Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology
J. W. Mackail

Part 2 out of 6

implements of their craft are dedicated by the carpenter and the
goldsmith; the young girl and the aged woman offer their even slighter
gift, the spindle and distaff, the reel of wool, and the rush-woven
basket.[28] A staff of wild-olive cut in the coppice is accepted by
the lord of the myriad-boughed forest; the Muses are pleased with
their bunch of roses wet with morning dew.[29] The boy Daphnis offers
his fawnskin and scrip of apples to the great divinity of Pan;[30] the
young herdsman and his newly-married wife, still with the rose-garland
on her hair, make prayer and thanksgiving with a cream cheese and a
piece of honeycomb to the mistress of a hundred cities, Aphrodite with
her house of gold.[31] The hard and laborious life of the small farmer
was touched with something of the natural magic that saturates the
Georgics; "rich with fair fleeces, and fair wine, and fair fruit of
corn," and blessed by the gracious Seasons whose feet pass over the
furrows.[32] On the green slope Pan himself makes solitary music to
the shepherd in the divine silence of the hills.[33] The fancy of
three brothers, a hunter, a fowler, and a fisherman, meeting to make
dedication of the spoils of their crafts to the country-god, was one
which had a special charm for epigrammatists; it is treated by no less
than nine poets, whose dates stretch over as many centuries.[34] Sick
of cities, the imagination turned to an Arcadia that thenceforth was
to fill all poetry with the music of its names and the fresh chill of
its pastoral air; the lilied banks of Ladon, the Erymanthian water,
the deep woodland of Pholoë and the grey steep of Cyllene.[35] Nature
grew full of a fresh and lovely divinity. A spirit dwells under the
sea, and looks with kind eyes on the creatures that go up and down in
its depths; Artemis flashes by in the rustle of the windswept oakwood,
and the sombre shade of the pines makes a roof for Pan; the wild hill
becomes a sanctuary, for ever unsown and unmown, where the Spirit of
Nature, remote and invisible, feeds his immortal flock and fulfils his

[1] Od. iii. 47.

[2] Anth. Pal. vii. 733; cf. also v. 14 in this selection.

[3] Cf. Thuc. vii. 86.

[4] Anth. Pal. iv. 3, ll. 113-116.

[5] Ibid. vi. 105; x. 14.

[6] Ibid. vi. 251; cf. v. 3 in this selection.

[7] App. Plan. 227; Anth. Pal. x. 12.

[8] App. Plan. 291; Anth. Pal. vi. 22, 119, ix. 144, x. 8, 10.

[9] Anth. Pal. x. 11, vi. 98.

[10] Ibid. ix. 334.

[11] Ibid. vii. 694.

[12] Thuc. v. 11; Arist. Eth. v. 7.

[13] Anth. Pal. xiv. 71.

[14] v. 15 in this selection.

[15] Fr. anon. 719.

[16] {ou mentoi soi Alkinou ge apologon ero}, Plato, Rep. 614 B.

[17] {To zen gar ismen tou thanein d apeiria
Pas tis phobeitai phos lipein tod eliou}--Eurip. Phoenix, fr. 9.

[18] Hdt. v. 60, 61.

[19] See Kaibel, Epigr. Gr. 738-742.

[20] Anth. Pal. vi. 53.

[21] Anth. Pal. x. 6, vi. 70.

[22] Ibid. ix. 7, vi. 70.

[23] Ibid. vi. 30, 25, 21, 178, 127.

[24] Ibid. vi. 337; cf. Theocr. Idyl xxii.

[25] Frag. incert. 257, {tout esti to zen oukh eauto zen monon}.

[26] Anth. Pal. x. 10, 24.

[27] Ibid. vi. 98, {ek mikron oligista}.

[28] Ibid. vi. 98, 102; 103, 92; 174, 247.

[29] Ibid. vi. 3, 336.

[30] Ibid. vi. 177.

[31] Ibid. vi. 55; cf. vi. 119, xii. 131.

[32] Anth. Pal. vi. 31, 98.

[33] App. Plan. 17; cf. Lucret. v. 1387.

[34] Anth. Pal. vi. 11-16, and 179-187. The poets are Leonidas of
Tarentum, Alcaeus of Messene, Antipater of Sidon, Alexander,
Julius Diocles, Satyrus, Archias, Zosimus and Julianus Aegyptius.

[35] Anth. Pal. vi. 111, App. Plan. 188: compare Song iii. in Milton's

[36] Anth. Pal. x. 8; vi. 253, 268; vi. 79.


Though the section of the Palatine Anthology dealing with works of
art, if it ever existed, is now completely lost, we have still left a
considerable number of epigrams which come under this head. Many are
preserved in the Planudean Anthology. Many more, on account of the
cross-division of subjects that cannot be avoided in arranging any
collection of poetry, are found in other sections of the Palatine
Anthology. It was a favourite device, for example, to cast a criticism
or eulogy of an author or artist into the form of an imaginary
epitaph; and this was often actually inscribed on a monument, or
beneath a bust, in the galleries or gardens of a wealthy /virtuoso/.
Thus the sepulchral epigrams include inscriptions of this sort of many
of the most distinguished names of Greek literature. They are mainly
on poets and philosophers; Homer and Hesiod, the great tragedians and
comedians, the long roll of the lyric poets, most frequently among
them Sappho, Alcman, Erinna, Archilochus, Pindar, and the whole line
of philosophers from Thales and Anaxagoras down to the latest teachers
in the schools of Athens. Often in those epigrams some vivid epithet
or fine touch of criticism gives a real value to them even now; the
"frowning towers" of the Aeschylean tragedy, the trumpet-note of
Pindar, the wealth of lovely flower and leaf, crisp Archanian ivy,
rose and vine, that clusters round the tomb of Sophocles.[1] Those on
the philosophers are, as one would expect, generally of inferior

Many again are to be found among the miscellaneous section of
epideictic epigrams. Instances which deal with literature directly are
the noble lines of Alpheus on Homer, the interesting epigram on the
authorship of the /Phaedo/, the lovely couplet on the bucolic
poets.[2] Some are inscriptions for libraries or collections;[3]
others are on particular works of art. Among these last, epigrams on
statues or pictures dealing with the power of music are specially
notable; the conjunction, in this way, of the three arts seems to have
given peculiar pleasure to the refined and eclectic culture of the
Graeco-Roman period. The contest of Apollo and Marsyas, the piping of
Pan to Echo, and the celebrated subject of the Faun listening for the
sound of his own flute,[4] are among the most favourite and the most
gracefully treated of this class. Even more beautiful, however, than
these, and worthy to take rank with the finest "sonnets on pictures"
of modern poets, is the epigram ascribed to Theocritus, and almost
certainly written for a picture,[5] which seems to place the whole
world of ancient pastoral before our eyes. The grouping of the figures
is like that in the famous Venetian Pastoral of Giorgione; in both
alike are the shadowed grass, the slim pipes, the hand trailing upon
the viol-string. But the execution has the matchless simplicity, the
incredible purity of outline, that distinguishes Greek work from that
of all other races.

A different view of art and literature, and one which adds
considerably to our knowledge of the ancient feeling about them, is
given by another class of pieces, the irrisory epigrams of the
Anthology. Then, as now, people were amused by bad and bored by
successful artists, and delighted to laugh at both; then, as now, the
life of the scholar or the artist had its meaner side, and lent itself
easily to ridicule from without, to jealousy and discontent from
within. The air rang with jeers at the portrait-painter who never got
a likeness, the too facile composer whose body was to be burned on a
pile of five-and-twenty chests all filled with his own scores, the bad
grammar of the grammarian, the supersubtle logic and the cumbrous
technical language of the metaphysician, the disastrous fertility of
the authors of machine-made epics.[6] The poor scholar had become
proverbial; living in a garret where the very mice were starved,
teaching the children of the middle classes for an uncertain pittance,
glad to buy a dinner with a dedication, and gradually petrifying in
the monotony of a thousand repetitions of stock passages and lectures
to empty benches.[7] Land and sea swarmed with penniless
grammarians.[8] The epigrams of Palladas of Alexandria bring before us
vividly the miseries of a schoolmaster. Those of Callimachus shew with
as painful clearness how the hatred of what was bad in literature
might end in embittering the whole nature.[9] Many epigrams are extant
which indicate that much of a scholar's life, even when he had not to
earn bitter bread on the stairs of patrons, was wasted in laborious
pedantry or in personal jealousies and recriminations.[10]

Of epigrams on individual works of art it is not necessary to say
much. Their numbers must have been enormous. The painted halls and
colonnades, common in all Greek towns, had their stories told in verse
below; there was hardly a statue or picture of any note that was not
the subject of a short poem. A collected series of works of art had
its corresponding series of epigrams. The Anthology includes, among
other lists, a description of nineteen subjects carved in relief on
the pedestals of the columns in a temple at Cyzicus, and another of
seventy-three bronze statues which stood in the great hall of a
gymnasium at Constantinople.[11] Any celebrated work like the Niobe of
Praxiteles, or the bronze heifer of Myron, was the practising-ground
for every tried or untried poet, seeking new praise for some clever
conceit or neater turn of language than had yet been invented.
Especially was this so with the trifling art of the decadence and its
perpetual round of childish Loves: Love ploughing, Love holding a fish
and a flower as symbols of his sovereignty over sea and land, Love
asleep on a pepper-castor, Love blowing a torch, Love grasping or
breaking the thunderbolt, Love with a helmet, a shield, a quiver, a
trident, a club, a drum.[12] Enough of this class of epigrams are
extant to be perfectly wearisome, were it not that, like the engraved
gems from which their subjects are principally taken, they are all,
however trite in subject or commonplace in workmanship, wrought in the
same beautiful material, in that language which is to all other
languages as a gem to an ordinary pebble.

From these sources we are able to collect a body of epigrams which in
a way cover the field of ancient art and literature. Sometimes they
preserve fragments of direct criticism, verbal or real. We have
epigrams on fashions in prose style, on conventional graces of
rhetoric, on the final disappearance of ancient music in the sixth
century.[13] Of art-criticism in the modern sense there is but little.
The striking epigram of Parrhasius, on the perfection attainable in
painting,[14] is almost a solitary instance. Pictures and statues are
generally praised for their actual or imagined realism. Silly stories
like those of the birds pecking at the grapes of Zeuxis, or the calf
who went up to suck the bronze cow of Myron, represent the general
level of the critical faculty. Even Aristotle, it must be remembered,
who represents the most finished Greek criticism, places the pleasure
given by works of art in the recognition by the spectator of things
which he has already seen. "The reason why people enjoy seeing
pictures is that the spectators learn and infer what each object is;
/this/, they say, /is so and so/; while if one has not seen the thing
before, the pleasure is produced not by the imitation,"--or by the
art, for he uses the two terms convertibly--"but by the execution, the
colour, or some such cause."[15] And Plato (though on this subject one
can never be quite sure that Plato is serious) talks of the graphic
art as three times removed from realities, being only employed to make
copies of semblances of the external objects which are themselves the
copies or shadows of the ideal truth of things.[16] So far does Greek
thought seem to be from the conception of an ideal art which is nearer
truth than nature is, which nature itself indeed tries with perpetual
striving, and ever incomplete success, to copy, which, as Aristotle
does in one often quoted passage admit with regard to poetry, has a
higher truth and a deeper seriousness than that of actual things.

But this must not be pressed too far. The critical faculty, even where
fully present, may be overpowered by the rhetorical impulse; and of
all forms of poetry the epigram has the greatest right to be fanciful.
"This is the Satyr of Diodorus; if you touch it, it will awake; the
silver is asleep,"[17]--obviously this play of fancy has nothing to do
with serious criticism. And of a really serious feeling about art
there is sufficient evidence, as in the pathos of the sculptured
Ariadne, happy in sleeping and being stone, and even more strongly in
the lines on the picture of the Faun, which have the very tone and
spirit of the /Ode on a Grecian Urn/.[18]

Two epigrams above all deserve special notice; one almost universally
known, that written by Callimachus on his dead friend, the poet
Heraclitus of Halicarnassus; the other, no less noble, though it has
not the piercing tenderness of the first, by Claudius Ptolemaeus, the
great astronomer, upon his own science, a science then not yet
divorced from art and letters. The picture touched by Callimachus of
that ancient and brilliant life, where two friends, each an
accomplished scholar, each a poet, saw the summer sun set in their
eager talk, and listened through the dusk to the singing nightingales,
is a more exquisite tribute than all other ancient writings have given
to the imperishable delight of literature, the mingled charm of youth
and friendship, and the first stirring of the blood by poetry, and the
first lifting of the soul by philosophy.[19] And on yet a further
height, above the nightingales, under the solitary stars alone,
Ptolemy as he traces the celestial orbits is lifted above the touch of
earth, and recognises in man's mortal and ephemeral substance a
kinship with the eternal. /Man did eat angels' food: he opened the
doors of heaven./[20]

[1] Anth. Pal. vii. 39, 34, 21, 22.

[2] Ibid. ix. 97, 358, 205.

[3] Cf. iv. 1 in this selection.

[4] Anth. Pal. vii. 696, App. Plan. 8, 225, 226, 244.

[5] Anth. Pal. ix. 433. On this epigram Jacobs says, /Frigide hoc
carmen interpretantur qui illud tabulae pictae adscriptum fuisse
existimant/. But the art of poems on pictures, which flourished to
an immense degree in the Alexandrian and later periods, had not
then been revived. One can fancy the same note being made hundreds
of years hence on some of Rossetti's sonnets.

[6] Anth. Pal. xi. 215, 133, 143, 354, 136.

[7] Ibid. vi. 303, ix. 174, vi. 310; cf. also x. 35 in this selection.

[8] Ibid. xi. 400.

[9] Compare Anth. Pal. xii. 43 with ix. 565.

[10] Ibid. xi. 140, 142, 275.

[11] Anth. Pal. ii., iii.

[12] App. Plan. 200, 207, 208, 209, 214, 215, 250.

[13] Anth. Pal. xi. 141, 142, 144, 157; vii. 571.

[14] iv. 46 in this selection.

[15] Poet. 1448 b. 15-20.

[16] Republic, x. 597.

[17] App. Plan. 248.

[18] App. Plan. 146, 244.

[19] Anth. Pal. vii. 80. Cf. In Memoriam, xxiii.

[20] Anth. Pal. ix. 577; notice especially {theies pimplamai


That the feeling for Nature is one of the new developments of the
modern spirit, is one of those commonplaces of criticism which express
vaguely and loosely a general impression gathered from the comparison
of ancient with modern poetry. Like most of such generalisations it is
not of much value unless defined more closely; and as the definition
of the rule becomes more accurate, the exceptions and limitations to
be made grow correspondingly numerous. The section which is here
placed under this heading is obviously different from any collection
which could be made of modern poems, professing to deal with Nature
and not imitated from the Greek. But when we try to analyse the
difference, we find that the word Nature is one of the most ambiguous
possible. Man's relation to Nature is variable not only from age to
age, and from race to race, but from individual to individual, and
from moment to moment. And the feeling for Nature, as expressed in
literature, varies not only with all these variations but with other
factors as well, notably with the prevalent mode of poetical
expression, and with the condition of the other arts. The outer world
lies before us all alike, with its visible facts, its demonstrable
laws, /Natura daedala rerum/; but with each of us the /species
ratioque naturae/, the picture presented by the outer world and the
meaning that underlies it, are created in our own minds, the one by
the apprehensions of our senses (and the eye sees what it brings the
power to see), the other by our emotions, our imagination, our
intellectual and moral qualities, as all these are affected by the
pageant of things, and affect it in turn. And in no case can we
express in words the total impression made upon us, but only that
amount of it for which we possess a language of sufficient range and
power and flexibility. For an impression has permanence and value--
indeed one may go further and say has reality--only in so far as it is
fixed and recorded in language, whether in the language of words or
that of colours, forms, and sounds.

First in the natural order comes that simply sensuous view of the
outer world, where combination and selection have as yet little or no
part. Objects are distinct from one another, each creates a single
impression, and the effect of each is summed up in a single phrase.
The "constant epithet" of early poetry is a survival of this stage of
thought; nature is a series of things, every one of which has its
special note; "green grass," "wet water." Here the feeling for Nature
likewise is simple and sensuous; the pleasure of shade and cool water
in summer, of soft grass to lie on, of the flowers and warm sunshine
of spring.

Then out of this infancy of feeling rises the curiosity of childhood;
no longer content with noting and recording the obvious aspects of
Nature, man observes and inquires and pays attention. The more
attention is paid, the more is seen: and an immense growth follows in
the language of poetry. To express the feeling for nature description
becomes necessary, and this again involves, in order that the work may
not be endless, selection and composition.

Again, upon this comes the sentimental feeling for Nature, a sort of
sympathy created by interest and imagination. Among early races this,
like other feelings, expresses itself in the forms of mythology, and
half personifies the outer world, giving the tree her Dryad and the
fountain her Nymph, making Pan and Echo meet in the forest glade. When
the mythological instinct has ceased to be active, it results in
sentimental description, sometimes realistic in detail, sometimes
largely or even wholly conventional. It has always in it something of
a reaction, real or affected, from crowds and the life of cities, an
attempt to regain simplicity by isolation from the complex fabric of

Once more, the feeling for Nature may go deeper than the senses and
the imagination, and become moral. The outer world is then no more a
spectacle only, but the symbol of a meaning, the embodiment of a soul.
Earth, the mother and fostress, receives our sympathy and gives us her
own. The human spirit turns away from itself to seek sustenance from
the mountains and the stars. The whole outer universe becomes the
visible and sensible language of an ideal essence; and dawn or sunset,
winter or summer, is of the nature of a sacrament.

There is over and above all these another sense in which we may speak
of the feeling for Nature; and in regard to poetry it is perhaps the
most important of all. But it no longer follows, like the rest, a sort
of law of development in human nature generally; it is confined to
art, and among the arts is eminent in poetry beyond the rest. This is
the romantic or magical note. It cannot be analysed, perhaps it cannot
be defined; the insufficiency of all attempted definitions of poetry
is in great part due to the impossibility of their including this
final quality, which, like some volatile essence, escapes the moment
the phial is touched. In the poetry of all ages, even in the periods
where it has been most intellectual and least imaginative, come sudden
lines like the /Cette obscure clarté qui tombe des étoiles/ of
Corneille, like the /Placed far amid the melancholy main/ of Thomson,
where the feeling for Nature cannot be called moral, and yet stirs us
like the deepest moral criticism upon life, rising as far beyond the
mere idealism of sentiment as it does beyond the utmost refinement of
realistic art.

In all these different forms the feeling for Nature may be illustrated
from Greek poetry; but the broad fact remains that Nature on the whole
has a smaller part than it has with modern poets. Descriptive pieces
are executed in a slighter manner, and on the whole with a more
conventional treatment. Landscapes, for example, are always a
background, never (or hardly ever) the picture itself. The influence
of mythology on art was so overwhelming that, down to the last, it
determined the treatment of many subjects where we should now go
directly to the things themselves. Especially is this so with what has
been described as the moral feeling for nature. Among "the
unenlightened swains of Pagan Greece," as Wordsworth says, the deep
effect of natural beauty on the mind was expressed under the forms of
a concrete symbolism, a language to which literature had grown so
accustomed that they had neither the power nor the wish to break free
from it. The appeal indeed from man to Nature, and especially the
appeal to Nature as knowing more about man's destiny than he knows
himself, was unknown to the Greek poets. But this feeling is
sentimental, not moral; and with them too "something far more deeply
interfused" stirred the deepest sources of emotion. The music of Pan,
at which the rustle of the oakwood ceases and the waterfall from the
cliff is silent and the faint bleating of the sheep dies away,[1] is
the expression in an ancient language of the spirit of Nature, fixed
and embodied by the enchanting touch of art.

Of the epigrams which deal primarily with the sensuous feeling for
Nature, the most common are those on the delight of summer, rustling
breezes and cold springs and rest under the shadow of trees. In the
ardours of midday the traveller is guided from the road over a grassy
brow to an ice-cold spring that gushes out of the rock under a pine;
or lying idly on the soft meadow in the cool shade of the plane, is
lulled by the whispering west wind through the branches, the monotone
of the cicalas, the faint sound of a far-off shepherd's pipe floating
down the hills; or looking up into the heart of the oak, sees the dim
green roof, layer upon layer, mount and spread and shut out the
sky.[2] Or the citizen, leaving the glare of town, spends a country
holiday on strewn willow-boughs with wine and music,[3] as in that
most perfect example of the poetry of a summer day, the /Thalysia/ of
Theocritus. Down to a late Byzantine period this form of poetry, the
nearest approach to pure description of nature in the old world,
remained alive; as in the picture drawn by Arabius of the view from a
villa on the shore of the Propontis, with its gardens set between wood
and sea, where the warbling of birds mingled with the distant songs of
the ferrymen.[4] Other landscape poems, as they may be called,
remarkable for their clear and vivid portraiture, are that of
Mnasalcas,[5] the low shore with its bright surf, and the temple with
its poplars round which the sea-fowl hover and cry, and that of
Anyte,[6] the windy orchard-close near the grey colourless coast, with
the well and the Hermes standing over it at the crossways. But such
epigrams always stop short of the description of natural objects for
their own sake, for the mere delight in observing and speaking about
them. Perhaps the nearest approach that Greek poetry makes to this is
in a remarkable fragment of Sophocles,[7] describing the shiver that
runs through the leaves of a poplar when all the other trees stand
silent and motionless.

The descriptions of Nature too are, as a rule, not only slightly
sketched, but kept subordinate to a human relation. The brilliance and
loveliness of spring is the background for the picture of the sailor
again putting to sea, or the husbandman setting his plough at work in
the furrow; the summer woods are a resting-place for the hot and
thirsty traveller; the golden leaves of autumn thinning in the frosty
night, making haste to be gone before the storms of rough November,
are a frame for the boy beneath them.[8] The life of earth is rarely
thought of as distinct from the life of man. It is so in a few late
epigrams. The complaint of the cicala, torn away by shepherds from its
harmless green life of song and dew among the leaves, and the poem
bidding the blackbird leave the dangerous oak, where, with its breast
against a spray, it pours out its clear music,[9] are probably of
Roman date; another of uncertain period but of great beauty, an
epitaph on an old bee-keeper who lived alone on the hills with the
high woods and pastures for his only neighbours, contrasts with a
strangely modern feeling the perpetuity of nature and the return of
the works of spring with the brief life of man that ends once for all
on a cold winter night.[10]

Between the simply sensuous and the deep moral feeling for nature lies
the broad field of pastoral. This is not the place to enter into the
discussion of pastoral poetry; but it must be noted in passing that it
does not imply of necessity any deep love, and still less any close
observation, of nature. It looks on nature, as it looks on human life,
through a medium of art and sentiment; and its treatment of nature
depends less on the actual world around it than on the prevalent art
of the time. Greek art concentrated its efforts on the representation
of the human figure, and even there preferred the abstract form and
the rigid limitations of sculpture; and the poetry that saw, as it
were, through the eyes of art sought above all things simplicity of
composition and clearness of outline. The scanty vocabulary of colour
in Greek poetry, so often noticed, is a special and patent example of
this difference in the spirit with which Nature was regarded. As the
poetry of Chaucer corresponds, in its wealth and intimacy of
decoration, to the illuminations and tapestries of the middle ages, so
the epigrams given under this section constantly recall the sculptured
reliefs and the engraved gems of Greek art.

But any such general rules must be taken with their exceptions. As
there is a risk of reading modern sentiment into ancient work, and
even of fixing on the startling modernisms that occur in Greek
poetry,[11] and dwelling on them till they assume an exaggerated
importance, so there is a risk perhaps as great of slurring over the
inmost quality, the poetry of the poetry, where it has that touch of
romance or magic that sets it beyond all our generalisations. The
magical charm is just what cannot be brought under any rules; it is
the result less of art than of instinct, and is almost independent of
time and place. The lament of the swallow in an Alexandrian poet[12]
touches the same note of beauty and longing that Keats drew from the
song of the nightingale; the couplet of Satyrus, where echo repeats
the lonely cry of the birds,[13] is, however different in tone, as
purely romantic as the opening lines of /Christabel/.

[1] Anth. Pal. ix. 823.

[2] App. Plan. 230, 227; Anth. Pal. ix. 71.

[3] vi. 28 in this selection.

[4] Anth. Pal. ix. 667.

[5] Ibid. ix. 333.

[6] Ibid. ix. 314.

[7] Aegeus, fr. 24; cf. the celebrated simile in /Hyperion/,
beginning, /As when upon a tranced summer night/.

[8] Anth. Pal. xii. 138.

[9] Ibid. ix. 373, 87.

[10] Ibid. vii. 717.

[11] A curious instance is in an epigram by Mnasalcas (Anth. Pal. vii.
194), where he speaks of the evening hymn ({panesperon umnon}) of
the grasshopper. This, it must be remembered, was written in the
third century B.C.

[12] Pamphilus in Anth. Pal. ix. 57.

[13] App. Plan. 153.


Though fate and death make a dark background against which the
brilliant colouring of Greek life glitters out with heightened
magnificence, the comedy of men and manners occupies an important part
of their literature, and Aristophanes and Menander are as intimately
Greek as Sophocles. It is needless to speak of what we gain in our
knowledge of Greece from the preserved comedies of Aristophanes; and
if we follow the best ancient criticism, we must conclude that in
Menander we have lost a treasury of Greek life that cannot be
replaced. Quintilian, speaking at a distance from any national or
contemporary prejudice, uses terms of him such as we should not think
unworthy of Shakespeare.[1] These Attic comedians were the field out
of which epigrammatists, from that time down to the final decay of
literature, drew some of their graver and very many of their lighter
epigrams. Of the convivial epigrams in the Anthology a number are
imitated from extant fragments of the New Comedy; one at least[2]
transfers a line of Menander's unaltered; and short fragments of both
Menander and Diphilus are included in the Anthology as though not
materially differing from epigrams themselves.[3]

Part of this section might be classed with the criticism of life from
the Epicurean point of view. Some of the convivial epigrams are purely
unreflective; they speak only of the pleasure of the moment, the frank
joy in songs and wine and roses, at a vintage-revel, or in the
chartered licence of a public festival, or simply without any excuse
but the fire in the blood, and without any conclusion but the emptied
jar.[4] Some bring in a flash of more vivid colour where Eros mingles
with Bromius, and, on a bright spring day, Rose-flower crosses the
path, carrying her fresh-blown roses.[5] Others, through their light
surface, show a deeper feeling, a claim half jestingly but half
seriously made for dances and lyres and garlands as things deeply
ordained in the system of nature, a call on the disconsolate lover to
be up and drink, and rear his drooping head, and not lie down in the
dust while he is yet alive.[6] Some in complete seriousness put the
argument for happiness with the full force of logic and sarcasm. "All
the ways of life are pleasant," cries Julianus in reply to the
weariness expressed by an earlier poet;[7] "in country or town, alone
or among fellow-men, dowered with the graciousness of wife and
children, or living on in the free and careless life of youth; all is
well, live!" And the answer to melancholy has never been put in a
concrete form with finer and more penetrating wit than in the couplet
of Lucian on the man who must needs be sober when all were drinking,
and so appeared in respect of his company to be the one drunk man

It is here that the epigrams of comedy reach their high-water mark; in
contrast to them is another class in which the lightness is a little
forced and the humour touches cynicism. In these the natural brutality
of the Roman mind makes the Latin epigram heavier and keener-pointed;
the greater number indeed of the Greek epigrams of this complexion are
of the Roman period; and many of them appear to be directly imitated
from Martial and Juvenal, though possibly in some cases it is the
Latin poet who is the copyist.

Though they are not actually kept separate--nor indeed would a
complete separation be possible--the heading of this section of the
Palatine Anthology distinguishes the {sumpotika}, the epigrams of
youth and pleasure, from the {skoptika}, the witty or humorous verses
which have accidentally in modern English come almost to absorb the
full signification of the word epigram. The latter come principally
under two heads: one, where the point of the epigram depends on an
unexpected verbal turn, the other, where the humour lies in some gross
exaggeration of statement. Or these may be combined; in some of the
best there is an accumulation of wit, a second and a third point
coming suddenly on the top of the first.[9]

Perhaps the saying, so often repeated, that ancient humour was simpler
than modern, rests on a more sufficient basis than most similar
generalisations; and indeed there is no single criterion of the
difference between one age and another more easy and certain of
application, where the materials for applying it exist, than to
compare the things that seem amusing to them. A certain foundation of
humour seems to be the common inheritance of mankind, but on it
different periods build differently. The structure of a Greek joke is
generally very simple; more obvious and less highly elliptical in
thought than the modern type, but, on the other hand, considerably
more subtle than the wit of the middle ages. There was a store of
traditional jests on the learned professions, law, astrology, medicine
--the last especially; and the schools of rhetoric and philosophy
were, from their first beginning, the subject of much pleasantry. Any
popular reputation, in painting, music, literature, gave material for
facetious attack; and so did any bodily defect, even those, it must be
added, which we think of now as exciting pity or as to be passed over
in silence.[10] Many of these jokes, which even then may have been of
immemorial antiquity, are still current. The serpent that bit a
Cappadocian and died of it, the fashionable lady whose hair is all her
own, and paid for,[11] are instances of this simple form of humour
that has no beginning nor end. Some Greek jests have an Irish
inconsequence, some the grave and logical monstrosity of American

Naïve, crude, often vulgar; such is the general impression produced by
the mass of these lighter epigrams. The bulk of them are of late date;
and the culture of the ancient world was running low when its /vers de
société/ reached no higher level than this. Of course they can only be
called poetry by a large stretch of courtesy. In a few instances the
work is raised to the level of art by a curious Dutch fidelity and
minute detail. In one given in this selection,[12] a great poet has
bent to this light and trivial style. The high note of Simonides is as
clear and certain here as in his lines on the Spartans at Thermopylae
or in the cry of grief over the young man dead in the snow-clogged
surf of the Saronic sea. With such exceptions, the only touch of
poetry is where a graver note underlies their light insolence. "Drink
with me," runs the Greek song, "be young with me; love with me, wear
garlands with me; be mad with me in my madness; I will be serious with
you in your seriousness."[13] And so behind the flutes and flowers
change comes and the shadow of fate stands waiting, and through the
tinkling of the rose-hung river is heard in undertone the grave murmur
of the sea.

[1] /Omnem vitae imaginem expressit . . . omnibus rebus, personis,
adfectibus accomodatus/: see the whole passage, Inst. Rhet. x. i.

[2] Anth. Pal. xi. 286.

[3] Ibid. xi. 438, 439.

[4] Ibid. v. 134, 135; xi. 1.

[5] Ibid. v. 81; xi. 64.

[6] Anth. Pal. ix. 270; xii. 50.

[7] Ibid. ix. 446.

[8] Ibid. xi. 429.

[9] Cf. ibid. xi. 85, 143.

[10] Cf. Anth. Pal. xi. 342, 404.

[11] Ibid. xi. 68, 237.

[12] Infra, x. 5.

[13] Athenaeus, 695, d.


For over all Greek life there lay a shadow. Man, a weak and pitiable
creature, lay exposed to the shafts of a grim and ironic power that
went its own way careless of him, or only interfered to avenge its own
slighted majesty. "God is always jealous and troublesome"; such is the
reflection which Herodotus, the pious historian of a pious age, puts
in the mouth of the wisest of the Greeks.[1] Punishment will sooner or
later follow sin; that is certain; but it is by no means so certain
that the innocent will not be involved with the guilty, or that
offence will not be taken where none was meant. The law of /laesa
majestas/ was executed by the ruling powers of the universe with
unrelenting and undiscriminating severity. Fate seemed to take a
sardonic pleasure in confounding expectation, making destruction
spring out of apparent safety, and filling life with dramatic and
memorable reversals of fortune.

And besides the bolts launched by fate, life was as surely if more
slowly weighed down by the silent and ceaseless tide of change against
which nothing stood fixed or permanent, and which swept the finest and
most beautiful things away the soonest. The garland that blooms at
night withers by morning; and the strength of man and the beauty of
women are no longer-lived than the frail anemone, the lily and violet
that flower and fall.[2] Sweetness is changed to bitterness; where the
rose has spread her cup, one goes by and the brief beauty passes;
returning, the seeker finds no rose, but a thorn. Swifter than the
flight of a bird through the air the light-footed Hours pass by,
leaving nothing but scattered petals and the remembrance of youth and
spring.[3] The exhortation to use the brief space of life, to realise,
and, so far as that may be, to perpetuate in action the whole of the
overwhelming possibilities crowded into a minute's space[4] comes with
a passion like that of Shakespeare's sonnets. "On this short day of
frost and sun to sleep before evening" is the one intolerable misuse
of life.[5] Sometimes the feeling is expressed with the vivid passion
of a lyric:--"To what profit? for thou wilt not find a lover among the
dead, O girl";[6] sometimes with the curiously impersonal and
incomparably direct touch that is peculiar to Greek, as in the verses
by Antipater of Sidon,[7] that by some delicate magic crowd into a few
words the fugitive splendour of the waning year, the warm lingering
days and sharp nights of autumn, and the brooding pause before the
rigours of winter, and make the whole masque of the seasons a pageant
and metaphor of the lapse of life itself. Or a later art finds in the
harsh moralisation of ancient legends the substance of sermons on the
emptiness of pleasure and the fragility of loveliness; and the bitter
laugh over the empty casket of Pandora[8] comes from a heart wrung
with the sorrow that beauty is less strong than time. Nor is the
burden of these poems only that pleasant things decay; rather that in
nothing good or bad, rich or mean, is there permanence or certitude,
but everywhere and without selection Time feeds oblivion with decay of
things. All things flow and nothing abides; shape and name, nature and
fortune yield to the dissolving touch of time.[9]

Even then the world was old. The lamentations over decayed towns and
perished empires remind us that the distance which separates the age
of the Caesars from our own is in relation to human history merely a
chapter somewhere in the middle of a great volume. Then, no less than
now, men trod daily over the ruins of old civilisations and the
monuments of lost races. One of the most striking groups of poems in
the Anthology is the long roll of the burdens of dead cities; Troy,
Delos, Mycenae, Argos, Amphipolis, Corinth, Sparta.[10] The
depopulation of Greece brought with it a foreshadowing of the wreck of
the whole ancient world. With the very framework of human life giving
way daily before their eyes, men grew apt to give up the game. The
very instability of all things, once established as a law, brought a
sort of rest and permanence with it; "there is nothing strictly
immutable," they might have said, "but mutability." Thus the law of
change became a permanent thread in mortal affairs, and, with the
knowledge that all the old round would be gone over again by others,
grew the sense that in the acceptance of this law of nature there was
involved a conquest of nature, an overcoming of the world.

For the strength of Fate was not otherwise to be contended with, and
its grim irony went deeper than human reach. Nemesis was merciless; an
error was punished like a crime, and the more confident you had been
that you were right, the most severe was the probable penalty. But it
was part of Fate's malignity that, though the offender was punished,
though Justice took care that her own interests were not neglected nor
her own majesty slighted, even where a humane judge would have shrunk
from inflicting a disproportionate penalty,[11] yet for the wronged
one himself she provided no remedy; he suffered at his own risk. For
falseness in friendship, for scorn of poverty, for wanton cruelty and
torture, the wheel of fortune brought round some form of retribution,
but the sufferers were like pieces swept off the board, once and for

And Fate seemed to take a positive pleasure in eluding anticipation
and constructing dramatic surprises. Through all Greek literature this
feeling shows itself; and later epigrams are full of incidents of this
sort, recounted and moralised over with the wearisomeness of a tract,
stories sometimes obviously invented with an eye to the moral,
sometimes merely silly, sometimes, though rarely, becoming
imaginative. The contrast of a youth without means to indulge its
appetites and an age without appetites to exhaust its means; the story
of the poor man who found treasure and the rich man who hanged
himself; the fable of the vine's revenge upon the goat, are typical
instances of the prosaic epigram.[12] The noble lines inscribed upon
the statue of Memnon at Thebes[13] are an example of the vivid
imaginative touch lighting up a sufficiently obvious theme for the
rhetorician. Under the walls of Troy, long ages past, the son of Dawn
had fallen under Achilles' terrible spear; yet now morning by morning
the goddess salutes her son and he makes answer, while Thetis is
childless in her sea-halls, and the dust of Achilles moulders silently
in the Trojan plain. The Horatian maxim of /nulli satis cautum/ recurs
in the story of the ship, that had survived its sea-perils, burnt at
last as it lay on shore near its native forest, and finding the ocean
less faithless than the land.[14] In a different vein is the sarcastic
praise of Fortune for her exaltation of a worthless man to high
honour, "that she might shew her omnipotence."[15] At the root of all
there is the sense, born of considering the flux of things and the
tyranny of time, that man plays a losing game, and that his only
success is in refusing to play. For the busy and idle, for the
fortunate and unhappy alike, the sun rises one morning for the last
time;[16] he only is to be congratulated who is done with hope and
fear;[17] how short-lived soever he be in comparison with the world
through which he passes, yet no less through time Fate dries up the
holy springs, and the mighty cities of old days are undecipherable
under the green turf;[18] it is the only wisdom to acquiesce in the
forces, however ignorant or malign in their working, that listen to no
protest and admit no appeal, that no force can affect, no subtlety
elude, no calculation predetermine.

[1] {to theion pan phthoneron te kai tarakhodes}, Hdt. i. 32.

[2] Anth. Pal. v. 74, 118.

[3] Ibid. xi. 53; xii. 32, 234.

[4] Anth. Pal. vii. 472.

[5] Ibid. xi. 25; xii. 50.

[6] Ibid. v. 85.

[7] Ibid. xi. 37.

[8] Ibid. x. 71.

[9] Ibid. ix. 51.

[10] Ibid. vii. 705, 723; ix. 28, 101-4, 151-6, 408.

[11] Anth. Pal. ix. 269.

[12] Ibid. ix. 138, 44, 75.

[13] ix. 19 in this selection.

[14] Anth. Pal. ix. 106.

[15] Ibid. ix. 530.

[16] Ibid. ix. 8.

[17] Ibid. ix. 172; xi. 282.

[18] Ibid. ix. 101, 257.


Of these prodigious natural forces the strongest and the most imposing
is Death. Here, if anywhere, the Greek genius had its fullest scope
and most decisive triumph; and here it is that we come upon the
epigram in its inmost essence and utmost perfection. "Waiting to see
the end" as it always did, the Greek spirit pronounced upon the end
when it came with a swiftness, a tact, a certitude that leave all
other language behind. For although Latin and not Greek is
pre-eminently and without rival the proper and, one might almost say,
the native language of monumental inscription, yet the little
difference that fills inscriptions with imagination and beauty, and
will not be content short of poetry, is in the Greek temper alone. The
Roman sarcophagus, square hewn of rock, and bearing on it, incised for
immortality, the haughty lines of rolling Republican names, represents
to us with unequalled power the abstract majesty of human States and
the glory of law and government; and the momentary pause in the steady
current of the life of Rome, when one citizen dropped out of rank and
another succeeded him, brings home to us with crushing effect, like
some great sentence of Tacitus, the brief and transitory worth of a
single life. /Qui apicem gessisti, mors perfecit tua ut essent omnia
brevia, honos fama virtusque, gloria atque ingenium/[1]--words like
these have a melancholy majesty that no other human speech has known;
nor can any greater depth of pathos be reached than is in the two
simple words /Bene merenti/ on a hundred Roman tombs. But the Greek
mind here as elsewhere came more directly than any other face to face
with the truth of things, and the Greek genius kindled before the
vision of life and death into a clearer flame. The sepulchural reliefs
show us many aspects of death; in all of the best period there is a
common note, mingled of a grave tenderness, simplicity, and reserve.
The quiet figures there take leave of one another with the same grace
that their life had shown. There is none of the horror of darkness,
none of the ugliness of dying; with calm faces and undisordered
raiment they rise from their seats and take the last farewell. But the
sepulchural verses show us more clearly how deep the grief was that
lay beneath the quiet lines of the marble and the smooth cadence of
the couplets. They cover and fill the whole range of emotion:
household grief, and pain for the dead baby or the drowned lover, and
the bitter parting of wife and husband, and the chill of distance and
the doubt of the unknown nether world; and the thoughts of the bright
and brief space of life, and the merciless continuity of nature, and
the resolution of body and soul into the elements from which they
came; and the uselessness of Death's impatience, and the bitter cry of
a life gone like spilt water; and again, comfort out of the grave,
perpetual placidity, "holy sleep," and earth's gratitude to her
children, and beyond all, dimly and lightly drawn, the flowery meadows
of Persephone, the great simplicity and rest of the other world, and
far away a shadowy and beautiful country to which later men were to
give the name of Heaven.

The famous sepulchral epigrams of Simonides deserve a word to
themselves; for in them, among the most finished achievements of the
greatest period of Greece, the art not only touches its highest
recorded point, but a point beyond which it seems inconceivable that
art should go. They stand with the odes of Pindar and the tragedies of
Sophocles as the symbols of perfection in literature; not only from
the faultlessness of their form, but from their greatness of spirit,
the noble and simple thought that had then newly found itself so
perfect a language to commemorate the great deeds which it inspired.
Foremost among them are those on the men whose fame they can hardly
exalt beyond the place given them by history; on the three hundred of
Thermopylae, the Athenian dead at Marathon, the Athenian and
Lacedaemonian dead at Plataea.[2] "O stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians
that we lie here obeying their orders"--the words have grown so famous
that it is only by sudden flashes that we can appreciate their
greatness. No less noble are others somewhat less widely known: on the
monument erected by the city of Corinth to the men who, when all
Greece stood as near destruction as a knife's edge, helped to win her
freedom at Salamis; on the Athenians, slain under the skirts of the
Euboean hills, who lavished their young and beautiful lives for
Athens; on the soldiers who fell, in the full tide of the Greek glory,
at the great victory of the Eurymedon.[3] In all the epitaphs of this
class the thought of the city swallows up individual feeling; for the
city's sake, that she may be free and great, men offer their death as
freely as their life; and the noblest end for a life spent in her
service is to die in the moment of her victory. The funeral speech of
Pericles dwells with all the amplitude of rhetoric on the glory of
such a death; "having died they are not dead" are the simpler words of

Not less striking than these in their high simplicity are his epitaphs
on private persons: that which preserves the fame of the great lady
who was not lifted up to pride, Archedice daughter of Hippias; that on
Theognis of Sinope, so piercing and yet so consoling in its quiet
pathos, or that on Brotachus of Gortyn, the trader who came after
merchandise and found death; the dying words of Timomachus and the
eternal memory left to his father day by day of the goodness and
wisdom of his dead child; the noble apostrophe to mount Gerania, where
the drowned and nameless sailor met his doom, the first and one of the
most magnificent of the long roll of poems on seafarers lost at
sea.[5] In all of them the foremost quality is their simplicity of
statement. There are no superlatives. The emotion is kept strictly in
the background, neither expressed nor denied. Great minds of later
ages sought a justification of the ways of death in denying that it
brought any reasonable grief. To the cold and profound thought of
Marcus Aurelius death is "a natural thing, like roses in spring or
harvest in autumn."[6] But these are the words of a strange language.
The feeling of Simonides is not, like theirs, abstract and remote; he
offers no justification, because none is felt to be needed where the
pain of death is absorbed in the ardour of life.

That great period passed away; and in those which follow it, the
sepulchural inscription, while it retains the old simplicity, descends
from those heights into more common feelings, lets loose emotion, even
dallies with the ornaments of grief. The sorrow of death is spoken of
freely; nor is there any poetry more pathetic than those epitaphs
which, lovely in their sadness, commemorate the lost child, the
sundered lovers, the disunited life. Among the most beautiful are
those on children: on the baby that just lived, and, liking it not,
went away again before it had known good or evil;[7] on the children
of a house all struck down in one day and buried in one grave;[8] on
the boy whom his parents could not keep, though they held both his
little hands in theirs, led downward by the Angel of Death to the
unsmiling land.[9] Then follows the keener sadness of the young life,
spared till it opened into flower only to be cut down before noon; the
girl who, sickening for her baby-brother, lost care for her playmates,
and found no peace till she went to rejoin him;[10] the boy of twelve,
with whom his father, adding no words of lamentation, lays his whole
hope in the grave;[11] the cry of the mourning mother over her son,
Bianor or Anticles, an only child laid on the funeral pyre before an
only parent's eyes, leaving dawn thenceforth disadorned of her
sweetness, and no comfort in the sun.[12] More piercing still in their
sad sweetness are the epitaphs on young wives; on Anastasia, dead at
sixteen, in the first year of her marriage, over whom the ferryman of
the dead must needs mingle his own with her father's and her husband's
tears; on Atthis of Cnidos, the wife who had never left her husband
till this the first and last sundering came; on Paulina of Ravenna,
holy of life and blameless, the young bride of the physician whose
skill could not save her, but whose last testimony to her virtues has
survived the wreck of the centuries that have made the city crumble
and the very sea retire.[13] The tender feeling for children mingles
with the bitter grief at their loss, a touch of fancy, as though they
were flowers plucked by Persephone to be worn by her and light up the
greyness of the underworld. Cleodicus, dead before the festival of
this third birthday, when the child's hair was cut and he became a
boy, lies in his little coffin; but somewhere by unknown Acheron a
shadow of him grows fair and strong in youth, though he never may
return to earth again.[14]

With the grief for loss comes the piercing cry over crushed beauty.
One of the early epitaphs, written before the period of the Persian
wars, is nothing but this cry: "pity him who was so beautiful and is
dead."[15] In the same spirit is the fruitless appeal so often made
over the haste of Death; /mais que te nuysoit elle en vie, mort?/ Was
he not thine, even had he died an old man? says the mourner over
Attalus.[16] A subject whose strange fascination drew artist after
artist to repeat it, and covered the dreariness of death as with a
glimmer of white blossoms, was Death the Bridegroom, the maiden taken
away from life just as it was about to be made complete. Again and
again the motive is treated with delicate profusion of detail, and
lingering fancy draws out the sad likeness between the two torches
that should hold such a space of lovely life between them,[17] now
crushed violently together and mingling their fires. Already the
bride-bed was spread with saffron in the gilded chamber; already the
flutes were shrill by the doorway, and the bridal torches were lit,
when Death entered, masked as a reveller, and the hymeneal song
suddenly changed into the death-dirge; and while the kinsfolk were
busy about another fire, Persephone lighted her own torch out of their
hands; with hardly an outward change--as in a processional relief on a
sarcophagus--the bridal train turns and moves to the grave with
funeral lights flaring through the darkness and sobbing voices and
wailing flutes.[18]

As tender in their fancy and with a higher note of sincerity in their
grief are the epitaphs on young mothers, dead in childbirth: Athenaïs
of Lesbos, the swift-footed, whose cry Artemis was too busy with her
woodland hounds to hear; Polyxena, wife of Archelus, not a year's wife
nor a month's mother, so short was all her time; Prexo, wife of
Theocritus, who takes her baby with her, content with this, and gives
blessings from her grave to all who will pray with her that the boy
she leaves on earth may live into a great old age.[19] Here tenderness
outweighs sorrow; in others a bitterer grief is uttered, the grief of
one left alone, forsaken and cast off by all that had made life sweet;
where the mother left childless among women has but the one prayer
left, that she too may quickly go whence she came, or where the morbid
imagination of a mourner over many deaths invents new forms of self-
torture in the idea that her very touch is mortal to those whom she
loves, and that fate has made her the instrument of its cruelty; or
where Theano, dying alone in Phocaea, sends a last cry over the great
gulfs of sea that divide her from her husband, and goes down into the
night with the one passionate wish that she might have but died with
her hand clasped in his hand.[20]

Into darkness, into silence: the magnificent brilliance of that
ancient world, its fulness of speech and action, its copiousness of
life, made the contrast more sudden and appalling; and it seems to be
only at a later period, when the brightness was a little dimmed and
the tide of life did not run so full, that the feeling grew up which
regarded death as the giver of rest. With a last word of greeting to
the bright earth the dying man departs, as into a mist.[21] In the
cold shadows underground the ghost will not be comforted by ointments
and garlands lavished on the tomb; though the clay covering be
drenched with wine, the dead man will not drink.[22] On an island of
the Aegean, set like a gem in the splendid sea, the boy lying under
earth, far away from the sweet sun, asks a word of pity from those who
go up and down, busy in the daylight, past his grave. Paula of
Tarentum, the brief-fated, cries out passionately of the stone
chambers of her night, the night that has hidden her. Samian girls set
up a monument over their playfellow Crethis, the chatterer, the story-
teller, whose lips will never open in speech again. Musa, the singing-
girl, blue-eyed and sweet-voiced, suddenly lies voiceless, like a
stone.[23] With a jarring shock, as of closed gates, the grave closes
over sound and colour; /moved round in Earth's diurnal course with
rocks, and stones, and trees./

Even thus there is some little comfort in lying under known earth; and
the strangeness of a foreign grave adds a last touch to the pathos of
exile. The Eretrians, captured by the Persian general Datis, and sent
from their island home by endless marches into the heart of Asia, pine
in the hot Cassian plains, and with their last voice from the tomb
send out a greeting to the dear and distant sea.[24] The Athenian laid
in earth by the far reaches of Nile, and the Egyptian whose tomb
stands by a village of Crete, though from all places the descent to
the house of Hades is one, yet grieve and fret at their strange
resting-places.[25] No bitterer pang can be added to death than for
the white bones of the dead to lie far away, washed by chill rains, or
mouldering on a strange beach with the screaming seagulls above

This last aspect of death was the one upon which the art of the
epigrammatist lavished its utmost resources. From first to last the
Greeks were a seafaring people, and death at sea was always present to
them as a common occurrence. The Mediterranean was the great highway
of the world's journeying and traffic. All winter through, travel
almost ceased on it except for those who could not avoid it, and whom
desire or gain or urgence of business drove forth across stormy and
perilous waters; with spring there came, year by year, a sort of
breaking-up of the frost, and the seas were all at once covered with a
swarm of shipping. From Egypt and Syria fleets bore the produce of the
East westward; from the pillars of Hercules galleys came laden with
the precious ores of Spain and Britain; through the Propontis streamed
the long convoys of corn-ships from the Euxine with their loads of
wheat. Across the Aegean from island to island, along its shores from
port to port, ran continually the tide of local commerce, the crowds
of tourists and emigrants, the masses of people and merchandise drawn
hither and thither in the track of armies, or bound to and from shows
and festivals and markets. The fishing industry, at least in the later
Greek period, employed the whole population of small islands and
seaside towns. Among those thousands of vessels many must, every year,
have come to harm in those difficult channels and treacherous seas.
And death at sea had a great horror and anguish attached to it; the
engulfing in darkness, the vain struggles for life, the loss of burial
rites and all the last offices that can be paid to death, made it none
the less terrible that it was so common. From the Odyssey downward
tales of sea-peril and shipwreck had the most powerful fascination.
Yet to that race of sailors the sea always remained in a manner
hateful; "as much as a mother is sweeter than a stepmother," says
Antipater,[27] "so much is earth dearer than the dark sea." The
fisherman tossing on the waves looked back with envy to the shepherd,
who, though his life was no less hard, could sit in quiet piping to
his flock on the green hillside; the great merchantman who crossed the
whole length of the Mediterranean on his traffic, or even ventured out
beyond Calpe into the unknown ocean, hungered for the peace of broad
lands, the lowing of herds.[28] /Cedet et ipse mari vector, nec
nautica pinus mutabit merces/: all dreams of a golden age, or of an
ideal life in an actual world, included in them the release from this
weary and faithless element. Even in death it would not allow its
victims rest; the cry of the drowned man is that though kind hands
have given him burial on the beach, even there the ceaseless thunder
of the surge is in his ears, and the roar of the surf under the broken
reef will not let him be quiet; "keep back but twelve feet from me,"
is his last prayer, "and there billow and roar as much as thou
wilt."[29] But even the grace of a tomb was often denied. In the
desolation of unknown distances the sailor sank into the gulfs or was
flung on a desert beach. Erasippus, perished with his ship, has all
the ocean for his grave; somewhere far away his white bones moulder on
a spot that the seagulls alone can tell. Thymodes rears a cenotaph to
his son, who on some Bithynian beach or island of the Pontic lies a
naked corpse on an inhospitable shore. Young Seleucus, wrecked in the
distant Atlantic, has long been dead on the trackless Spanish coasts,
while yet at home in Lesbos they praise him and look forward to his
return. On the thirsty uplands of Dryopia the empty earth is heaped up
that does not cover Polymedes, tossed up and down far from stony
Trachis on the surge of the Icarian sea. "Also thee, O Cleanoridas,"
one abruptly opens, the thought of all those many others whom the sea
had swallowed down overwhelming him as he tells the fate of the
drowned man.[30] The ocean never forgot its cruelty. {Pasa thalassa
thalassa}, "everywhere the sea is the sea," wails Aristagoras,[31]
past the perilous Cyclades and the foaming narrows of the Hellespont
only to be drowned in a little Locrian harbour; the very sound of the
words echoes the heavy wash of blind waves and the hissing of eternal
foam. Already in sight of home, like Odysseus on his voyage from
Aeolia, the sailor says to himself, "to-morrow the long battle against
contrary winds will be over," when the storm gathers as the words
leave his lips, and he is swept back to death.[32] The rash mariner
who trusts the gale of winter draws fate on himself with his own
hands; Cleonicus, hastening home to Thasos with his merchandise from
Hollow Syria at the setting of the Pleiad, sinks with the sinking
star.[33] But even in the days of the halcyons, when the sea should
stand like a sheet of molten glass, the terrible straits swallow
Aristomenes, with ship and crew; and Nicophemus perishes, not in
wintry waves, but of thirst in a calm on the smooth and merciless
Lybian sea.[34] By harbours and headlands stood the graves of drowned
men with pathetic words of warning or counsel. "I am the tomb of one
shipwrecked"; in these words again and again the verses begin. What
follows is sometimes an appeal to others to take example: "let him
have only his own hardihood to blame, who looses moorings from my
grave"; sometimes it is a call to courage: "I perished; yet even then
other ships sailed safely on." Another, in words incomparable for
their perfect pathos and utter simplicity, neither counsels nor warns:
"O mariners, well be with you at sea and on land; but know that you
pass the tomb of a shipwrecked man." And in the same spirit another
sends a blessing out of his nameless tomb: "O sailor, ask not whose
grave I am, but be thine own fortune a kinder sea."[35]

Beyond this simplicity and pathos cannot reach. But there is a group
of three epigrams yet unmentioned[36] which, in their union of these
qualities with the most severe magnificence of language and with the
poignant and vivid emotion of a tragical Border ballad, reach an even
more amazing height: that where Ariston of Cyrene, lying dead by the
Icarian rocks, cries out in passionate urgency on mariners who go
sailing by to tell Meno how his son perished; that where the tomb of
Biton in the morning sun, under the walls of Torone, sends a like
message by the traveller to the childless father, Nicagoras of
Amphipolis; and most piercing of all in their sorrow and most splendid
in their cadences, the stately lines that tell the passer-by of
Polyanthus, sunk off Sciathus in the stormy Aegean, and laid in his
grave by the young wife to whom only a dead body was brought home by
the fishermen as they sailed into harbour under a flaring and windy

Less numerous than these poems of sea-sorrow, but with the same
trouble of darkness, the same haunting chill, are others where death
comes through the gloom of wet nights, in the snowstorm or the
thunderstorm or the autumn rains that drown the meadow and swell the
ford. The contrast of long golden summer days may perhaps make the
tidings of death more pathetic, and wake a more delicate pity; but the
physical horror, as in the sea-pieces, is keener at the thought of
lonely darkness, and storm in the night. Few pictures can be more
vivid than that of the oxen coming unherded down the hill through the
heavy snow at dusk, while high on the mountain side their master lies
dead, struck by lightning; or of Ion, who slipped overboard, unnoticed
in the darkness, while the sailors drank late into night at their
anchorage; or of the strayed revellers, Orthon and Polyxenus, who,
bewildered in the rainy night, with the lights of the banquet still
flaring in their eyes, stumbled on the slippery hill-path and lay dead
at the foot of the cliff.[37]

/O Charides, what is there beneath?/ cries a passer-by over the grave
of one who had in life nursed his hopes on the doctrine of Pythagoras;
and out of the grave comes the sombre answer, /Great darkness/.[38] It
is in this feeling that the brooding over death in later Greek
literature issues; under the Roman empire we feel that we have left
the ancient world and are on the brink of the Middle Ages with their
half hysterical feeling about death, the piteous and ineffectual
revolt against it, and the malign fascination with which it preys on
men's minds and paralyses their action. To the sombre imagination of
an exhausted race the generations of mankind were like bands of
victims dragged one after another to the slaughter-house; in Palladas
and his contemporaries the medieval dance of death is begun.[39] The
great and simple view of death is wholly broken up, with the usual
loss and gain that comes of analysis. On the one hand is developed
this tremulous and cowardly shrinking from the law of nature. But on
the other there arises in compensation the view of death as final
peace, the release from trouble, the end of wandering, the resolution
of the feverous life of man into the placid and continuous life of
nature. With a great loss of strength and directness comes an
increased measure of gentleness and humanity. Poetry loves to linger
over the thought of peaceful graves. The dead boy's resting-place by
the spring under the poplars bids the weary wayfarer turn aside and
drink in the shade, and remember the quiet place when he is far
away.[40] The aged gardener lies at peace under the land that he had
laboured for many a year, and in recompence of his fruitful toil over
vine and olive, corn-field and orchard-plot, grateful earth lies
lightly over his grey temples, and the earliest flowers of spring
blossom above his dust.[41] The lovely lines of Leonidas,[42] in which
Clitagoras asks that when he is dead the sheep may bleat over him, and
the shepherd pipe from the rock as they graze softly along the valley,
and that the countryman in spring may pluck a posy of meadow flowers
and lay it on his grave, have all the tenderness of an English
pastoral in a land of soft outlines and silvery tones. An intenser
feeling for nature and a more consoling peace is in the nameless poem
that bids the hill-brooks and the cool upland pastures tell the bees,
when they go forth anew on their flowery way, that their old keeper
fell asleep on a winter night, and will not come back with spring.[43]
The lines call to mind that magnificent passage of the /Adonais/ where
the thought of earth's annual resurrection calms by its glory and
beauty the very sorrow which it rekindles; as those others, where,
since the Malian fowler is gone, the sweet plane again offers her
branches "for the holy bird to rest his swift wings,"[44] are echoed
in the famous Ode where the note of the immortal bird sets the
listener in the darkness at peace with Death. The dying man leaves
earth with a last kind word. At rest from long wanderings, the woman,
whose early memory went back to the storming of Athens by Roman
legionaries, and whose later life had passed from Italy to Asia,
unites the lands of her birth and adoption and decease in her
farewell.[45] For all ranks and ages--the baby gone to be a flower in
Persephone's crowned hair, the young scholar, dear to men and dearer
to the Muses, the great sage who, from the seclusion of his
Alexandrian library, has seen three kings succeed to the throne[46]--
the recompense of life is peace. Peace is on the graves of the good
servant, the faithful nurse, the slave who does not even in the tomb
forget his master's kindness or cease to help him at need.[47] Even
the pets of the household, the dog or the singing-bird, or the caged
cricket shouting through the warm day, have their reward in death,
their slight memorial and their lasting rest. The shrill cicala,
silent and no more looked on by the sun, finds a place in the meadows
whose flowers the Queen of the Dead herself keeps bright with dew.[48]
The sweet-throated song-bird, the faithful watch-dog who kept the
house from harm, the speckled partridge in the coppice,[49] go at the
appointed time upon their silent way--/ipsas angusti terminus aevi
excipit/--and come into human sympathy because their bright life is
taken to its rest like man's own in so brief a term.

Before this gentler view of death grief itself becomes softened. "Fare
thou well even in the house of Hades," says the friend over the grave
of the friend: the words are the same as those of Achilles over
Patroclus, but all the wild anguish has gone out of them.[50] Over the
ashes of Theognis of Sinope, without a word of sorrow, with hardly a
pang of pain, Glaucus sets a stone in memory of the companionship of
many years. And in the tenderest and most placid of epitaphs on dead
friends doubt vanishes with grief and acquiescence passes into hope,
as the survivor of that union "which conquers Time indeed, and is
eternal, separate from fears," prays Sabinus, if it be permitted, not
even among the dead to let the severing water of Lethe pass his

Out of peace comes the fruit of blessing. The drowned sailor rests the
easier in his grave that the lines written over it bid better fortune
to others who adventure the sea. "Go thou upon thy business and obtain
thy desire,"[52] says the dead man to the passer-by, and the kind word
makes the weight of his own darkness less to bear. Amazonia of
Thessalonica from her tomb bids husband and children cease their
lamentations and be only glad while they remember her.[53] Such
recompence is in death that the dead sailor or shepherd becomes
thenceforth the genius of the shore or the hillside.[54] The sacred
sleep under earth sends forth a vague and dim effluence; in a sort of
trance between life and death the good still are good and do not
wholly cease out of being.[55]

For the doctrine of immortality did not dawn upon the world at any
single time or from any single quarter. We are accustomed, perhaps, to
think of it as though it came like sunrise out of the dark, /lux
sedentibus in tenebris/, giving a new sense to mankind and throwing
over the whole breadth of life a vivid severance of light from shadow,
putting colour and sharp form into what had till then all lain dim in
the dusk, like Virgil's woodland path under the glimpses of a fitful
moon. Rather it may be compared to those scattered lights that
watchers from Mount Ida were said to discern moving hither and thither
in the darkness, and at last slowly gathering and kindling into the
clear pallor of dawn.[56] So it is that those half-formed beliefs,
those hints and longings, still touch us with the freshness of our own
experience. For the ages of faith, if such there be, have not yet
come; still in the mysterious glimmer of a doubtful light men wait for
the coming of the unrisen sun. During a brief and brilliant period the
splendour of corporate life had absorbed the life of the citizen; an
Athenian of the age of Pericles may have, for the moment, found Athens
all-sufficient to his needs. With the decay of that glory it became
plain that this single life was insufficient, that it failed in
permanence and simplicity. We all dwell in a single native country,
the universe, said Meleager,[57] expressing a feeling that had become
the common heritage of his race. But that country, as men saw it, was
but ill governed; and in nothing more so than in the rewards and
punishments it gave to its citizens. To regard it as the vestibule
only of another country where life should have its intricacies
simplified, its injustices remedied, its evanescent beauty fixed, and
its brief joy made full, became an imperious instinct that claimed
satisfaction, through definite religious teaching or the dreams of
philosophy or the visions of poetry. And so the last words of Greek
sepulchral poetry express, through questions and doubts, in metaphor
and allegory, the final belief in some blessedness beyond death. Who
knows whether to live be not death, and to be dead life? so the
haunting hope begins. The Master of the Portico died young; does he
sleep in the quiet embrace of earth, or live in the joy of the other
world?[58] "Even in life what makes each one of us to be what we are
is only the soul; and when we are dead, the bodies of the dead are
rightly said to be our shades or images; for the true and immortal
being of each one of us, which is called the soul, goes on her way to
other gods, that before them she may give an account."[59] These are
the final words left to men by that superb and profound genius the
dream of whose youth had ended in the flawless lines[60] whose music
Shelley's own could scarcely render:

Thou wert the Morning Star among the living
Ere thy fair light was fled;
Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
New splendour to the dead.

And at last, not from the pen of Plato nor written in lines of gold,
but set by a half-forgotten friend over an obscure grave,[61] comes
the certitude of that long hope. Heliodorus and Diogeneia died on the
same day and are buried under the same stone: but love admits no such
bar to its continuance, and the tomb is as a bridal chamber for their
triumphant life.

[1] From the inscription on the tomb of Publius Cornelius Scipio
Africanus, Augur and Flamen Dialis, son of the conqueror of

[2] Anth. Pal. vii. 249, 251, 253; Aristides, ii. 511.

[3] Aristides, ii. 512; App. Plan. 26; Anth. Pal. vii. 258.

[4] Anth. Pal. vii. 251; Thuc. ii. 41-43.

[5] Thuc. vi. 59; Anth. Pal. vii. 509, 254, 513, 496.

[6] Marc. Aur. iv. 44.

[7] Kaibel, 576.

[8] Anth. Pal. vii. 474.

[9] iii. 33 in this selection.

[10] Anth. Pal. vii. 662.

[11] Ibid. vii. 453.

[12] Ibid. vii. 261, 466.

[13] Ibid. vii. 600; Kaibel, 204 B, 596.

[14] Anth. Pal. vii. 482, 483.

[15] Kaibel, 1 A.

[16] Anth. Pal. vii. 671.

[17] Propertius, IV. xii. 46.

[18] Anth. Pal. vii. 182, 185, 711, 712.

[19] Ibid. vi. 438, vii. 167, 163.

[20] Ibid. vii. 466, ix. 254, vii. 735.

[21] Anth. Pal. vii. 566.

[22] Ibid. xi. 8.

[23] Kaibel, 190; Anth. Pal. vii. 700, 459; C. I. G., 6261.

[24] Anth. Pal. vii. 256, 259.

[25] Ibid. vii. 477, x. 3.

[26] Ibid. vii. 225, 285.

[27] Anth. Pal. ix. 23.

[28] Anth. Pal. vii. 636, ix. 7; cf. Virgil, Georg. ii. 468-70.

[29] Ibid. vii. 284.

[30] Ibid. vii. 285, 497, 376, 651, 263.

[31] Ibid. vii. 639.

[32] Ibid. vii. 630.

[33] Anth. Pal. vii. 263, 534.

[34] Ibid. ix. 271, vii. 293.

[35] Ibid. vii. 264, 282, 675; 269, 350.

[36] Ibid. vii. 499, 502, 739.

[37] Anth. Pal. vii. 173, ix. 82, vii. 398, 660.

[38] Ibid. vii. 524.

[39] Cf. Ibid. x. 78, 85, 88, xi. 300.

[40] Anth. Pal. ix. 315.

[41] Ibid. vii. 321.

[42] Ibid. vii. 657. The spirit, and much of the language, of these
epigrams is very like that of Gray's /Elegy/.

[43] Ibid. vii. 717.

[44] Ibid. vii. 171.

[45] Ibid. vii. 368.

[46] Anth. Pal. 78, 483; Diog. Laert. iv. 25.

[47] Ibid. vii. 178, 179; Kaibel, 47.

[48] Ibid. vii. 189.

[49] Ibid. vii. 199, 211, 203.

[50] Il. xxiii. 19; Anth. Pal. vii. 41.

[51] Ibid. vii. 509, 346.

[52] Kaibel, 190.

[53] Anth. Pal. vii. 667.

[54] Ibid. vii. 269, 657.

[55] Ibid. vii. 451.

[56] Lucr. v. 663.

[57] Anth. Pal. vii. 417.

[58] Infra, xi. 7.

[59] Plato, /Laws/, 959.

[60] Anth. Pal. vii. 670.

[61] Ibid. vii. 378, {agallomenoi kai taphon os thalamon}.


Criticism, to be made effectively, must be made from beyond and
outside the thing criticised. But as regards life itself, such an
effort of abstraction is more than human. For the most part poetry
looks on life from a point inside it, and the total view differs, or
may even be reversed, with the position of the observer. The shifting
of perspective makes things appear variously both in themselves and in
their proportion to other things. What lies behind one person is
before another; the less object, if nearer, may eclipse the greater;
where there is no fixed standard of reference, how can it be
determined what is real and what apparent, or whether there be any
absolute fact at all? To some few among men it has been granted to
look on life as it were from without, with vision unaffected by the
limit of view and the rapid shifting of place. These, the poets who
see life steadily and whole, in Matthew Arnold's celebrated phrase,
are for the rest of mankind almost divine. We recognise them as such
through a sort of instinct awakened by theirs and responding to it,
through the inarticulate divinity of which we are all in some degree

These are the great poets; and we do not look, in any Anthology of
slight and fugitive pieces, for so broad and sustained a view of life.
But what we do find in the Anthology is the reflection in many
epigrams of many partial criticisms from within; the expression, in
the most brief and pointed form, of the total effect that life had on
one man or another at certain moments, whether in the heat of blood,
or the first melancholy of youth, or the graver regard of mature
years. In nearly all the same sad note recurs, of the shortness of
life, of the inevitableness of death. Now death is the shadow at the
feast, bidding men make haste to drink before the cup is snatched from
their lips with its sweetness yet undrained; again it is the
bitterness within the cup itself, the lump of salt dissolving in the
honeyed wine and spoiling the drink. Then comes the revolt against the
cruel law of Nature in the crude thought of undisciplined minds.
Sometimes this results in hard cynicism, sometimes in the relaxation
of all effort; now and then the bitterness grows so deep that it
almost takes the quality of a real philosophy, a nihilism, to use the
barbarous term of our own day, that declares itself as a positive
solution of the whole problem. "Little is the life of our rejoicing,"
cries Rufinus,[1] in the very words of an English ballad of the
fifteenth century; "old age comes quickly, and death ends all." In
many epigrams this burden is repeated. The philosophy is that of
Ecclesiastes: "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine
with a merry heart, let thy garments be always white, and let thy head
lack no ointment; see life with the wife whom thou lovest all the days
of the life of thy vanity; for that is thy portion in life, and in thy
labour which thou takest under the sun." If the irony here is
unintentional it is all the bitterer; such consolation leads surely to
a more profound gloom. With a selfish nature this view of life becomes
degraded into cynical effrontery; under the Roman empire the lowest
corruption of "good manners" took for its motto the famous words,
repeated in an anonymous epigram,[2] Let us eat and drink, for
to-morrow we die. In finer tempers it issues in a mood strangely
mingled of weakness of will and lucidity of intelligence, like that of
Omar Khayyam. Many of the stanzas of the Persian poet have a close
parallel, not only in thought but in actual turn of phrase, in verses
of the later epigrammatists.[3] The briefness of life when first
realised makes youth feverish and self-absorbed. "Other men perhaps
will be, but /I/ shall be dead and turned into black earth"--as though
that were the one thing of importance.[4] Or again, the beauty of
returning spring is felt in the blood as an imperious call to renew
the delight in the simplest physical pleasures, food and scent of
flowers and walks in the fresh country air, and to thrust away the
wintry thought of dead friends who cannot share those delights now.[5]
The earliest form taken by the instinct of self-preservation and the
revolt against death can hardly be called by a milder name than
swaggering. "I don't care," the young man cries,[6] with a sort of
faltering bravado. Snatch the pleasure of the moment, such is the
selfish instinct of man before his first imagination of life, and
then, and then let fate do its will upon you.[7] Thereafter, as the
first turbulence of youth passes, its first sadness succeeds, with the
thought of all who have gone before and all who are to follow, and of
the long night of silence under the ground. Touches of tenderness
break in upon the reveller; thoughts of the kinship of earth, as the
drinker lifts the sweet cup wrought of the same clay as he; submission
to the lot of mortality; counsels to be generous while life lasts, "to
give and to share"; the renunciation of gross ambitions such as wealth
and power, with some likeness or shadow in it of the crowning virtue
of humility.[8]

It is here that the change begins. To renounce something for the first
time wittingly and spontaneously is an action of supreme importance,
and its consequences reach over the whole of life. Not only is it that
he who has renounced one thing has shown himself implicitly capable of
renouncing all things: he has shown much more; reflection, choice,
will. Thenceforth he is able to see part of life at all events from
outside, the part which he has put away from himself; for the first
time his criticism of life begins to be real. He has no longer a mere
feeling with regard to the laws of nature, whether eager haste or
sullen submission or blind revolt; behind the feeling there is now
thought, the power which makes and unmakes all things.

And so in mature age Greek thought began to make criticisms on life;
and of these the Anthology preserves and crystallises many brilliant
fragments. Perhaps there is no thought among them which was even then
original; certainly there is none which is not now more or less
familiar. But the perfected expression without which thought remains
obscure and ineffectual gives some of them a value as enduring as
their charm. A few of them are here set side by side without comment,
for no comment is needed to make their sense clear, nor to give weight
to their grave and penetrating reality.[9]

"Those who have left the sweet light I mourn no longer, but those who
live in perpetual expectation of death."

"What belongs to mortals is mortal, and all things pass by us; and if
not, yet we pass by them."

"Now we flourish, as others did before, and others will presently,
whose children we shall not see."

"I weep not for thee, dearest friend; for thou knewest much good; and
likewise God dealt thee thy share of ill."

These epigrams in their clear and unimpassioned brevity are a type of
the Greek temper in the age of reflection. Many others, less simple in
their language, less crystalline in their structure, have the same
quiet sadness in their tone. As it is said in the solemn and
monumental line of Menander, sorrow and life are too surely akin.[10]
The vanity of earthly labour; the deep sorrow over the passing of
youth; the utter loss and annihilation of past time with all that it
held of action and suffering; the bitterness of the fear of death, and
the weariness of the clutch at life; such are among the thoughts of
most frequent recurrence. In one view these are the commonplaces of
literature; yet they are none the less the expression of the
profoundest thought of mankind.

In Greek literature from first to last the view of life taken by the
most serious thinkers was grave and sad. Not in one age or in one form
of poetry alone, but in most that are of great import, the feeling
that death was better than life is no mere caprice of melancholy, but
a settled conviction. The terrible words of Zeus in the Iliad to the
horses of Achilles,[11] "for there is nothing more pitiable than man,
of all things that breathe and move on earth," represent the Greek
criticism of life already mature and consummate. "Best of all is it
for men not to be born," says Theognis in lines whose calm perfection
has no trace of passion or resentment,[12] "and if born, to pass
inside Hades-gates as quickly as may be." Echoing these lines of the
Megarian poet, Sophocles at eighty, the most fortunate in his long and
brilliant life of all his contemporaries in an age the most splendid
that the world has ever witnessed, utters with the weight of a
testamentory declaration the words that thrill us even now by their
faultless cadence and majestic music;[13] "Not to be born excels on
the whole account; and for him who has seen the light to go whence he
came as soon as may be is next best by far." And in another line,[14]
whose rhythm is the sighing of all the world made audible, "For there
is no such pain," he says, "as length of life." So too the humane and
accomplished Menander, in the most striking of all the fragments
preserved from his world of comedies,[15] weighs and puts aside all
the attractions that life can offer: "Him I call most happy who,
having gazed without grief on these august things, the common sun, the
stars, water, clouds, fire, goes quickly back whence he came." With so
clear-sighted and so sombre a view of this life and with no certainty
of another, it was only the inspiration of great thought and action,
and the gladness of yet unexhausted youth, that sustained the ancient
world so long. And this gladness of youth faded away. Throughout all
the writing of the later classical period we feel one thing
constantly; that life was without joy. Alike in history and poetry,
alike in the Eastern and Western worlds, a settled gloom deepens into
night. The one desire left is for rest. Life is brief, as men of old
time said; but now there is scarcely a wish that it should be longer.
"Little is thy life and afflicted," says Leonidas,[16] "and not even
so is it sweet, but more bitter than loathed death." "Weeping I was
born, and when I have done my weeping I die," another poet wails,[17]
"and all my life is among many tears." Aesopus is in a strait betwixt
two; if one might but escape from life without the horror of dying!
for now it is only the revolt from death that keeps him in the anguish
of life.[18] To Palladas of Alexandria the world is but a slaughter-
house, and death is its blind and irresponsible lord.[19]

From the name of Palladas is inseparable the name of the famous
Hypatia, and the strange history of the Neo-Platonic school. The last
glimmer of light in the ancient world was from the embers of their
philosophy. A few late epigrams preserve a record of their mystical
doctrines, and speak in half-unintelligible language of "the one hope"
that went among them, a veiled and crowned phantom, under the name of
Wisdom. But, apart from those lingering relics of a faith among men
half dreamers and half charlatans, patience and silence were the only
two counsels left for the dying ancient world; patience, in which we
imitate God himself; silence, in which all our words must soon
end.[20] The Roman empire perished, it has been said, for want of men;
Greek literature perished for want of anything to say; or rather,
because it found nothing in the end worth saying. Its end was like
that recorded of the noblest of the Roman emperors;[21] the last word
uttered with its dying breath was the counsel of equanimity. Men had
once been comforted for their own life and death in the thought of
deathless memorials; now they had lost hope, and declared that no
words and no gods could give immortality.[22] Resignation[23] was the
one lesson left to ancient literature, and, this lesson once fully
learned, it naturally and silently died. All know how the ages that
followed were too preoccupied to think of writings its epitaph. For
century after century Goth and Hun, Lombard and Frank, Bulgarian and
Avar, Norman and Saracen, Catalan and Turk rolled on in a ceaseless
storm of slaughter and rapine without; for century after century
within raged no less fiercely the unending fury of the new theology.
Filtered down through Byzantine epitomes, through Arabic translations,
through every sort of strange and tortuous channel, a vague and
distorted tradition of this great literature just survived long enough
to kindle the imagination of the fifteenth century. The chance of
history, fortunate perhaps for the whole world, swept the last Greek
scholars away from Constantinople to the living soil of Italy,
carrying with them the priceless relics of forgotten splendours. To
some broken stones, and to the chance which saved a few hundred
manuscripts from destruction, is due such knowledge as we have to-day
of that Greek thought and life which still remains to us in many ways
an unapproached ideal.

[1] Anth. Pal. v. 12; cf. the beautiful lyric with the refrain /Lytyll
ioye is son done/ (Percy Society, 1847).

[2] Anth. Pal. xi. 56.

[3] Cf. Ibid. xi. 25, 43; xii. 50.

[4] Theognis, 877, Bergk.

[5] Anth. Pal. ix. 412.

[6] Ibid. xi. 23.

[7] Archestr. ap. Athenaeum, vii. 286 a; {kan apothneskein melles,
arpason, . . kata usteron eoe o ti soi pepromenon estin}.

[8] Anth. Pal. xi. 3, 43, 56.

[9] Infra, xii. 19, 31, 24, 21.

[10] Citharist. Fr. 1, {ar esti suggenes to lupe kai bios}.

[11] Il. xvii. 443-447.

[12] Theognis, 425-8, Bergk.

[13] Oed. Col. 1225-8.

[14] Fr. Scyr. 500.

[15] Hypobolimaeus, Fr. 2.

[16] Anth. Pal. vii. 472.

[17] Ibid. x. 84.

[18] Ibid. x. 123.

[19] Ibid. x. 85.

[20] Ibid. x. 94, xi. 300.

[21] /Signum/ Aequanimitatis /dedit atque ita conversus quasi dormiret
spiritum reddidit./ Jul. Capitol., /Antoninus Pius/, c. xii.

[22] Anth. Pal. vii. 300, 362.

[23] {Esukhien agapan}, Ibid. x. 77.


That ancient world perished; and all the while, side by side with it,
a new world was growing up with which it had so little in common that
hitherto it would only have been confusing to take the latter much
into account. This review of the older civilisation has, so far as may
be, been kept apart from all that is implied by the introduction of
Christianity; it has even spoken of the decay and death of literature,
though literature and thought in another field were never more active
than in the early centuries of the Church. Of the immense gain that
came then to the world it is not necessary to speak; we all know it.
For the latter half of the period of human history over which the
Greek Anthology stretches, this new world was in truth the more
important of the two. While to the ageing Greek mind life had already
lost its joy, and thought begun to sicken, we hear the first notes of
a new glory and passion;

{Egeire o katheudon
Kai anasta ek ton vekron
Kai epiphausei soi o KHristos}[1]--

in this broken fragment of shapeless and barbaric verse, not in the
smooth and delicate couplets of contemporary poets, Polyaenus or
Antiphilus, lay the germ of the music which was to charm the centuries
that followed. Even through the long swoon of art which is usually
thought of as following the darkness of the third century, the truth
was that art was transforming itself into new shapes and learning a
new language. The last words of the Neo-Platonic philosophy with its
mystical wisdom were barely said when the Church of the Holy Wisdom
rose in Constantinople, the most perfect work of art that has yet been
known in organic beauty of design and splendour of ornament; and when
Justinian by his closure of the schools of Athens marked off, as by a
precise line, the end of the ancient world, in the Greek monasteries
of Athos new types of beauty were being slowly wrought out which
passed outward from land to land, transfiguring the face of the world
as they went, kindling new life wherever they fell, miraculously
transformed by the separate genius of every country from Norway to
India, creating in Italy the whole of the great medieval art that
stretches from Duccio and Giotto to Signorelli, and leaving to us
here, as our most precious inheritances, such mere blurred and broken
fragments of their glories as the cathedral churches of Salisbury and

It is only in the growth and life of that new world that the decay and
death of the old can be regarded with equanimity, or can in a certain
sense be historically justified: for Greek civilisation was and still
is so incomparable and so precious that its loss might otherwise fill
the mind with despair, and seem to be the last irony cast by fate
against the idea of human progress. But it is the law of all Nature,
from her highest works to her lowest, that life only comes by death;
"she replenishes one thing out of another," in the words of the Roman
poet, "and does not suffer anything to be begotten before she has been
recruited by the death of something else." To all things born she
comes one day with her imperious message: /materies opus est ut
crescant postera secla/.[2] With the infinite patience of one who has
inexhaustible time and imperishable material at her absolute command,
slowly, vacillatingly, not hesitating at any waste or any cruelty,
Nature works out some form till it approaches perfection; then finds
it flawed, finds it is not the thing she meant, and with the same
strong, unscrupulous and passionless action breaks it up and begins
anew. As in our own lives we sometimes feel that the slow progress of
years, the structure built up cell by cell through pain and patience
and weariness at lavish cost seems one day, when some great new force
enters our life, to begin to crumble and fall away from us, and leave
us strangers in a new world, so it is with the greater types of life,
with peoples and civilisations; some secret inherent flaw was in their
structure; they meet a trial for which they were not prepared, and
fail; once more they must be passed into the crucible and melted down
to their primitive matter. Yet Nature does not repeat herself; in some
way the experience of all past generations enters into those which
succeed them, and of a million of her works that have perished not one
has perished wholly without account. That Greece and Rome, though they
passed away, still influence us daily is indeed obvious; but it is as
certain that the great races before them, of which Babylonia,
Phoenicia, Egypt are only a few out of many, still live in the gradual
evolution of the purpose of history. They live in us indeed as blind
inherited forces, apart from our knowledge of them; yet if we can at
all realise any of them to ourselves, at all enter into their spirit,
our gain is great; for through time and distance they have become
simple and almost abstract; only what was most living in them
survives; and the loss of the vivid multiplicity and colour of a
fuller knowledge makes it easier to discriminate what was important in
them. Lapse of time has done for us with some portions of the past
what is so difficult or even impossible for us to do for ourselves
with the life actually round us, projected them upon an ideal plane:
how ideal, in the case of Greek history, is obvious if we consider for
a moment how nearly Homer and Herodotus are read alike by us. For
Homer's world was from the first imagined, not actual; yet the actual
world of the fifth century B.C. has become for us now no less an
ideal, perhaps one which is even more stimulating and more
fascinating. How far this may be due to any inherent excellence of its
own, how far to the subtle enchantment of association, does not affect
this argument. Of histories no less than of poems is it true that the
best are but shadows, and that, for the highest purposes which history
serves, the idea is the fact; the impression produced on us, the
heightening and ennobling influence of a life, ideal or actual, akin
to and yet different from ours, is the one thing which primarily
matters. And so it may be questioned whether so far as this, the vital
part of human culture, is concerned, modern scholarship has helped men
beyond the point already reached by the more imperfect knowledge and
more vivid intuitions of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; for if
the effect produced on them, in the way of heightening and ennobling
life, was more than the effect now and here produced on us, we have,
so far as the Greek world is concerned, lost and not gained.
Compensations indeed there are; a vast experience has enlarged our
horizon and deepened our emotion, and it would be absurd to say now,
as was once truly and plausibly said, that Greek means culture. Yet
even now we could ill do without it; nor does there seem any reason
beyond the dulness of our imagination and the imperfection of our
teaching why it should not be as true and as living a help as ever in
our lives.

At the present day the risk is not of Greek art and literature being
too little studied, but of their being studied in too contracted and
formal a spirit. Less time is spent on the corruptions of medieval
texts, and on the imbecilities of the decadence; but all the more is
labour wasted and insight obscured by the new pedantry; the research
into unimportant origins which the Greeks themselves wisely left
covered in a mist of mythology. The destruction dealt on the Athenian
acropolis, under the name of scholarship, is a type of modern
practice. The history of two thousand years has so far as possible
been swept carelessly away in the futile attempt to lay bare an
isolated picture of the age of Pericles; now archaeologists find that
they cannot stop there, and fix their interest on the shapeless
fragments of barbaric art beneath. But the Greek spirit and temper is
perhaps less known than it once was; there appears to be a real danger
that the influence upon men, the surprise of joy once given them by
the work of Sophocles or Pheidias or Plato, dwindles with the
accumulation of importance given to the barbarous antecedents and
surroundings from which that great art sprang. The highest office of
history is to preserve ideals; and where the ideal is saved its
substructure may well be allowed to perish, as perish in the main it
must, in spite of all that we can recover from the slight and
ambiguous records which it leaves. The value of this selection of
minor poetry--if one can speak of a value in poetry beyond itself--is
that, however imperfectly, it draws for us in little a picture of the
Greek ideal with all its virtues and its failings: it may be taken as
an epitome, slightly sketched with a facile hand, of the book of Greek
life. How slight the material is in which this picture is drawn
becomes plain the moment we turn from these epigrams, however delicate
and graceful, to the great writers. Yet the very study of the lesser
and the appreciation that comes of study may quicken our understanding
of the greater; and there is something more moving and pathetic in
their survival, as of flowers from a strange land: white violets
gathered in the morning, to recur to Meleager's exquisite metaphor,
yielding still a faint and fugitive fragrance here in the never-ending

[1] Quoted by S. Paul, Eph. v. 14.

[2] Lucr. i. 263, iii. 967.






Jar of Athens, drip the dewy juice of wine, drip, let the feast to
which all bring their share be wetted as with dew; be silenced the
swan, sage Zeno, and the Muse of Cleanthes, and let bitter-sweet Love
be our concern.


Sweet is snow in summer for the thirsty to drink, and sweet for
sailors after winter to see the garland of spring; but most sweet when
one cloak shelters two lovers, and the tale of love is told by both.


Nothing is sweeter than love, and all delicious things are second to
it; yes, even honey I spit out of my mouth. Thus saith Nossis; but he
whom the Cyprian loves not, knows not what roses her flowers are.


Once when turning over the Book of Hesiod in my hands, suddenly I saw
Pyrrha coming in; and casting the book to the ground from my hand, I
cried out, Why bring your works to me, old Hesiod?


Kissing Agathon, I had my soul upon my lips; for it rose, poor wretch,
as though to cross over.


At evening, at the hour when we say good-night, Moeris kissed me, I
know not whether really or in a dream; for very clearly I now have the
rest in mind, all she said to me, and all that she asked me of; but
whether she kissed me too, I doubt and guess; for if it is true, how,
after being set in heaven, do I go to and fro upon earth?


Let the die be thrown; light up! I will on my way; see, courage!--
Heavy with wine, what is thy purpose?--I will revel.--I will revel?
whither wanderest, O heart?--And what is Reason to Love? light up,
quick!--And where is thy old study of philosophy?--Away with the long
toil of wisdom; this one thing only I know, that Love took captive
even the mind of Zeus.


I am armed against Love with a breastplate of Reason, neither shall he
conquer me, one against one; yes, I a mortal will contend with him the
immortal: but if he have Bacchus to second him, what can I do alone
against the two?


Snow, hail, darken, blaze, thunder, shake forth all thy glooming
clouds upon the earth; for if thou slay me, then will I cease, but
while thou lettest me live, though thou handle me worse than this, I
will revel. For the god draws me who is thy master too, at whose
persuasion, Zeus, thou didst once pierce in gold to that brazen


I am no wine-bibber; but if thou wilt make me drunk, taste thou first
and bring it me, and I take it. For if thou wilt touch it with thy
lips, no longer is it easy to keep sober or to escape the sweet cup-
bearer; for the cup ferries me over a kiss from thee, and tells me of
the grace that it had.


Evermore in my ears eddies the sound of Love, and my eye silently
carries sweet tears for the Desires; nor does night nor light let me
rest, but already my enchanted heart bears the well-known imprint. Ah
winged Loves, surely you know how to fly towards me, but have no whit
of strength to fly away.


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