An epigram was once the inscription on tombstones, works of fine art, buildings, votive gifts and the like, which was written mainly in distributions. This gave rise to an independent form of poetry: the epigram. This is a short sense or mocking poem. Epigrams contain the most diverse thoughts and are often written in ruffled and pointed form. They address the mind, often want to instruct them and ask their readers to comment. The form of classical music (→ Literaturepochen) experienced its highlights.
The term can be derived from the Greek (ἐπίγραμμα ~ epigramma) and means inscription. Thus the translation already refers to the fundamental point of the epigram: namely, a form of the inscription or inscription, from which a separate form of poem was subsequently derived.
However, this poem does not have any clear rules, which they are always subject to. It is important, however, that an epigram is always an intellectual thought about an object, to the appreciation of a person of the thought or tomb, or the special interpretation of an event or condition. It is thus a ruffled, memorable, and lyric form of feelings, moods or thoughts.
At the latest since the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, other stanzas and verses have increasingly entered the epigrams and separated them from the distich, which is formed by a unit of the hexameter and the pentameter. Nevertheless, the characteristic brevity of the epigram was preserved. This brevity supports the pointed character of the meaning, whereby the poem form is characterized by distinctness and a concise statement content. Let us now look at an example from the German area.
This is Achilles’ grave: the future Troy to terror
the Greeks put it here on the Trojan beach.
Son of the Sea Goddess, you lie buried on the shore,
that the wave of the sea shall emit your eternal praise.
The above example is from Johann Gottfried Herder and illustrates the basic principle. Here the trait of the inscription on the grave was preserved and a four-line inscription on Achilles, an invulnerable hero of Greek mythology, was created. It is obvious that the above epigram does not follow a clear structure, but is precisely, briefly and clearly, to appreciate a person.
Chirurgus fuerat, nunc est vispillo diaulus.
coepit quo poterat clinicus esse modo.
Doctor was Diaulus, now he is a corpse carrier.
In the way he could, he laid the people on the stretcher from the very beginning.
The above example comes from the Roman poet Martial, who certainly took the greatest influence on the ancient epigram poetry. In this two-line the mocking and satirical character of the epigram becomes clear. Martial is attacking the doctors’ guild and overpowering them with acrid mockery.
Martial’s interpretation of the poem was subsequently adapted by numerous authors, that is, adopted. The transformation of the simple inscription into the mocking poem is understandable, and the distich is clearly visible. In the Weimar Classic the schema was transferred by Schiller and Goethe to the so-called Xenien (hostilities); a very polemical attack on the literature of the time.
Crosshead! screams angrily into our forests Mr. Nickel.
Empty head! it sounds funny to the forest.
This example is taken from the Xenien and is to be understood as a tantalum about the German writer Friedrich Nicolai, a principal representative of the Berlin Enlightenment. In this case also the malicious, often biting character of the epigram appears, which appears striking and pungent.
Note: It can be seen that the epigram can basically be of two types. Either it can be understood as a sharp-witted, perhaps also wise, sense-poem, which turns wisely or wittily to a theme, or it comes as a malicious, ridicule poem that critically attacks an epoch or a guild or a person and presents it satirically.
History of the epigram
The epigram has a long tradition, whereby in the course of time it changed its character on the one hand and, on the other hand, deposited its original structure. Therefore we would like to briefly describe the history of the short poem and describe its development.
Originally, epigrammatic poetry goes back to ancient Greece, with the Greek anthology (Anthologia Graeca), a collection of poems written mainly in the form of the epigram, testifying to the spread. Here the epigram is to be interpreted primarily as a meaning poem or inscription.
Later, this kind of poetry came to Rome, and took on a satirical, partly biting character there, chiefly through the development of the poet Martial, but lost the original form of the distich, and was even partly transformed into the madrigal or the sonnet.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the epigrams were popular in France, with Element Marot (1495-1544) being mentioned as the first poet of this genre. In the course of the impending revolution between the years 1789 to 1799, the opposition used the epigram and discharged ridicule in him.
In the German-speaking world, epigrams can already be found between the 13th and 14th centuries, whereby the form of the meaning poem was more appealing. In the seventeenth century, the rediscovery and adaptation of the Roman poet Martial began, and his satirical nature was imitated, dropping enormously in Schiller’s and Goethe’s striking Xenien.
Short overview: meaning, characteristics and background
As an epigram, the inscription was originally depicted on an object, usually on a tomb, which was an apt, brief, written in distant form.
However, when the epigram came to Rome and was changed and reinterpreted by the poet Martial, it became a mocking poem, full of criticism and criticism of guilds, persons, or grievances.
It lost the ability to be based on distichs, and is nowadays mainly identified as a short, striking poem, reminiscent of a person, an event, or a matter of fact, or as a mocking poem.
Very often, epigrams are constructed antithetically, whereby in the first verse an assertion is made, which is denied or contradicted. Stylistically, this effect is reinforced by the following point.