (Gr. E7rl, on, and 7ph4ew, to write)

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