Nature of the Epigram:
"I've often heard of your wasps and hornets but little thought such
diminutive insects could give me such a sting!"
From Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities,
by William Shepard Walsh:
From the Greek "to inscribe," an epigram was originally a commemorative allusion to some remarkable event or individual, generally poetically worded.
The transition from commemorative inscription to verse for artistic reasons was natural enough, giving utterance to thoughts which might have served as inscriptions.
During his lifetime the Latin poet, Martial (AD 43), wrote more than 1500 epigrams, eminently qualifying him to write an epigram on an epigram:
An epigram should be, if right,
Short, simple, pointed, keen, and bright—
A lively thing!
Like wasp with taper body, bound
By lines—not many—neat and round,
All ending in a sting.
Epigrams have come to embody the wit of centuries.
Being brief, they are necessarily restrained by:
1. Conciseness of expression
The lines of Simonides, commemorative of Leonidas and his army, engraved on pillars set up at Thermopylæ:
Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by,
That here, obedient to her laws, we lie.
2. Pregnancy of meaning
This witty epigram is suggestive: Give Mr. Winter a wide berth.
Here comes Mr. Winter, surveyor of taxes,
I advise you to give him whatever he axes,
And that without any nonsense or flummery,
For though his name's Winter, his actions are summary.
3. Purity of diction
The epigram may be an elegy, a satire, or a love-poem in miniature; an embodiment of the wisdom of the ages, or a bon-mot set off with a couple of rhymes:
4. Singleness of thoughtI loved thee beautiful and kind,
And plighted an eternal vow;
So altered are thy face and mind,
'Twere perjury to love thee now.
The number of lampooning epigrammatic verses directed against the common foibles, the painting women and the soporific parson, the rascally lawyer and the quack doctor, the miser and the plagiarist, are legion, and they usually incorporate a single barb.
Epi- Cheat sheet:Woman.When Adam, waking, first his lids unfolds
In Eden's groves, beside him he beholds
Bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, and knows
His earliest sleep has proved his last repose.
Ep'igram, n. [Gr. inscription; a writing.] A short poem treating only of one thing, and ending with some lively, ingenious and natural thought. Conciseness and point form the beauty of epigrams. Epigrams were originally inscriptions on tombs, statures, temples, triumphal arches, &c.
Ep'igraph, n. [Gr. to write.] Among antiquaries, an inscription on a building, pointing out the time of its erection, the building, its uses, &c.
Ep'ithet, n. [Gr. a name added; to place.] An adjective expressing some real quality of the thing to which it is applied, or an attributive expressing some quality ascribed to it; as a verdant lawn; a just man; rosy-fingered dawn; wiley Odysseus.
Ep'itaph, n. [Gr. a sepulcher.] 1. An inscription on a monument, in honor or memory of the dead. 2. An eulogy, in prose or verse, composed without any intent to be engraven on a monument.