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EPIGRAM. A platitude with vine-leaves in its hair.

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
A Book of Burlesques, “The Jazz Webster” (1924)
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Added on 3-Jul-24 | Last updated 3-Jul-24
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France was long a “Despotism tempered by Epigrams.”

Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian
The French Revolution: A History, Part 1, Book 2, ch. 4 (1.2.4) (1837)
    (Source)

Though given in quotation marks, Carlyle is apparently "quoting" himself.

This quotation is commonly given on its own, though, since Carlyle's thesis at this point in his history is that the royal government had largely become irrelevant in the nation, he continues:

... and now, it would seem, the Epigrams have got the upper hand.
[Source]

 
Added on 14-Mar-24 | Last updated 14-Mar-24
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Who sneers at epigrams and feigns to scout them,
Believe me, does not know a thing about them.
The real bores are the dreary epic spinners
Who rant of Tereus’ or Thyestes’ dinners,
Who rave of cunning Daedalus applying
The wings to Icarus to teach him flying,
Or else to show what dullards they esteem us
Bleat endless pastorals on Polyphemus.
My unpretentious Muse is not bombastic,
But deems these robes of Tragedy fantastic.
“Such things,” you say, “earn all men’s commendation,
As works of genius and inspiration.”
Ah, very true — those pompous classic leaders
Do get the praise — but then I get the readers!

[Nescit, crede mihi, quid sint epigrammata, Flacce,
Qui tantum lusus ista iocosque vocat.
Ille magis ludit, qui scribit prandia saevi
Tereos, aut cenam, crude Thyesta, tuam,
Aut puero liquidas aptantem Daedalon alas,
Pascentem Siculas aut Polyphemon ovis.
A nostris procul est omnis vesica libellis,
Musa nec insano syrmate nostra tumet.
“Illa tamen laudant omnes, mirantur, adorant.”
Confiteor: laudant illa, sed ista legunt.]

Marcus Valerius Martial
Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 4, epigram 49 (4.49) (AD 89) [tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]
    (Source)

"To Valerius Flaccus." (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Flaccus thou knowest not Epigrams,
no more then babes or boyes:
Which deemst them to be nothyng els,
but sports and triflyng toyes:
He rather toyes, and sports it out,
whiche doeth in Verse recite
Fell Tereus dinner, or whiche doeth,
Thyestes supper write:
Or he whiche telles how Dedalus,
did teache his sonne to flie:
Which telleth eke of Plyphem,
the Shepheard with one eye.
From bookes of myne, are quight exempt,
all rancour, rage and gall:
No plaier in his euishe weeds,
heare prankyng see you shall:
Yet these men doe adore (thou sayest)
laude, like and love: in deed,
I graunt you sir those they do laude,
perdie but these thei reed.
[tr. Kendall (1577)]

Thou know'st not, trust me, what are Epigrams,
Flaccus, who think'st them jest and wanton games.
He wantons more, who writes what horrid meat
The plagu'd Tyestes and vex't Tereus eat,
Or Daedalus fitting is boy to fly,
Or Polyphemus' flocks in Sicily.
My booke no windy words nor turgid needes,
Nor swells my Muse with mad Cothurnall weedes.
Yet those things all men praise, admire, adore.
True; they praise those, but read these poems more.
[tr. May (1629)]

Though little know'st what epigram contains,
Who think'st it all a joke in jocund strains.
He direly jokes, who bids a Tereus dine;
Or dresses suppers like, Thyestes, thine;
Feins him who fits the boy with melting wings,
Or the sweet shepherd Polyphemus sings.
Or muse disdains by fustian to excel;
by rant to rattle, or in buskin swell.
Those strains the learn'd applaud, admire, adore.
Those they applaud, I own; but these explore.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), ep. 48]

You little know what Epigram contains,
Who deem it but a jest in jocund strains.
He rather jokes, who writes what horrid meat
The plagued Thyestes and vex't Tereus eat;
Or tells who robed the boy with melting wings;
Or of the shepherd Polyphemus sings.
Our muse disdains by fustian to excel,
By rant to rattle, or in buskins swell.
Though turgid themes all men admire, adore,
Be well assured they read my poems more.
[Westminster Review (Apr 1853)]

He knows not, Flaccus, believe me, what Epigrams really are,
who calls them mere trifles and frivolities.
He is much more frivolous, who writes of the feast of the cruel
Tereus; or the banquet of the unnatural Thyestes;
or of Daedalus fitting melting wings to his son's body;
or of Polyphemus feeding his Sicilian flocks.
From my effusions all tumid ranting is excluded;
nor does my Muse swell with the mad garment of Tragedy.
"But everything written in such a style is praised, admired, and adored by all."
I admit it. Things in that style are praised; but mine are read.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

He does not know, believe me, what epigrams are, Flaccus,
who styles them only frivolities and quips.
He is more frivolous who writes of the meal of savage
Tereus, or of thy banquet, dyspeptic Thyestes,
or of Daedalus fitting to his son melting wings,
or of Polyphemus pasturing Sicilian sheep.
Far from poems of mine is all turgescence,
nor does my Muse swell with frenzied tragic train.
"Yet all men praise those tragedies, admire, worship them."
I grant it: those they praise, but they read the others.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

What makes an epigram he knows not best
Who deems it, Flaccus, but an idle jest.
They rather jest, who Tereus' crime indict
Or the foul banquet of Thyestes write,
Or Icarus equipped with waxen wing
Or Polyphemus and his shepherding.
No fustian ornaments my page abuse
Nor struts in senseless pomp my tragic Muse.
"Men praise," you say, "and call such verse divine."
Yes, they may praise it, but they study mine.
[tr. Francis & Tatum (1924), #188, "A Defence of Epigram"]

He does not know what epigrams
Are really meant to be
Who calls them only jests and jokes
Or comic poetry --
A dimwit dilettante's delight,
Mere vers de societé
He really is the one who jests
Who writes about the stew
Served Tereus, or that loathsome meal
Of children served to you,
Thyestes, indigestion-prone,
Of sons your brother slew.
Or Daedalus fitting Icarus
With two liquescent wings,
Or who of Polyphemus tending
Sheep in Sicily sings,
And those huge, monstrous boulders which
He at Ulysses flings.
Far from my verse is any trace
Of rank turgidity.
My Muse has never donned the robes
Of pompous tragedy.
"But that's what's praised!" But what is read?
My earthy poetry!
[tr. Marcellino (1968)]

To say that epigrams are only jokes and gags
is not to know what they are, my good friend Flaccus.
The poet is more entertaining who asks you to dine
at the cannibal board of Tereus, or describes,
oh indigestible Thyestes, your dinner party;
or the diverting poet turns your attention away
to the mythical sight of Daedalus, fittingly typed
as the one who tailored those tender wings for his son;
or wanders off with Polyphemus, the pastoral giant
pasturing preposterous sheep. Far be it from me
to enlarge on the standard rhetorical situation
and wax eloquent in the interests of inflation.
Our Muse makes no use of the billowing robes
that stalk the figures of Tragedy. "But those poems
are what everyone praises and adores."
I admit it, they praise them, but they read ours.
[tr. Bovie (1970)]

Who deem epigrams mere trifles,
Flaccus, know not epigram.
He trifles who describes the meal
wild Tereus, rude Thyestes ate,
The Cretan Glider moulting wax,
the one-eyed shepherd herding sheep.
Foreign to my verse the tragic sock,
it's turgid, ranting rhetoric.
"Men praise -- esteem -- revere these works."
True: them they praise ... while reading me.
[tr. Whigham (1987)]

Anybody who calls them just frivolities and jests, Flaccus, doesn't know what epigrams are, believe me. More frivolous is the poet who writes about the meal of savage Tereus or your dinner, dyspeptic Thyestes, or Daedalus fitting his boy with liquid wings, or Polyphemus feeding Sicilian sheep. All bombast is far from my little books, neither does my Muse swell with tragedy's fantastic robe. "And yet all the world praises such things and admires and marvels." I admit it: that they praise, but this they read.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

Quite clueless, Flaccus, all these sorry folks
Who brand short poems mere badinage and jokes.
Want to know who's more idle? The big boys,
Our Epic Poets, who rehearse the joys
Of serving human flesh up à la carte --
Tereus' bloody banquet or the huge tart
Chez Thyestes ("It's a little gristly!").
Or they serve us crap, like how remissly
Daedalus made -- with wax, imagine! -- wings
For his poor doomed son. Then Big Epic sings
Of arms and the -- not "man" -- one-eyed giant?
Polyphemus: his brain was far from pliant,
So Homer made him watch sheep in Sicily.
Pardon me for carping so pissily,
Flaccus, at insults to my epigrams,
So far from the bloated whimsy that crams
Our big-assed epics. All men blare in praise
of these "classics," you say, and bask in their rays.
I will not disagree, but mark my word:
Some day, far off, a wise man will be heard
To say, "Classics we all want to have read,
Never to read." My books get read instead!
[tr. Schmidgall (2001)]

You think my epigrams are silly?
Far worse is bombast uttered shrilly --
Like Tereus baking human pie.
Or Daedal son who tried to fly.
Monster Cyclopes keeping sheep.
My verse is of such nonsense free.
It poses not as tragedy.
But praise for those things does exceed?
Those things men praise -- but mine they read.
[tr. Wills (2007)]

One doesn't fathom epigrams, believe me,
Flaccus, who labels them mere jokes and play.
He's trifling who writes of savage Tereus' mean
or yours, queasy Thyestes, or the way
Daedalus fit his boy with melting wings
or Polyphemus grazed Sicilian flocks.
My little books shun bombast and my Muse
won't rave in puffed-up tragedy's long frocks.
"Yet all admire, praise, honor those," Indeed,
they praise those, I confess, but these they read.
[tr. McLean (2014)]

Trust me, Flaccus, anyone who says it's just "ditties" and "jokes"
doesn't know what epigram is.
The real joker is the poet who describes the feast of cruel
Tereus, or the dinner that gave Thyestes indigestion,
or Daedalus strapping melting wings to his son,
or Polyphemus pasturing his Sicilian sheep.
No puffery gets near my little books;
my Muse doesn't swell and strut in the trailing robe of Tragedy.
"But that stuff gets the applause, the awe, the worship."
I can't deny it: that stuff does get the applause. But my stuff gets read.
[tr. Nisbet (2015)]

 
Added on 29-Oct-21 | Last updated 27-Nov-23
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If with the literate I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
‘A Pig’s-Eye View of Literature: Oscar Wilde,” Life (2 Jun 1927)
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Reprinted in Sunset Gun (1928).
 
Added on 22-Jun-20 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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Our live experiences, fixed in aphorisms, stiffen into cold epigram. Our heart’s blood, as we write with it, turns to mere dull ink.

F. H. Bradley (1846-1924) British idealist philosopher [Francis Herbert Bradley]
Aphorisms (1930)
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Added on 12-Dec-17 | Last updated 12-Dec-17
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Somewhere in the world there is an epigram for every dilemma.

Hendrik Willem van Loon (1882-1944) Dutch-American historian and journalist
(Attributed)
 
Added on 11-Dec-15 | Last updated 11-Dec-15
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WILDE: I wish I had said that.
WHISTLER: You will, Oscar, you will.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
(Attributed)

An anecdotal exchange between Wilde and James Whistler, associated with how Wilde was known for reusing epigrams and witticisms from various folk, usually not crediting them.

References to the exchange date back, in various sources and forms, as far as 1886, with the specific language varying, and the original bon mot from (usually) Whistler not mentioned. More details and discussion: “I Wish I Had Said That” “You Will, Oscar, You Will” – Quote Investigator®.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Dec-23
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