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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 ?
It is an engagement with epitaphic imagery that is at once figurative and literal, imagery of the kind that led Hazlitt to characterize Wordsworth's writings generally as "mournful requiems over the grave of human hopes.
Some epitaphic verse was written anonymously, such as the elegiac ballad "Careless Jim," which appears in Sladen's anthology in a brief appendix of "Bush Songs.
A literal doubling of inscription had occurred already in the earliest act of Australian epitaphic composition.
The epitaphic voice so frequently heard in Harpur's lines resonates with much other Australian verse of the colonial period.
Joshua Scodel claims in The English Poetic Epitaph that this address to the unknown "Stranger," often coupled with the term "friend," emerged as a characteristic epitaphic mode around the middle of the eighteenth century.
The Siste Viator address occurs in various forms in a large number of Wordsworth's epitaphic poems.
The epitaphic form had many advantages for Wordsworth's poetics.
Yet, the predicate for prosopopoeia is always also a silence, absence, or equally enigmatic force that fictively elicits response from the "absent, deceased or voiceless [prosopopoeic] entity" (77), As such, prosopopoeia is "the dominant figure of the epitaphic or autobiographical discourse .
Epistolary or poetic efforts to figure such scenes of suspended animation yield instants in which epitaphic utterance is directed to as well as from the dead.
It is the temporal jolt of an epitaphic postscript: "Matthew is in his grave now.
The content of the statements that follow not only tell the "stranger" that the scene before her is not, after all, "a Ruin," or "a Cairn," or even--perhaps--a "rude embryo" in a literal sense, all of which thematically underwrite the epitaphic mode, but inform the reader that the scene is actually a memorial to an "outrage," a shame rather than a glory, a frivolous luxury given up because it might chance to be trespassed upon by someone--a would-be "freeman"--whose circumstances probably leave little space for frivolity or luxury, and who is unlikely to be a reader.
For an account of the haunting interpellation of epitaphic address, see Debra Fried, "Repetition, Refrain, and Epitaph," ELH 54 (1996): 615-32.