The Hellenistic Epigram and the Roman Poets of the Augustan Period


  • Jelena Isak Kres



ancient literature, epigram, Hellenistic epigram


The paper surveys »Greece through Roman eyes« by searching individual Hellenistic literary epigrams for traces of their impact on the Augustan poets, especially on Vergil, but also on Horace, Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid. The first section focuses on those passages which echo the poetry of the older generation of epigrammatists (4th—3rd century B.C.), particularly Callimachus, Posidippus, and Asclepiades, and the second on those which allude to epigrams composed by the younger generation of Greek authors from the archaic and classical periods of Latin literature, such as Damagetus, Dioscorides, Philodemus, and Crinagoras. Besides the echoes of Greek poetry in the Roman poets’ passages, the paper examines in what ways and to what degree Roman history and Roman authors marked such Greek epigrammatists as Antipater of Sidon or Philip of Thessalonica. A key observation seems to be that Roman authors, albeit they may have written epigrams themselves, nevertheless preferred to embed fragments of epigrammatic poetry (or allusions to it) in their longer works, as Vergil did in his Eclogues or the Aeneid. One way in which Vergil played on epigrammatic discourse was to include in the Aeneid recognisable motifs from the Hellenistic literary epigram (e.g. by Anyte and Damagetus), and to treat implicitly through these motifs, embedded in a new context, the same thematic problems as the model epigrams did. Another interesting observation is that the (supposed) allusions do not refer exclusively to Greek epigrams but sometimes even to epigrammatic discourse within other poetry genres. An example is Vergil’s passage on Daphnis’ death in the Eclogues, which continues, and alludes to, Theocritus’ episode in the Idylls. While Theocritus’ passage on Daphnis’ death imitates the discourse of funerary epigrams in the voice of Thyrsis or Daphnis himself, Vergil’s passage actually contains a kind of rounded-off, spoken mythological epitaph. Later, in the Aeneid, predicting the sad fate of Marcellus the Younger, Vergil uses the voice of Anchises to imitate funerary epigrammatic discourse through a twofold allusion: Anchises’ words call to mind both Dioscorides’ epigram on the death of Aleximeneus and Vergil’s own passage on the death of Daphnis in theEclogues. The Marcellus passage thus evokes the atmosphere of ritually resuscitating the dead Aleximeneus by his own music, as well as displays the adynaton from Thyrsis’ song, which is ingeniously embedded by Vergil in the lament for the deceased Daphnis, together with his final apotheosis.


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