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a foreign air to what should appear familiar: e. g. Clearista, Heliodora, Zenophile, Phanion, Ereutho, the names of females, and several others equally unfit to harmonize with English words.
It is necessary to mention the impropriety of combining in our minds with the word Epigram, when applied to Greek compositions which bear the name, any of the ideas which that term is apt to excite in the mind of a mere English scholar, or one who is conversant only with those works of Martial and Ausonius, which are so called. It is owing chiefly to this impropriety, that those beautiful remains of antiquity are so little known to the English reader, and that so few have been familiarized to him through the medium of translation.
They relate to subjects that will be interesting and affecting as long as youth and gaiety delight, as wine and flowers and beau
ty captivate; or the contrary ideas of old age, and death, sickness, banishment, neglected love, or forsaken friendship can melt into pleasing sorrow, or chasten into mild melancholy.
The term Epigram, which literally signifies an Inscription, was first appropriated to those short sentences which were inscribed on offerings made in temples. It was afterwards transferred to the inscription on the temple gate, thence to other edifices, and the statues of gods and heroes, and men whether living or dead; and the term remained whether the inscription was in verse or prose. Such was that very antient one on the tomb of Cyrus. Ω άνθρωπε, εγω Κυρος, ο την αρχην τοις Περσαις κλησαμενος και της Ασιης βασιλευς" μη εν φθονησης τα μνηματος. . The brevity of these inscriptions which rendered it so easy to impress on the memory any particular event, or any illustrious name, soon recommended them for other
The lawgiver adopted them to convey a moral
precept, and the lover to express a tender sentiment; and hence in process of time almost every little poem which concisely presented one distinct idea, or pursued one general argument, acquired the title of Epigram.
But the small poems which claim the greatest attention, are those which are written as memorials of the dead, as tokens of regard for living beauty or virtue, or as passing observations and brief sketches of human life.
The excellence belonging to the Greek inscriptions in honor of the dead, consists in the happy introduction of their names and peculiar characters or occupations. The lines inscribed by Pope to the illustrious dead have been well called
Epitaphs to let.” The omission of the name is not their only defect. The virtues so liberally bestowed have nothing in them of discrimination, and would set equally
easy on the shoulders of any other good or great personage. They are “ the
of knaves"__" honest courtiers"_"statesmen, yet friends to truth"-"uncorrupted e'en among the great,"
“ And they are all, alt honourable men."
Yet their very names, and distinguishing marks of character are forgotten in the rhymes built to their immortality.
In the tributes presented to beauty the same characteristic mark is observable. An English lover has seldom contented himself with the picture of his Amanda, until he has rified the rose of its bloom and sweetness for her cheek and breath; beds of coral of their redness for her lips; the snows of Lapland of their whiteness and coldness for her complexion and discretion, and the oyster of its pearl for her teeth. The clearest rills must be the reservoirs for her tears, and the noonday sun must be shorn of his beams to furnish the bright
ness of her smiles. A standard is kept for her height, and a zone for her waist, beyond which she cannot poetically grow. Then she is, ten to one, deaf and obdurate as the rock, cruel and inconstant as the sea, or, what is infinitely worse, gentle and attached as the turtle dove; and all these contributions from nature must be strung together by some tame conceit, enough to freeze the first emotion of favor towards the writer. A Greek lover never labours at a picture for which the colours must be so far fetched. Indeed he seldom gives any picture at all. He has been favoured or repulsed, as it may happen; the occasion
to suggest one natural turn of thought; and, contenting himself with a delineation of what he felt, and not what he might feel, he has done as much as the circumstance required, and no more.
The short observations on human life, couched in Greek Epigrams, are ever of a melancholy cast: a complaint on the ills of