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epigram, a short, polished, pithy saying, usually in verse, often with a satiric or paradoxical twist at the end. The term was originally applied by the Greeks to the inscriptions on stones. The epigrams of the Latin poet Martial established the form for many later writers. In England the epigram flourished in the work of innumerable poets including Donne, Herrick, Ben Jonson, Pope, Byron, Coleridge, and Walter Savage Landor. Great German epigrammatists include Logau, Lessing, and Herder. In 18th-century France, Boileau-Despréaux, Lebrun, and Voltaire excelled in the form. Poets of the 20th cent. who are noted for their epigrams include Yeats, Pound, Roy Campbell, and Ogden Nash. One of the most brilliant of prose epigrammatists was Oscar Wilde. His works are studded with epigrams, such as “I can resist everything except temptation.”
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) In classical poetry, a short lyric poem of unspecified content written in the elegiac distich form. Eventually epigrams were written on certain specific themes. For example, they were often written as inscriptions on objects offered to the gods. Some epigrams were didactic, epitaphial, descriptive, or satirical in theme, while others were devoted to love or the joys of the table.

In Greek literature the epigram reached its peak in the work of the Hellenistic poets of the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. These made up the larger part of the Greek Anthology, a work in 16 books. In Roman literature the epigram flourished in the satirical works of Martial in the first century A.D The traditions of the classical epigram were continued in the Byzantine and Latin literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Later these traditions were only occasionally revived, notably in Goethe’s Venetian Epigrams.

(2) In modern European poetry, a short poem usually based on the contrast of a gradual exposition and a final witticism. Epigrams of this type are found in French poetry of the 16th and 17th centuries, based on motifs derived from Martial. They flourished in the 18th century in the works of Voltaire, J.-B. Rousseau, G. E. Lessing, R. Burns, and A. P. Sumarokov. A nontraditional epigram,which developed parallel to the traditional one, was written in direct response to topical, often political events. A. S. Pushkin wrote epigrams of both types. The first type includes works such as “Movement” and “The Curious One,” while the second type includes epigrams on A. A. Arakcheev and F. V. Bulgarin.

By the mid-19th century epigrams of the traditional type began to die out, while those of the topical variety continued as a minor genre. Topical epigrams were written by several 19th-century Russian writers, including D. D. Minaev, and are represented in Soviet literature by the work of A. Arkhangel’skii and S. Vasil’ev.


Grecheskaia epigramma. Edited by F. A. Petrovskii. Moscow, 1960.
Russkaia epigramma vtoroi poloviny XVII—nach. XX v. Leningrad, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a short, pungent, and often satirical poem, esp one having a witty and ingenious ending
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Most of them are court poems, which combine Christian themes with eulogy of King Charles the Bald; there are also a few witty epigrams. One of their peculiarities is the use of Greek (a language mastered by very few Carolingian scholars)--Greek words and phrases appear throughout the poetry and several of the poems are entirely in Greek.
Martial has many epigrams addressed to a certain Postumus, who was his intimate friend (Martial's Epigrams, II, 10; 12, 21, 23, 67; IV, 26; V, 52, 58).
The purpose of this research is to determine the number of words used by primary school 3rd, 5th and 7th grade students while talking about proverbs, idioms and epigrams in the cases where visualized materials are used or not.
In the 1st century AD, Cyllenius wrote an epigram on the same theme:
An aspect of the epigram that remains largely unexplored is its pointed ambivalence, especially in relation to its paratextuality, temporality, and teleological structure.
Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski, known Maffectionately as "Casimir" in early modern Britain, was a major neo-Latin poet whose work--consisting of 133 odes in the style of Horace grouped into four "books" and 145 epigrams in the style of Martial--raised admiration across Europe at a time when Latin was the international language of the educated class and when the literary authority of the Ancients remained unchallenged.
Believing that honesty will expose Stalin's terror, Osip writes a poem--"The Stalin Epigram"--that compares the dictator to a brutal killer.
remaking shows better than anything that the lusters of epigram were
Feature Writer: Kate Quilton, Epigram, Bristol; Andy Johnson, Gair Rhydd; Noor Kadhim, Isis, Oxford; Chris Gourlay, Leeds Student; Jaimie Hodgson, Smiths.
The epigram, widely practiced in the early seventeenth century, has received remarkably little attention from scholars, and the religious epigram, as a distinct application of the form, has attracted almost none.
The Dead Indian Epigram: For many of our ancestors openmindedness often meant a head shot.