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What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole,
There can be more than one tune to play, also when it comes to brief and pithy statements in verse or otherwise, purporting to point a moral. Wits and sages of many ages have tried to identify what are epigrams. Edmund Fuller: "It is the irreverent leaven of earthy humor, however polished, that keeps the arteries of intellect from hardening." [Toe v]
Also, in a very long tradition from the Greeks onwards, epigrams, like bees, should have "a sting, and honey, and a small body." [Cf. Toe v]
On these pages an epigram may be taken to mean "a short poem leading up to and ending in a witty or ingenious turn of thought." [Toe v]
But epigrams can also be "what you want them to be" (Edmund Fuller). They overlap with such as aphoristic wisdom and other witty expressions, and may be in prose, unrhymed, and not caustic either. Still, as Edmund Fuller further states, they should be brief, they should be witty, and paradoxical, and true, but . . .
Though old the thought and oft expressed,
What is more, epigrams have been used for insults and abuse, and the form has traditionally been inclined towards such as irreverence and deflation. You may use some of them to supercharge your conversation, if needed.
Look at this:
"God is the noblest work of man (Robert Ingersoll)".
The instruction may be valid for such as word-propounded ideas of goodness, greatness, beauty and vigilance, as in some senses what men call 'God' could be 'a bundle of projections', even deep mental projections. A simple switch from perhaps too fevered arguments that "man is the noblest work of God" may thus be of service too. But as with other epigrams, "discretion should be applied", because "they are edge tools" [Toe viii], and
The fate of all extreme is such:
Further, somewhat linked to the above, "Character is much easier kept than recovered. (Thomas Paine)"
Enjoy the collection.
A summary of Lord Lyttelton's adviceBe plain in dress and sober in your diet;
In short, my deary, kiss me, and be quiet.
- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) [Fee no. 280]
He is happy whose circumstances suit his temper but he is more excellent who can suit his temper to any circumstances. - David Hume [Toe 42]
Men freely believe what they desire. - Julius Caesar [Toe 31]
Society is now one polished horde,
A prating barber asked Archelaus how he would be trimmed. He answered, "In silence." - Plutarch [Toe 35]
Since brevity is the soul of wit,
He who prefers to give to Linus the half of what he wishes to borrow, rather than to lend him the whole, prefers to lose only the half. - Martial [Toe 36]
Why have you come into my show, austere Cato? Did you walk in merely to walk out? - Martial (new rendering) [Cf. Toe 40]
Work and acquire, and you have chained the wheel of chance. - Ralph Waldo Emerson [Toe 40]
Valour and courage to the young and strong,
Cab: Bierce, Ambrose: The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce. Vol 8. Neale Publishing Co. New York, 1911.
Coho: Housman, Alfred Edward: The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman. Holt, Rinehart and Wilson. New York, 1965.
Epmd: Martialis, Marcus Valerius: The Epigrams of Martial. English tr. by Walter Ker. Vol. 1. Heinemann. London, 1961.
Epmi: Martialis, Marcus Valerius: The Epigrams of Martial. English tr. by Walter Ker. Vol. 2. Heinemann. London, 1961.
Fee: Grigson, Geoffrey, ed.: The Faber Book of Epigrams and Epitaphs. Faber and Faber. London, 1977.
Gaf: Cameron, Alan: The Greek Anthology: From Meleager to Planudes. Clarendon Press. Oxford, 1993.
Obl: Auden, W.H.: The Oxford Book of Light Verse. 2nd impression. Oxford University Press. London, 1939.
Pem: Farmer, John S. ed.: Early English Dramatists: The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellaneous of John Heywood. Facsimile of 1906 ed. by Traylen. Guilford, 1966.
Stl: Williams, Oscar, ed.: The Silver Treasury of Light Verse: From Geoffrey Chaucer to Ogden Nash. Mentor/New American Library. New York, 1957.
Toe: Fuller, Edmund, ed: Thesaurus of Epigrams. Crown Publishers. New York,
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