Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.


strictly, an inscription on a tomb; by extension, a statement, usually in verse, commemorating the dead. The earliest such inscriptions are those found on Egyptian sarcophagi. In England epitaphs did not begin to assume a literary character until the time of Elizabeth I. Ben Jonson, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Samuel Johnson were considered masters of the art. The epitaph on Ben Jonson's own tomb in Westminster Abbey was splendidly brief: "O rare Ben Jonson!" Epitaphs are often humorous. It is not known whether the epitaph printed below is amusing by design or by accident: Here lie I Martin Elginbrodde: Have mercy on my soul, Lord God, As I wad do, were I Lord God, And ye were Martin Elginbrodde.



a gravestone inscription, generally in verse. A verse epitaph is a short poem, usually with a message to the deceased or from the deceased to passersby, for example, “Passerby, stop! . . .”

An epitaph may be an actual inscription on a gravestone or a short literary work, written as if for a gravestone, appearing in a collection of poetry. In European literature the epitaph developed as a variation of the classical epigram; noteworthy early epitaphs include those by Simonides of Ceos (fifth century B.C.). A popular genre in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the age of classicism, the epitaph subsequently came to be little used. The parodie or satiric epitaph, such as those written by R. Burns, is similar to the epigram of modern times and has survived longer than other types of epitaph. In modern times, epitaphs on gravestones or memorials that have literary merit are a rare phenomenon; an example is A. V. Lunacharskii’s epitaph to the fighters of the revolution on the Field of Mars.

References in periodicals archive ?
In these ways, the epitaph allowed Wordsworth both to represent and to justify his poetics in relation to an emerging print market public of readers from all social classes.
Newstock, Quoting Death in Early Modern England: The Poetics of Epitaphs Beyond the Tomb, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
The current winner is "He should never have been driving an Aston that quickly with a young blond on his knee after drinking all that Champagne, even if it was his 110th birthday." Sadly, it is easier to choose an imaginary epitaph than to choose how or where you would prefer this inevitable event to take place.
In the opening sentence of his introduction entitled "Introduction: Re-citing 'Epitaph' and 'Genre' in Early Modern England," Newstok forthrightly declares the topic and scope of his study: "Here is what this book is all about" (1).
Barberini's epitaph: Hic jacet pulvis, cinis et nihil.
The band will be making an appearance at HMV in Queen Street on Monday from 5pm to meet fans and sign copies of I Don't Care (This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things), which is taken from their album The Best In Town and released by Epitaph Records on the same day.
What would you like as an epitaph? Good bloke and he could act...
What mistakes John Poulson may have made, I would be happy to have his words about me from the dock as my epitaph. 'He seemed to have an obsession to create a better world'.
Her epitaph is accidental in that she created a spirit or representation of herself before dying or knowledge of dying, but this picture of herself has nevertheless been left as an imprint on our own spirits.
An Epitaph for German Judaism: From Halle to Jerusalem, by Emil Fackenheim.
The epitaph on the gravestone of miner Edward Owen, inspired The Ballad of Edward Owen, Miner, which Richard describes as a "docuballet".
for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat, originally published almost fifty years ago, reminds us that David Markson (as David Markson) has done some slumming too, and that, like his fellow moonlighters, Markson was not, when writing pulp, attempting to produce literature.