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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
It just adds one more intermediary, the epigrammatist, who created the fiction of a speaking urn and puts the speaker into the role of a reader.
But a religious epigrammatist was ridiculing another from a committed position of loyalty to his own church, beliefs or customs.
To the passionate epigrammatist, the tribulations of romantic relationships are fertile territory:
One of Jonson's surviving copies of Martial contains various marginalia that deal with certain of the os impurum-epigrams and that also reply to censures of the Roman epigrammatist's style by recent commentators.
This apparent merging of poet and persona leads Gutzwiller to assert that in this group of epigrams Anyte offers a "feminine perspective on death expressed through a chorus of female voices--grieving mothers, dying daughters, and the epigrammatist herself .
Puttenham notes that it is particularly the comical poet and the epigrammatist who engage in this kind of wordplay.
Koln 204 in 1985 Mnasalces is no longer to tee thought of as an exclusively elegiac epigrammatist.
Instead, Fitz-Geffry had exercised his power as epigrammatist to depict him with a fictionalized name in a satiric epigram.
Here Pittacus' city of origin has prompted Constantine the Rhodian's outright invention of Alcaeus' authorship (as so often, the epigrammatist Alcaeus has been confused with his namesake the Iyric poet of Mytilene, who was known to have been a contemporary of Pittacus);(6) Constantine Cephalas seems to have had a special interest in Alcaeus the epigrammatist: cf.
German epigrammatist noted for his direct, unostentatious style.
Welsh epigrammatist whose perfect mastery of the Latin language brought him the name of "the British Martial," after the ancient Roman poet.
Greek lyric poet and epigrammatist who appears to have originated the epinicion ode in honor of victors in the Olympic Games, his epinicion of 520 BC being the earliest recorded.