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Greek poetry: Epigrams by Cydias, Plato, Anyte, and Antiphanes

Every so often I try to dissect poetry from a tome titled World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time . It does not skimp on the poetry. It does, however, skimp on context. While the editors provide a general introduction to the main divisions and some dates, they provide (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) no info on individual authors and no context for specific works. It’s been my grumble since page 1 and it’s likely I’ll continue to grumble about this until I finish the book. If I finish the book.

Today, I have a bunch of short items. The first is by Cydias and was written, so the book says, about 400 BCE:


Beware. There are fawns
who, facing the lion
die of fright just thinking
the lion might be hungry . (p. 121)

Of Cydias, I could find no biography information. However, this enigmatic little epigram has nothing to with wildlife but more about sexual predation. Some things just don’t change.

The next is by Plato (c. 427-347 BCE)—yes, THAT Plato:


You were the morning star among the living;
But now in death your evening lights the dead. (p. 121)

This is apparently written for a man named Aster who died. I could find nothing else about him. There is a temptation to make him a lover of Plato’s, and while this is possible, of course, I personally don’t see a reason to weigh in one way or the other.

Next is Anyte (c. 390-350 BCE):


I, Hermes have been set up
Where three roads cross, by the windy
Orchard above the grey beach.
Here tired men may rest from travel,
By my cold, clean whispering spring. (p. 121)

Anyte of Tegea was a lyric female poet known for her epigrams, though next to nothing is known of her life. Hermes is, among other things, a god of travelers (and thieves) so setting up a statue by a spring where travelers might rest would seem fitting. This bit of poetry also creates a nice picture. I have no idea how it reads in the original, but Anyte seems to have known what she was about. It’s easy to see why the ancients preserved her stuff.

The last is Antiphanes (388-311 BCE):


A strange race of critics
The perform autopsies on
the poetry of the dead.
Sad bookworms,
they chew through thorns.

No poet’s too dull
for them to elucidate, these who defile
the bones of the great.
Callimachus attacked them like a dog.
Out! Into the long darkness.
Perpetual beginner, little gnat—
It is a poet you distract. (pp. 121-122)

How bizarre that I’ve read this recently, though I don’t recall where. According to Wikipedia, Antiphanes was one of the most prolific writers of Middle Attic comedy. And apparently, as Mel Brooks also once demonstrated, the uneasy relationship between artist and critic also goes way back.


Last Review: “Keep Out!” by Fredric Brown

Last Poetry Review: Parody by A. E. Housman and Comedy by Aristophanes



©2015 Denise Longrie


Antye of Tegea

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Gossamer wrote on September 26, 2015, 11:44 AM

I'm sure the Ancient Greek poets, had they known about haikus, would have done well with them.

msiduri wrote on September 26, 2015, 3:52 PM

I'm sure they would. They'd probably do well with kabuki theater, too.

AliCanary wrote on September 28, 2015, 4:52 PM

I've heard of all these poets except for Anyte, which figures, and is annoying, because she is female. I liked her work, but I really did like all of them, especially the Antiphanes poem about little devouring bugs being critics, or critics being little devouring bugs. However, although I have heard of the term epigram, I can't remember what type of poem it is. "Epi" is Greek for "upon", so I can't get quite enough info from that. Are they related to epitaphs? The Plato and Antiphanes work seems to be post-mortem, but not the other two.

msiduri wrote on September 28, 2015, 6:03 PM

No, they're not related as far as I can tell. The etymology I found is "epi" = "upon, over, on," etc., "gram" = "written or drawn." But the word itself deals with any witty, terse poetic saying. Oscar Wilde had a way with them, ferinstance.