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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
In these revisions, Moore never allows the epigrammatic to win out over "local" quantities of visual description.
STAND-UP COMEDIANS, because their success usually relies on being able to think in short, epigrammatic bursts, rarely venture into the realm of more extended prose writing.
Among the many subjects Schoenberg investigates are "The Laws of Musical Coherence," the "Elements of Form," "The Difference between Gestalt and Phrase," "Sonority as a Formative Element," "Accentuation and Nonaccentuation," "Mirror Forms," "The Structural Capacities of the Scale," "Extramusical Means of Coherence," the "Origins of Repetitions," and "The Constructive Function of Harmony." Some of these sections are quite short; in fact, almost epigrammatic. (Schoenberg liked epigrams.) Others, however, are lengthy, and follow a detailed, clear, and sequential logic.
Placing his characters under a microscope like a scientist observing a new strain of bacteria, he arms them with epigrammatic existential wordplay as they despairingly try to make sense of life and find meaning in a terrifyingly unfathomable universe.
This informative study of the Xenien examines Goethe's and Schiller's aggressively provocative epigrammatic poems as an independent, innovative genre.
embedded epigrammatic crystals of the first water, crisp-faceted jewelry
But Wiltse's approach is ultimately modern, powered by a glib style that skips over the tedium of small talk and goes straight to the snappy lines, epigrammatic observations and libidinous foolishness.
Dense and epigrammatic, the play turns overly schematic at times, dictating the audience's responses in a way that Tom Stoppard or David Hare would disdain.
(The text will be spoken and heard in Nashville in an English translation by Gunda Mapache and Helge Hubner.) Scharfenberg describes the play as drawing from "diverse sources of the human experience and [using] diverse styles of narration: monologue, dialogue, epigrammatic sentences, repetitions of former passages." The structure, she continues, "is an open one--fragmentary as well as coherent, life-like as well as fictitious, and multisource."
The writing, while complex, is clear and engaging and occasionally borders on the epigrammatic: "Christianity has never quite foresworn the sacrality of chthonic dark" (107).
Peter Kolchin's epigrammatic claim that "almost every historical statement of significance is implicitly comparative" is followed by the equally provocative suggestion that "disagreements among scholars often rest more on the differing comparative frameworks that implicitly underlie their judgment than on differing understandings of what actually happened" (116).
In its dazzling display of epigrammatic virtuosity, Earnest is a heroically sustained frolic of polished witticisms lampooning the proprieties and conventions of class.