18 MARCH 1865, Page 15



"Think not that 'tis some common Mercury; No, my good friend, 'tis Scopas' work you see."

Tars epigram, translated by Wellesley in his Anthologia, and composed by an unknown author, illustrates, we think very neatly, the difficulty of discussing the real drift and temper of the great body of extant Greek epigrams. Luckily we know who Scopas was, and we are able to look at the meaning of this epigram from a solid ground. Remembering that Scopes was a really great sculptor, the epigram may be what the word itself primarily means,—an elegant inscription, intended to remind the spectator that this was no vulgar post, but a work of art, by a great artist. Such an inscription or label on a work of art would be in perfect harmony with the sunahining, superficial, but elegant buoyancy of Pagan life. The wealthy Greek, or the wealthy Roman's• quick-witted Greek slave, would think. no more of putting those two lines on the bust than we should of writing " Scopas " short. In this holiday light the lines rise above the level of the vulgar, modern, advertising doggrel. They are the happy tinsel, thin, very thin, elegant, and bright, of Pagan life out of doors. The epigram before us ?nay, we say, be this, that is, it may be simply inscriptive, convey no sting, contain no honey ; and its whole meaning may be "Scopas," neither more nor less. But it may mean more. It might, for instance, mean that though Scopas, the great Scopas, was the Sculptor, the statue was a very bad statue. The point then would be the antithesis between the badness of the work and the excellence of the workman. It might also mean that this statue, a bad statue, was by an inferior artist, also named "Scopas." The point would lie in * Greek Anthology. With notes critical and explanatory. Translated by Major Robrt Guthrie Macgreggor. London; Nissen and Parker. the antithesis between the good and the bad sculptor, and the fun in the personified conceit of the bad statue carrying a great name. Or it might mean that a nor us home, some faux- riche, bought and displayed false works of art under fictitious names, this among the number. A little colour is lent to the last supposition by the ironical 4 4 (7.1 X i; ere," and the " don't-suppose " tone of the epigram, implying a toss of the head and a fine satirical gravity. Which of all these meanings is the true one ? Not one of them is far-fetched. All that any one of them re-

quires is local knowledge, common knowledge, common and local gossip.

But take the converse in Cowper's version of an epigram of Owen's :—

" That thou mayst injure no man, dovelike be ; And serpent-like, that none may injure thee !"

What Roman of the classical period could have understood this epigram as we understand it ? It contains three distinct threads of thought. There is, first, the Scriptural allusion familiar to every English clodhopper, to the meanest indeed peculiarly in- telligible. There is, secondly, the twisting of the Scriptural mean- ing into a worldly threat, and the tone of loving admonition into a minatory accent wholly foreign to the original. For in

the text it says, we are to be wise, not terrible, as serpents. The only part of the epigram the old Roman would under-

stand would be the purely natural antithesis between dove and serpent, which is the very part in the English ideas aroused which lies entirely in the background of the picture, the merest vehicle of the sense conveyed. But, you say, it took centuries to make that sense sufficiently common to the English mind, and to hackney the text until a peasant could thread the

epigram as surely as his wife threads her needle. Of course it did. And it took centuries to hackney Greek mythology and the minutim of Greek life in such a way as to make epigrams which seem to us purely graceful, and childlike, and "sweet," and "direct," and " frank," and "lively without guile," and "pointed without intent to vex or offend" really a very power- ful and revolutionary social instrument. It is simply marvellous how men can write page upon page and exhaust volume upon

solume.andinies the most elementary difficulties of the subject. Thus we have pages of dissertation on the insipidity of the Greek epigrams, and we are assured by the writer in the Quarterly that it is our brackish taste which is at fault, and that if our taste were only pure enough we ought to love the pellucid simplicity of the bulk of Greek epigrams. The writer never seems to have an inkling that the pellucid simplicity and infantile grace are

creatures of our pure ignorance, and perhaps the burning of the

Alexaudrian Library. Is it to be supposed that a nation which first gave birth to an Aristophanes, and then in its later growths ended in a Lucian, would spend its time in the rumination of a hundred thousand milk-white epigrams ? Such a supposition argues milk-white simplicity on the part of the writer. If further illustrations are required, take Sannagaio's epigram :— " An fnerit Petrus ROMEO, sub judice lie eat: Simonem Ronne, nem° fuisse =gat."

Would Cicero have understood this? To us it is the quint- essence of bitterness. To him it would have been—what? Milk- white. Here, again, is an epigram of Buchanan's which happens to be on the boundary line, where, though more intelligible to us, it might still have been with effort intelligible to Horace :—

" Navita praeruptas telluris dovovet undas, Dam rudis indomiti terga premebat equi."

The comedy of the sailor on horseback swearing at the waves would have been intelligible to the Romans, but not so intensely comical as to the English, a nation of sailors and horsemen.

The writer on epigrams in the Quarterly has prefixed eighteen works to his article. This is a great array, but it has not helped him to understand the theory of an epigram. His learning is un- deniable, and he is apparently well read in English literature. But learning is one thing, reflection another. We have page upon page upon brevity as the great requirement of epigram, then point, then honey,—theee three are "the immutable requirements of epigram." We venture to say that the fundamental, immutable requirement of epigram is antithesis. Brevity, point, honey, or gall, are second- ary and purely secondary attributes. Of course the most perfect epigram is that in which the stroke of the antithesis is most instan- taneous, and therefore as a rule the couplet is the nearest approach to the perfection of epigrammatic form. But a blow may be as strong, though more slowly delivered. If the stroke of the antithesis should require not two, but six lines, if it is an antithe-

sis still it may strike at the end all the more powerfully for the

accumulated tail of power behind. For that matter, a speech, an essay, an article, a poem may have the force of an epigram. The condensed resultant of the whole may be to deliver one antithetical blow, which strikes the person or object with an indelible note, mark, or sign, wherewith in that particular order of ideas, be it European, or Chinese, or Japanese, Pagan or Christian, ancient or modern, that individual object or person remains stamped and known for ever. Nevertheless epigram proper does no doubt require a certain brevity, but the limits of that brevity are defined by one effort of mind. Whether the epigram be in one couplet or twenty lines there ought to be but one antithesis, one stroke,. and that stroke, that antithesis, should consequently be appre- hensible by one mental effort. The lines,—

" An epigram should be, if right, Short, pointed, keen, and bright, A lively little thing ; Like wasp with taper body—bound By lines—not many—neat and round, All ending in a sting,"

illustrate the Frenchman's saying that the truest sign of defective penetration is not to fall short of the mark, but to overstep it. The truest part of the analogy here is the very one overlooked, namely, the division of the wasp into two marked and sensible halves, as in antithesis. Suppose that half of the wasp which con- tains the sting to be cut off, and to live an independent life, would it represent an epigram? No. Because antithesis, i. e., bilateral stroke, is the soul of epigram in its later and technical significa- tion. A round marble, however small, neat, polished, and dapper, with a sharp point jutting out of it, would be no adequate symbol of epigram, any more than a drop of honey with a pin's point sticking through it. The true analogy in the bee and the wasp to the epigram is neither the sting nor the honey, but the

antithetical and salient division into two halves, within such a com- pass as to fill the eye with the saliency of the antithesis, or bilateral- neas, first of all. A purely inscriptive epigram is no longer an epigram

in the technical sense. "A was a tall man" is short, "B was a dear man" is sweet, but neither is an epigram. "A was a tall man,

with a short beard," is faintly epigrammatic, owing to the anti- thesis between the length of the man and the shortness of his beard. Antithesis, then, is the soul of epigram, and when old epi- grams are not felt to be antithetical, one of two things may safely be affirmed,—either they are not and never were epigrams, or the antithesis is lost.

We have been led into an abstract disquisition on epigrams independently of Major MacGreggor's translation now before us. Major MacGreggor, who in 1857 published Epitaphs from the Greek Anthology, has now enriched our literature with a work in its kind unique, being no less than a translation of the great body of Greek epigrams, a labour which has occupied the loving leisure of an active life-time. Major MacGreggor tells us, however, that he has omitted the Christian epigrams, the Ex9pams of Christodorus, the Proemia of several collectors, and some other parts of the anthology. We cannot endorse his rea- sons. Having done so much, we deeply regret that he did not do more. It is especially to be regretted that owing to scruples which appear to us lamentably narrow, he did not translate the Christian epigrams. The days are past when the translation for literary ends of epigrams, however light in tone, could affect the religious feeling of this country, whereas the cause of learning would be benefited by the translation of the complete anthology. Surely Major MacGreggor hardly flatters himself that his volume will find its way into the hands of women, children, and mere idlers.

and if not, his scruples are thrown away. It is one of the curious features of English life to observe how the orthodox trammels put upon independent study fetter the scholar in the inmost recesses of his mind.

Major MacGreggor's work, as we have it, we can characterize briefly. The versification is nervous, sometimes obscure, the inversions are too frequent, as, for instance, " Euripus near " for "near Euripus," but often for the sake of brevity and closeness. There is also a sense of time and repose about the workmanship, a certain agreeable weight. Then occasionally the translator seems to have been in the vein to please himself, and then the verse runs too glibly, too Tom-Mooreishly, to please the reader. But on the whole, it is a fine instance of the combined effect of the accumu- lation of driblets of time spent on a great object. To be sure, as there was but one system of the world for Newton to discover, as the envious Laplace said, so there was but one anthology of separate tit-bits to be spread in translation over a life-time. We must conclude with our candid avowal to the writer in the Quarterly, that so insipid do the epigrams seem (in our ignorance of their real, original meaning) that we would not have translated them if we could, a sorry epigram in its way, which we beg to present him with, and Major MacGreggor. Laplace would cer • tainly not have said as much to Newton about the discovery of the system of the world.