1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anthology
ANTHOLOGY. The term “anthology,” literally denoting a garland or collection of flowers, is figuratively applied to any selection of literary beauties, and especially to that great body of fugitive poetry, comprehending about 4500 pieces, by upwards of 300 writers, which is commonly known as the Greek Anthology.
Literary History of the Greek Anthology.—The art of occasional poetry had been cultivated in Greece from an early period,—less, however, as the vehicle of personal feeling, than as the recognized commemoration of remarkable individuals or events, on sepulchral monuments and votive offerings. Such compositions were termed epigrams, i.e. inscriptions. The modern use of the word is a departure from the original sense, which simply indicated that the composition was intended to be engraved or inscribed. Such a composition must necessarily be brief, and the restraints attendant upon its publication concurred with the simplicity of Greek taste in prescribing conciseness of expression, pregnancy of meaning, purity of diction and singleness of thought, as the indispensable conditions of excellence in the epigrammatic style. The term was soon extended to any piece by which these conditions were fulfilled. The transition from the monumental to the purely literary character of the epigram was favoured by the exhaustion of more lofty forms of poetry, the general increase, from the general diffusion of culture, of accomplished writers and tasteful readers, but, above all, by the changed political circumstances of the times, which induced many who would otherwise have engaged in public affairs to addict themselves to literary pursuits. These causes came into full operation during the Alexandrian era, in which we find every description of epigrammatic composition perfectly developed. About 60 B.C., the sophist and poet, Meleager of Gadara, undertook to combine the choicest effusions of his predecessors into a single body of fugitive poetry. Collections of monumental inscriptions, or of poems on particular subjects, had previously been formed by Polemon Periegetes and others; but Meleager first gave the principle a comprehensive application. His selection, compiled from forty-six of his predecessors, and including numerous contributions of his own, was entitled The Garland (Στέφανος); and in an introductory poem each poet is compared to some flower, fancifully deemed appropriate to his genius. The arrangement of his collection was alphabetical, according to the initial letter of each epigram.
In the age of the emperor Tiberius (or Trajan, according to others) the work of Meleager was continued by another epigrammatist, Philippus of Thessalonica, who first employed the term anthology. His collection, which included the compositions of thirteen writers subsequent to Meleager, was also arranged alphabetically, and contained an introductory poem. It was of inferior quality to Meleager’s. Somewhat later, under Hadrian, another supplement was formed by the sophist Diogenianus of Heracleia (2nd century A.D.), and Strato of Sardis compiled his elegant but tainted Μοῦσα Παιδική (Musa Puerilis) from his productions and those of earlier writers. No further collection from various sources is recorded until the time of Justinian, when epigrammatic writing, especially of an amatory character, experienced a great revival at the hands of Agathias of Myrina, the historian, Paulus Silentiarius, and their circle. Their ingenious but mannered productions were collected by Agathias into a new anthology, entitled The Circle (Κύκλος); it was the first to be divided into books, and arranged with reference to the subjects of the pieces.
These and other collections made during the middle ages are now lost. The partial incorporation of them into a single body, classified according to the contents in 15 books, was the work of a certain Constantinus Cephalas, whose name alone is preserved in the single MS. of his compilation extant, but who probably lived during the temporary revival of letters under Constantine Porphyrogenitus, at the beginning of the 10th century. He appears to have merely made excerpts from the existing anthologies, with the addition of selections from Lucillius, Palladas, and other epigrammatists, whose compositions had been published separately. His arrangement, to which we shall have to recur, is founded on a principle of classification, and nearly corresponds to that adopted by Agathias. His principle of selection is unknown; it is only certain that while he omitted much that he should have retained, he has preserved much that would otherwise have perished. The extent of our obligations may be ascertained by a comparison between his anthology and that of the next editor, the monk Maximus Planudes (A.D. 1320), who has not merely grievously mutilated the anthology of Cephalas by omissions, but has disfigured it by interpolating verses of his own. We are, however, indebted to him for the preservation of the epigrams on works of art, which seem to have been accidentally omitted from our only transcript of Cephalas.
Arrangement.—The Palatine MS., the archetype of the present text, was transcribed by different persons at different times, and the actual arrangement of the collection does not correspond with that signalized in the index. It is as follows: Book 1. Christian epigrams; 2. Christodorus’s description of certain statues; 3. Inscriptions in the temple at Cyzicus; 4. The prefaces of Meleager, Philippus, and Agathias to their respective collections; 5. Amatory epigrams; 6. Votive inscriptions; 7. Epitaphs; 8. The epigrams of Gregory of Nazianzus; 9. Rhetorical and illustrative epigrams; 10. Ethical pieces; 11. Humorous and convivial; 12. Strato’s Musa Puerilis; 13. Metrical curiosities; 14. Puzzles, enigmas, oracles; 15. Miscellanies. The epigrams on works of art, as already stated, are missing from the Codex Palatinus, and must be sought in an appendix of epigrams only occurring in the Planudean Anthology. The epigrams hitherto recovered from ancient monuments and similar sources form appendices in the second and third volumes of Dübner’s edition.
Style and Value.—One of the principal claims of the Anthology to attention is derived from its continuity, its existence as a living and growing body of poetry throughout all the vicissitudes of Greek civilization. More ambitious descriptions of composition speedily ran their course, and having attained their complete development became extinct or at best lingered only in feeble or conventional imitations. The humbler strains of the epigrammatic muse, on the other hand, remained ever fresh and animated, ever in intimate union with the spirit of the generation that gave them birth. To peruse the entire collection, accordingly, is as it were to assist at the disinterment of an ancient city, where generation has succeeded generation on the same site, and each stratum of soil enshrines the vestiges of a distinct epoch, but where all epochs, nevertheless, combine to constitute an organic whole, and the transition from one to the other is hardly perceptible. Four stages may be indicated:—1. The Hellenic proper, of which Simonides of Ceos (c. 556–469 B.C.), the author of most of the sepulchral inscriptions on those who fell in the Persian wars, is the characteristic representative. This is characterized by a simple dignity of phrase, which to a modern taste almost verges upon baldness, by a crystalline transparency of diction, and by an absolute fidelity to the original conception of the epigram. Nearly all the pieces of this era are actual bona fide inscriptions or addresses to real personages, whether living or deceased; narratives, literary exercises, and sports of fancy are exceedingly rare. 2. The epigram received a great development in its second or Alexandrian era, when its range was so extended as to include anecdote, satire, and amorous longing; when epitaphs and votive inscriptions were composed on imaginary persons and things, and men of taste successfully attempted the same subjects in mutual emulation, or sat down to compose verses as displays of their ingenuity. The result was a great gain in richness of style and general interest, counterbalanced by a falling off in purity of diction and sincerity of treatment. The modification—a perfectly legitimate one, the resources of the old style being exhausted—had its real source in the transformation of political life, but may be said to commence with and to find its best representative in the playful and elegant Leonidas of Tarentum, a contemporary of Pyrrhus, and to close with Antipater of Sidon, about 140 B.C. (or later). It should be noticed, however, that Callimachus, one of the most distinguished of the Alexandrian poets, affects the sternest simplicity in his epigrams, and copies the austerity of Simonides with as much success as an imitator can expect. 3. By a slight additional modification in the same direction, the Alexandrian passes into what, for the sake of preserving the parallelism with eras of Greek prose literature, we may call the Roman style, although the peculiarities of its principal representative are decidedly Oriental. Meleager of Gadara was a Syrian; his taste was less severe, and his temperament more fervent than those of his Greek predecessors; his pieces are usually erotic, and their glowing imagery sometimes reminds us of the Song of Solomon. The luxuriance of his fancy occasionally betrays him into far-fetched conceits, and the lavishness of his epithets is only redeemed by their exquisite felicity. Yet his effusions are manifestly the offspring of genuine feeling, and his epitaph on himself indicates a great advance on the exclusiveness of antique Greek patriotism, and is perhaps the first clear enunciation of the spirit of universal humanity characteristic of the later Stoic philosophy. His gaiety and licentiousness are imitated and exaggerated by his somewhat later contemporary, the Epicurean Philodemus, perhaps the liveliest of all the epigrammatists; his fancy reappears with diminished brilliancy in Philodemus’s contemporary, Zonas, in Crinagoras, who wrote under Augustus, and in Marcus Argentarius, of uncertain date; his peculiar gorgeousness of colouring remains entirely his own. At a later period of the empire another genre, hitherto comparatively in abeyance, was developed, the satirical. Lucillius, who flourished under Nero, and Lucian, more renowned in other fields of literature, display a remarkable talent for shrewd, caustic epigram, frequently embodying moral reflexions of great cogency, often lashing vice and folly with signal effect, but not seldom indulging in mere trivialities, or deformed by scoffs at personal blemishes. This style of composition is not properly Greek, but Roman; it answers to the modern definition of epigram, and has hence attained a celebrity in excess of its deserts. It is remarkable, however, as an almost solitary example of direct Latin influence on Greek literature. The same style obtains with Palladas, an Alexandrian grammarian of the 4th century, the last of the strictly classical epigrammatists, and the first to be guilty of downright bad taste. His better pieces, however, are characterized by an austere ethical impressiveness, and his literary position is very interesting as that of an indignant but despairing opponent of Christianity. 4. The fourth or Byzantine style of epigrammatic composition was cultivated by the beaux-esprits of the court of Justinian. To a great extent this is merely imitative, but the circumstances of the period operated so as to produce a species of originality. The peculiarly ornate and recherché diction of Agathias and his compeers is not a merit in itself, but, applied for the first time, it has the effect of revivifying an old form, and many of their new locutions are actual enrichments of the language. The writers, moreover, were men of genuine poetical feeling, ingenious in invention, and capable of expressing emotion with energy and liveliness; the colouring of their pieces is sometimes highly dramatic.
It would be hard to exaggerate the substantial value of the Anthology, whether as a storehouse of facts bearing on antique manners, customs and ideas, or as one among the influences which have contributed to mould the literature of the modern world. The multitudinous votive inscriptions, serious and sportive, connote the phases of Greek religious sentiment, from pious awe to irreverent familiarity and sarcastic scepticism; the moral tone of the nation at various periods is mirrored with corresponding fidelity; the sepulchral inscriptions admit us into the inmost sanctuary of family affection, and reveal a depth and tenderness of feeling beyond the province of the historian to depict, which we should not have surmised even from the dramatists; the general tendency of the collection is to display antiquity on its most human side, and to mitigate those contrasts with the modern world which more ambitious modes of composition force into relief. The constant reference to the details of private life renders the Anthology an inexhaustible treasury for the student of archaeology; art, industry and costume receive their fullest illustration from its pages. Its influence on European literatures will be appreciated in proportion to the inquirer’s knowledge of each. The further his researches extend, the greater will be his astonishment at the extent to which the Anthology has been laid under contribution for thoughts which have become household words in all cultivated languages, and at the beneficial effect of the imitation of its brevity, simplicity, and absolute verbal accuracy upon the undisciplined luxuriance of modern genius.
Latin Anthology.—The Latin Anthology is the appellation bestowed upon a collection of fugitive Latin verse, from the age of Ennius to about A.D. 1000, formed by Peter Burmann the Younger. Nothing corresponding to the Greek anthology is known to have existed among the Romans, though professional epigrammatists like Martial published their volumes on their own account, and detached sayings were excerpted from authors like Ennius and Publius Syrus, while the Priapeïa were probably but one among many collections on special subjects. The first general collection of scattered pieces made by a modern scholar was Scaliger’s Catalecta veterum Poetarum (1573), succeeded by the more ample one of Pithoeus, Epigrammata et Poemata e Codicibus et Lapidibus collecta (1590). Numerous additions, principally from inscriptions, continued to be made, and in 1759-1773 Burmann digested the whole into his Anthologia veterum Latinorum Epigrammatum et Poematum. This, occasionally reprinted, was the standard edition until 1869, when Alexander Riese commenced a new and more critical recension, from which many pieces improperly inserted by Burmann are rejected, and his classified arrangement is discarded for one according to the sources whence the poems have been derived. The first volume contains those found in MSS., in the order of the importance of these documents; those furnished by inscriptions following. The first volume (in two parts) appeared in 1869-1870, a second edition of the first part in 1894, and the second volume, Carmina Epigraphica (in two parts), in 1895-1897, edited by F. Bücheler. An Anthologiae Latinae Supplementa, in the same series, followed. Having been formed by scholars actuated by no aesthetic principles of selection, but solely intent on preserving everything they could find, the Latin anthology is much more heterogeneous than the Greek, and unspeakably inferior. The really beautiful poems of Petronius and Apuleius are more properly inserted in the collected editions of their writings, and more than half the remainder consists of the frigid conceits of pedantic professional exercises of grammarians of a very late period of the empire, relieved by an occasional gem, such as the apostrophe of the dying Hadrian to his spirit, or the epithalamium of Gallienus. The collection is also, for the most part, too recent in date, and too exclusively literary in character, to add much to our knowledge of classical antiquity. The epitaphs are interesting, but the genuineness of many of them is very questionable. (R. G.)