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AND GNOMIC POETRY GNOME

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Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 152 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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AND GNOMIC POETRY GNOME. Sententious maxims, put into verse for the better aid of the memory, were known by the Greeks as gnomes, 'yvWµat, from yvW n , an opinion. A gnome is defined by the Elizabethan critic Henry Peacham (5576?–1643 ?) as " a saying pertaining to the manners and common practices of men, which declareth, with an apt brevity, what in this our life ought to be done, or not done." The Gnomic Poets of Greece, who flourished in the 6th century B.C., were those who arranged series of sententious maxims in verse. These were collected in the 4th century, by Lobon of Argos, an orator, but his collection has disappeared. The chief gnomic poets were Theognis, Solon, Phocylides, Simonides of Amorgos, Demodocus, Xenophanes and Euenus. With the exception of Theognis, whose gnomes were fortunately preserved by some schoolmaster about 300 B.c., only fragments of the Gnomic Poets have come down to us. The moral poem attributed to Phocylides, long supposed to be a masterpiece of the school, is now known to have been written by a Jew in Alexandria. Of the gnomic movement typified by the moral works of the poets named above, Prof. Gilbert Murray has remarked that it receives its special expression in the conception of the Seven Wise Men, to whom such proverbs as " Know thyself " and " Nothing too much " were popularly attributed, and whose names differed in different lists. These gnomes or maxims were extended and put into literary shape by the poets. Fragments of Solon, Euenus and Mimnermus have been pre-served, in a very confused state, from having been written, for purposes of comparison, on the margins of the MSS. of Theognis, whence they have often slipped into the text of that poet. Theognis enshrines his moral precepts in his elegies, and this was probably the custom of the rest; it is improbable that there ever existed a species of poetry made up entirely of successive gnomes. But the title " gnomic " came to be given to all poetry which dealt in a sententious way with questions GNOMES-GNOSTICISM into prominence in the opening decades of the 2nd century A.D., but is certainly older; it reached its height in the second third of the same century, and began to wane about the 3rd century, and from the second half of the 3rd century onwards was replaced by the closely-related and more powerful Manichaean movement. Offshoots of it, however, continued on into the 4th and 5th centuries. Epiphanius still had the opportunity of making personal acquaintance with Gnostic sects. II. Of the actual writings of the Gnostics, which were extra-ordinarily numerous,' very little has survived; they were sacrificed to the destructive zeal of their ecclesiastical opponents. Numerous fragments and extracts from Gnostic writings are to be found in the works of the Fathers who attacked Gnosticism. Most valuable of all are the long extracts in the 5th and 6th books of the Philosophumena of Hippolytus. The most accessible and best critical edition of the fragments which have been preserved word for word is to be found in Hilgenfeld's Ketzergeschichte des Urchristentums. One of the most important of these fragments is the letter of Ptolemaeus to Flora, preserved in Epiphanius, Haeres. xxxiii. 3-7 (see on this point Harnack in the Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie, 1902, pp. 507–545). Gnostic fragments are certainly also preserved for us in the Acts of Thomas. Here we should especially mention the beautiful and much-discussed Song of the Pearl, or Song of the Soul, which is generally, though without absolute clear proof, attributed to the Gnostic Bardesanes (till lately it was known only in the Syrian text; edited and translated by Bevan, Texts and Studies,' v. 3, 1897; Hofmann, Zeitschrift fir neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, iv.; for the newly-found Greek text see Acta apostolorum, ed. Bonnet, ii. 2, c. 1o8, p. 219). Generally also much Gnostic matter is contained in the apocryphal histories of the Apostles. To the school of Bardesanes belongs the " Book of the Laws of the Lands," which does not, however, contribute much to our knowledge of Gnosticism. Finally, we should mention in this connexion the text on which are based the pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitiones (beginning of the 3rd century). It is, of course, already permeated with the Catholic spirit, but has drawn so largely upon sources of a Judaeo-Christian Gnostic character that it comes to a great extent within the category of sources for Gnosticism. Complete original Gnostic works have unfortunately survived to us only from the period of the decadence of Gnosticism. Of these we should mention the comprehensive work called the Pistis-Sophia, probably belonging to the second half of the 3rd century .3 Further, the Coptic-Gnostic texts of the Codex Brucianus; both the books of Ieu, and an anonymous third work (edited and translated by C. Schmidt, Texte and Untersuchungen, vol. viii., 1892; and a new translation by the same in Koptische-gnostische Schriften, i.) which, contrary to the opinion of their editor and translator, the present writer believes to represent, in their existing form, a still later period and a still more advanced stage in the decadence of Gnosticism. For other and older Coptic-Gnostic texts, in one of which is contained the source of Irenaeus's treatises on the Barbelognostics, but which have unfortunately not yet been made completely accessible, see C. Schmidt in Sitzungsberichte der Berl. Akad. (1896), p. 839 seq., and " Philotesia," dedicated to Paul Kleinert (1907), p. 315 seq. On the whole, then, for an exposition of Gnosticism we are thrown back upon the polemical writings of the Fathers in their controversy with heresy. The most ancient of these is Justin, who according to his Apol. i. 26 wrote a Syntagma against all heresies (c. A.U. 150), and also, probably, a special polemic against 1 See the list of their titles in A. Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, Teil I. v. 171; ib. Teil I I. Chronologie der altchristl. Literatur, i. 533 seq.; also Liechtenhahn, Die Offenbarung im Gnosticismus (1901). 2 For the text see A. Merx, Bardesanes von Edessa (1863), and A. Hilgenfeld, Bardesanes der letzte Gnostiker (1864). ' Ed. Petermann-Schwartze; newly translated by C. Schmidt, Koptisch-gnostische Schriften, i. (1905), in the series Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte; see also A. Harnack, Texte and Untersuchungen, Bd. vii. Heft 2 (1891), and Chronologie der altchristlichen Literatur, ii. 193-195. of ethics. It was, unquestionably, the source from which moral philosophy was directly developed, and theorists upon life and infinity, such as Pythagoras and Xenophanes, seem to have begun their career as gnomic poets. By the very nature of things, gnomes, in their literary sense, belong exclusively to the dawn of literature; their naivete and their simplicity in moralizing betray it. But it has been observed that many of the ethical reflections of the great dramatists, and in particular of Sophocles and Euripides, are gnomic distiches expanded. It would be an error to suppose that the ancient Greek gnomes are all of a solemn character; some are voluptuous and some chivalrous; those of Demodocus of Leros had the reputation of being droll. In modern times, the gnomic spirit has occasionally been displayed by poets of a homely philosophy, such as Francis Quarles (1592–1644) in England and Gui de Pibrac (x529–1584) in France. The once-celebrated Quatrains of the latter, published in 1574, enjoyed an immense success throughout Europe; they were composed in deliberate imitation of the Greek gnomic writers of the 6th century B.C. These modern effusionsiare rarely literature and perhaps never poetry. With the gnomic writings of Pibrac it was long customary to bind up those of Antoine Favre (or Faber) (1557–1624) and of Pierre Mathieu (1563–1621). Gnomes are frequently to be found in the ancient literatures of Arabia, Persia and India, and in the Icelandic staves. The priamel, a brief, sententious kind of poem, which was in favour in Germany from the 12th to the 16th century, belonged to the true gnomic class, and was cultivated with particular success by Hans Rosenblut, the lyrical goldsmith of Nuremberg, in the 15th century. (E. G.)
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