1902 Encyclopedia > Anthology > Greek Anthology

(Part 2)



Literary History of the Greek Anthology. -- The art of occasional poetry had been cultivated in Greece from an early period, - less however, as the vehicle of personal feeling, than as the recognized commemoration of remarkable individuals or events, or the accompaniment of votive offerings. Such compositions were termed epigrams, i.e. inscriptions. The modern use of the word is a departure. From the original sense, which simply indicated that the composition was intended to be engraved or inscribed. Such a composition must necessarily be brief, and the restraints attendant upon its publication concurred with the simplicity of Greek taste in prescribing conciseness of expression, pregnancy of meaning, purity of diction, and singleness of thought, as the indispensable conditions of excellence in the epigrammatic style. The term was soon extended to any piece by which these conditions were fulfilled. The transition from the monumental to the purely literary character of the epigram was favoured by the exhaustion of more lofty forms of poetry, the general increase from the general diffusion of culture, of accomplished writers and tasteful readers, but, above all things, by the changed political circumstances of the times, which induced numbers who would otherwise have engaged in public affairs to addict themselves to literary pursuits. These causes came into full operation during the Alexandrian era, in which we find every description of epigrammatic composition perfectly developed. About 90 B.C., the sophist and poet, Leleager of Gadara, undertook to combine the choicest effusions of his predecessors into a single body of fugitive poetry. Collections of monumental inscriptions, or of poems on particular subjects, had previously been formed by Polemon the grammarian, Alcetas, and others; but Meleager first gave the principle a comprehensive application. His selection, compiled from forty-six of his predecessors, from Sappho downward, and including numerous contributions of his own, was entitled The Garland (Etepavos); and in an introductory poem each poet is compared to some flower, fancifully deemed appropriate to his genius. The arrangement of the collection was alphabetical, according to the initial letter of each epigram.

In the age of Tiberius (rather than of Trajan, as commonly stated) the work of Meleager was continued by another epigrammatist, Philip of Thessalonica, who first employed the term anthology. His collection included the compositions of thirteen writers subsequent to Meleager. Somewhat later, another supplement was formed by the sophist Diogenianus, and, under Hadrian, Strato of Sardis compiled his elegant but tainted Movora nallkn from his own productions and those of earlier writers. No further collection from various sources is recorded until the time of Justinian, when epigrammatic writing, especially in its amatory department, experienced a great revival at the hands of Agathias, the historian, Paulus Silentiarius, and their circle. Their ingenious but mannered productions were collected by Agathias into a new anthology, entitled The Circle (Kukaos); the first to be divided into books, and arranged with reference to the subjects to the pieces.

Five Greek anthologies, accordingly, existed at the commencement of the Middle Ages. The partial incorporation of these into a single body was the work of a certain Constantinus Cephalas, whose name alone is preserved in the single MS. of his compilation extant, but who probably lived during the temporary revival of letters under Constantine Porphyrogenitus, at the beginning of the 10th century. He appears to have merely made excerpts from the existing anthologies, with the addition of selections from Lucillius, Palladas, and other epigrammatists, whose compositions had been published separately. His arrangement, to which we shall have to recur is founded on a principle of classification, and nearly corresponds to that adopted by Agathias. His principle of selection is unknown; it is only certain that while he omitted much that he should have retained, he has preserved much that would otherwise have perished. The extent of our obligations may be ascertained by a comparison between his anthology and that of the next editor, the monk Maximus Planudes (1320 A.D.), who has not merely grievously mutilated the anthology of Cephalas by omissions, but has disfigured it by interpolating verses of his own. We are, however, indebted to him for the preservation of the epigrams on works of art, which seem to have been accidentally omitted from our only transcript of Cephalas.

The Planudean was the only recension of the anthology known at the revival of classical literature, and was first published at Florence, by Janus Lascaris, in 1594. It long continued to be the only accessible collection, for although the Palatine MS., the sole extant copy of the anthology of Cephalas, was discovered at Heidelberg by Salmasius in 1606, it was not published until 1772, when it was included in Brunck's Analecta Veterun Poetarum Graecorum. This edition was superseded by the standard one of Friedrich Jacobs (Leipsics, 1794-1803, 13 vols.), the next of which was reprinted in a more convenient form in 1813-17, and occupies three pocket volumes in the Tauchnitz series of the classics. The best edition for general purposes is perhaps that of M. Dubner in Didot's Bibliotheca (Paris, 1864-72, which contains the Palatine Anthology, the epigrams of the Planudean Anthology not comprised in the former, an appendix of pieces derived from other sources, copious notes selected from all quarters, a literal Latin prose translation by Boissonade, Bothe, and Lapaume, and the metrical Latin versions of Hugo grotius. The best edition of the Planudean Anthology is the splendid one by Van Bosch and Van Lennep (Ulretch, 1795-182). Welcker, Meineke, and other German scholars have written valuable monographs on the Anthology.

Arrangement of the Anthology. -- The Palatine MS., the archetype of the present text, was transcribed by different persons at different times, and the actual arrangement of the collection does not correspond with that signalized in the index. It is as follows:-- Book 1, Christian epigrams; 2. Christodorus's description of certain statues; 3. Inscriptions in the temple at Cyzicus; 4. The prefaces of Meleager, Philip, and Agathias to their respective collections; 5. Amatory epigrams; 6. Votive inscriptions; 7. Epitaphs; 8. The epigrams of Gregory of Naziansus; 9. Rhetorical and illustrative epigrams; 10. Ethical pieces; 11. Humorous and convivial; 12. Strato's Movora; 13. Metrical curiosities; 14. Puzzles, enigmas, oracles, 15. Miscellanies. The epigrams on works of art, as already stated, are missing from the Codex Palatinus, and must be sought in an appendix of epigrams only occurring in the Planudean Anthology. The epigrams hitherto recovered from ancient monuments and similar sources form another appendix in the second volume of Dubner's edition.

Style and Value of the Anthology -- One of the principal claims of the Anthology to attention is derived from its continuity, its existence as a living and growing body of poetry throughout all the vicissitudes of Greek civilisation. More ambitious descriptions of composition speedily ran their course, and having attained their compete development became extinct, or at best lingered only in feeble or conventional imitations. The humbler strains of the epigrammatic muse, on the other hand, remained ever fresh and animated, ever in intimate union with the spirit of the generation that gave them birth. To peruse the entire collection, accordingly, is as it were to assist at the disinterment of an ancient city, where generation has succeeded generation on the same site, and each stratum of soil enshrines the vestiges of a distinct epoch, but where all epochs, nevertheless, combine to constitute an organic whole, and the transition from one to the other is hardly perceptible. Four stages may be indicated: - 1. The Hellenic proper, of which Simonides is the characteristic representative. This is characterized by a simple dignity of phrase, which to a modern taste almost verges upon baldness, by a crystalline transparency of diction, and by an absolute fidelity to the original conception of the epigram. Nearly all the pieces of this era are actual bona fide inscriptions or addresses to real personages, whether living or deceased; narratives, literary exercises, and sports of fancy are exceedingly rare. 2. The epigram received a great development in its second or Alexandrian era, when its range was so extended as to include anecdote, satire, and amorous longing; when epitaphs and votive inscriptions were composed on imaginary persons and things, and men of taste successively attempted the same subjects in mutual emulation, or sat down to compose verses as displays of their ingenuity. The result was a great gain in richness of style and general interest, counterbalanced by a falling off in purity of diction and sincerity of treatment. The modification, - a perfectly legitimate one, the resources of the old style being exhausted, - had its real source in the transformation of political life, but may be said to commence with and to find its best representative in the playful and elegant Leonidas of Tarentum, a contemporary of Pyrrhus, and to close with Antipater of Sidon, about 140 B.C. It should be noticed, however, that Callimachus, one of the most distinguished of the Alexandrian poets, affects the sternest simplicity in his epigrams, and copies the austerity of Simonides with as much success as an imitator can expect. 3. By a slight additional modification in the same direction, the Alexandrian passes into what, for the sake of preserving the parallelism with the eras of Greek prose literature, we may call the Roman style, although the peculiarities of its principal representative are decidedly Oriental. Meleager of Gadara was a Syrian; his taste was less severe, and his temperament more fervent than those of his Greek predecessors; his pieces are usually erotic, and their glowing imagery sometimes reminds us of the Song of Solomon. The luxuriance of his fancy occasionally betrays him into far-fetched conceits, and the lavishness of his epithets is only redeemed by their exquisite felicity. Yet his affusions are manifestly the offspring of genuine feeling, and his epitaph on himself indicates a great advance on the exclusiveness of antique Greek patriotism, and is perhaps the first clear enunciation of the spirit of universal humanity characteristic of the later Stoical philosophy. With respect to his more strictly poetical qualities, Mr. Symonds does not overpraise him when he says "his poetry has the sweetness and the splendour of the rose, the rapture and full throated melody of the nightingale." His gaiety and licentiousness are imitated and exaggerated by his somewhat later contemporary, the Epicurean Philodemus, perhaps the liveliest of any of the epigrammatists; his fancy reappears with diminished brilliancy in Philodemu's contemporary, Zonas, in Crinagoras, who wrote under Augustus, and in Marcus Argentarius, of uncertain date; his peculiar gorgeousness of colouring remain entirely his own. At a later period of the empire another, genre, hitherto comparatively in abeyance, was developed, the satirical. Lucillius, who flourished under Nero, and Lucian, more renowned in other fields of literature, display a remarkable talent for shrewd, caustic epigram, frequently embodying moral reflections of great cogency, often lashing vice and folly with signal effect, but not selfdom indulging in mere trivialities, or deformed by scoffs at personal blemishes. This style of composition is not properly Greek, but Roman; it answers to the modern definition of epigram, and has hence attained a celebrity in excess of its deserts. It is remarkable, however, as an almost solitary example of direct Latin influence on Greek literature. The same style obtains with Palladas, an Alexandrian grammarian of the 4th century, the last of the strictly classical epigrammatists, and the first to be guilty of downright bad taste. His better pieces, however, are characterized by an austere ethical impressiveness, and his literary position is very interesting, as that of an indignant but despairing opponent of Christianity. 4. The fourth or Byzantine style of epigrammatic composition was cultivated by the beaux-esprits of the court of Justinian. To a great extent this is merelyt imitative, but the circumstances of the period operated so as to produce a species of originality. The peculiarly ornate and recherchx diction of Agathias and his compeers is not a merit in itself, but applied for the firs time, it has the effect of revivifying an old form, and many of their new locutions are actual enrichments of the language. The writers, moreover, were men of genuine poetical feeling, ingenious in invention, and capable of expressing emotion with energy and livelibess; the colouring of their pieces is sometimes highly dramatic. The charge of impurity, alleged by Mr. Symonds against them as a body, applies to Rufinus alone in any considerable degree, and he is purity itself compared with Martial. There is something very touching in the attitude of these last belated stragglers towards the antique culture from which they are hopelessly severed, - their half-conscious yearning them on every side, but whose spirit had departed for ever. With them the volume of the Greek anthology is closed, for the "Christian epigrams" are totally valueless in a literary point of view.

It would be hard to exaggerate the substantial value of the Anthology, whether as a storehouse of facts bearing on antique manners, customs, and ideas, or as one among the influences which have contributed to mould the literature of the modern world. The multitudinous votive inscriptions, serious and spor6tive, connote the phases of Greek religious sentiment, from pious awe to irreverent familiarity and arcastic skepticism; the moral tone of the nation at various periods is mirrored with corresponding fidelity; the sepulchral inscriptions admit us into the inmost sanctuary of family affection, and reveal a depth and tenderness of feeling beyond the province of the historian to depict, and which we should not have surmised even from the dramatics, the general tendency of the collection is to display antiquity on its most human side, and to mitigate those contrasts with the modern world which more ambitious modes of composition force into relief. The constant reference to the details of private life renders the Anthology an inexhaustible treasury for the student of archaelogy, art, industry, and costume receive their fullest illustration from its pages. Its influence on European literatures will be appreciated in proportion to the inquirer's knowledge of each. The further his researches extend, the greater will be his astonishment at the extent to which the Anthology has been laid under contribution for thoughts which have become household words in all cultivated languages, and at the beneficial effect of the imitation of its brevity, simplicity, and absolute verbal accuracy upon the undisciplined luxuriance of modern genius.

Translations, Imitations, &c., of the Anthology. -- The best versions of the Anthology ever made are the Latin renderings of select epigrams by Hugo grotius. They have not been printed separately, but will be found in Bosch and Lennep's edition, and in Dr. Wellesley's Anthologia Polyglotta. The number of more or less professed imitations in modern languages is infinite, that of actual translations less considerable. French and Italian, indeed, are ill adapted to this purpose, from their incapacity of approximating to the form of the original, and their poets have usually contented themselves with paraphrases or imitations, often exceedingly felicitous.

Dehesme's French prose translation however (1863), is most excellent and valuable. The German language alone admits of the preservation of the original metre,-a circumstance advantageous to the German translators, Herder and Jacobs, who have not, however, compensated the loss inevitably consequent upon a change of idiom by any added beauties of their own. Though unfitted to reproduce the precise form, the English language, from its superior terseness, is better adapted to preserve the spirit of the original than the German; and the comparative ill success of many English translator must be chiefly attributed to the extremely low standard of fidelity and brevity observed by them. Bland, Merivale, and their associates (1806÷13), are often intolerably diffuse and feeble, from want, not of ability, but of painstaking. Archdeacon Wrangham's too rare versions are much morespirited; and John Sterling's translations of the inscriptions of Simonides deserve high praise. Professor Wilson (Blackwood's Magazine, 1833-35) collected and commented upon the labours of these and other translators, with his accustomed critical insight and exuberant geniality, but damaged his essay by burdening it with the indifferent attempts of William Hay. In 1849 Dr. Wellesley, principal of New Inn Hall, Oxford, published his Anthologia Polyglotta, a most valuable collection of the best translations and imitations in all languages, with the original text. In this appeared some admirable versions by Mr. Goldwin Smith and Dean Merivale, which, with the other English renderings extant at the time, will be found accompanying the literal prose translation of the Public School Selections, executed by the Rev. George Burges for Bohn's Classical Library (1854). This is a useful volume, but the editor's notes are worthless. In 1864 Major R. Macgregor published an almost complete translation of the Anthology, a work of stupendous industry and fidelity, which almost redeem the general mediocrity of the execution. Idylls and Epigrams, by R. Garnett (1869), include about 140 translations or imitations, with some original compositions in the same style. An agreeable little volume on the Anthology, by Lord Neaves, is one of Collin's series of Ancient Classics for Modern Readers. Two recent critical contributions to the subject should be noticed, the Rev. James Davie's essay on Epigrams, in the Quarterly Review (vol. cxvii.), especially valuable for its lucid illustration of the distinction between Greek and Latin epigram; and the brilliant disquisition in Mr. J.A. Symonds's Studies of the Greek Poets (1873). (R. G.)

This article was written by Richard Garnett, LL.D., C.B., Assistant in the British Museum, 1851; Superintendant of Reading Room, 1875; Keeper of Printed Books, 1890-1899; edited the British Museum Catalogue from 1881 to 1890; author of Idylls and Epigrams from Greek Anthology; Relics of Shelley; Twilight of the Gods; Life of Milton; Age of Dryden; William Blake; A History of Italian Literature; and Life of Edward Gibbon Wakefield.

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