According to Aulus Gellius, here is the epitaph of Pacuvius (Gellius I.24.4)

“Young man, even though you hurry by, this stone
asks you to look on it and then to read what is written.
Here is where you find interred the bones of the poet
Marcus Pacuvius. I desire that you know this. Farewell.”

Adulescens, tam etsi properas te hoc saxum rogat
Ut sese aspicias, deinde quod scriptum est legas.
Hic sunt poetae Pacuvi Marci sita
Ossa. Hoc volebam nescius ne esses. Vale.

Literary–both fictionalized and not–epigraphs were part of the Greek literary tradition at least to the 6th century BCE. From the 5th century, we have Simonides’ epitaph at Thermopylae:

polyxena2

“Stranger, go tell the Spartans that we lie here
obedient to their commands.”

Ω ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

This epigram seems ‘real’ enough, but during the Hellenistic period, poets like Callimachus seem to have made a game of composing funerary epigrams. Here’s one he wrote about himself (or not):

Callimachus, epigram 21.

“Whoever you are lifting your foot near my grave
Know that I am the child and father both of Cyrenian Callimachus.
You would know both men. One led the soldiers of his country,
And the other sang songs beyond envy.
Don’t be surprised: whoever the Muses behold at birth
Are not abandoned friends as they grow grey.”

῞Οστις ἐμὸν παρὰ σῆμα φέρεις πόδα, Καλλιμάχου με
ἴσθι Κυρηναίου παῖδά τε καὶ γενέτην.
εἰδείης δ’ ἄμφω κεν• ὁ μέν κοτε πατρίδος ὅπλων
ἦρξεν, ὁ δ’ ἤεισεν κρέσσονα βασκανίης.
[οὐ νέμεσις• Μοῦσαι γὰρ ὅσους ἴδον ὄμματι παῖδας
†ἄχρι βίου† πολιοὺς οὐκ ἀπέθεντο φίλους.]

Gellius also adds to Pacuvius’, an epitaph of a more commonly known comedian, Plautus:
“Now that Plautus has found death, Comedy weeps,
Abandoned on the stage. And then, Laughter, Play and Jest
mourn together with all the uncountable Measures.”

postquam est mortem aptus Plautus, Comoedia luget,
scaena est deserta, dein Risus, Ludus Iocusque
et Numeri innumeri simul omnes conlacrimarunt

And we do have collections of Roman epitaphs that seem both real and literary:

“You are human: pause a moment and contemplate my grave.
As a young man, I stretched myself that I might have what I could use.
I did injustice to no one, my duty to many;
Live well, and do it soon – this must come to you too.”

Homo es: resiste et tumulum contempla meum.
iuenis tetendi ut haberem quod uterer.
iniuriam feci nulli, officia feci pluribus.
bene vive, propera, hoc est veniundum tibi.

(Roman Epitaphs B 83)

But despite all this weight and seriousness, I think that Naevius’ epitaph (also reported by Gellius) is the best:

“If it were right for gods to mourn for mortals
Then the Muses would mourn the poet Naevius.
And when he was brought down to death’s warehouse
Rome would forget how to speak the Latin tongue.”

Immortales mortales si foret fas fiere
Fierent divae Camenae Naevium poetam
Itaque postquamst Orchi traditus thesauro
Obliti sunt Romae loquier lingua latina.

Hate! Hate! Hate! And…Love?

Callimachus, Epigrams 30 (28?)

I hate cyclic poems, and I certainly don’t enjoy the road which leads many people here and there. I hate the wandering lover, and I never drink from a fountain. I hate all common things. Lysanias, you are beautiful – yes, beautiful! – but before the Echo can even resound clearly, someone says ‘Someone else already possesses him.’

᾿Εχθαίρω τὸ ποίημα τὸ κυκλικόν, οὐδὲ κελεύθῳ

  χαίρω, τίς πολλοὺς ὧδε καὶ ὧδε φέρει·

μισέω καὶ περίφοιτον ἐρώμενον, οὐδ’ ἀπὸ κρήνης

  πίνω· σικχαίνω πάντα τὰ δημόσια.

Λυσανίη, σὺ δὲ ναίχι καλὸς καλός—ἀλλὰ πρὶν εἰπεῖν

  τοῦτο σαφῶς, ᾿Ηχώ φησί τις· ‘ἄλλος ἔχει.’

Too-Late Tuesday: Poetic Epitaphs

Some literary epitaphs from Greece and Rome:

“If it were right for gods to mourn for mortals
Then the Muses would mourn the poet Naevius.
And when he was brought down to death’s warehouse
Rome would forget how to speak the Latin tongue.”

Immortales mortales si foret fas fiere
Fierent divae Camenae Naevium poetam
Itaque postquamst Orchi traditus thesauro
Obliti sunt Romae loquier lingua latina.

Naevius? A Roman poet who flourished between he first two Punic wars. According to Aulus Gellius, here is the epitaph of Pacuvius (Gellius I.24.4)

“Young man, even though you hurry by, this stone
asks you to look on it and then to read what is written.
Here is where you find interred the bones of the poet
Marcus Pacuvius. I desire that you know this. Farewell.”

Adulescens, tam etsi properas te hoc saxum rogat
Ut sese aspicias, deinde quod scriptum est legas.
Hic sunt poetae Pacuvi Marci sita
Ossa. Hoc volebam nescius ne esses. Vale.

 

The Romans, of course, were not the only ones in on this game. Famous as well is Callimachus, epigram 21.

“Whoever you are lifting your foot near my grave
Know that I am the child and father both of Cyrenian Callimachus.
You would know both men. One led the soldiers of his country,
And the other sang songs beyond envy.
Don’t be surprised: whomever the Muses behold at birth
Are not abandoned friends as they grow grey.”

῞Οστις ἐμὸν παρὰ σῆμα φέρεις πόδα, Καλλιμάχου με
ἴσθι Κυρηναίου παῖδά τε καὶ γενέτην.
εἰδείης δ’ ἄμφω κεν• ὁ μέν κοτε πατρίδος ὅπλων
ἦρξεν, ὁ δ’ ἤεισεν κρέσσονα βασκανίης.
[οὐ νέμεσις• Μοῦσαι γὰρ ὅσους ἴδον ὄμματι παῖδας
†ἄχρι βίου† πολιοὺς οὐκ ἀπέθεντο φίλους.]

 

Gellius also adds to Pacuvius’, an epitaph of a more commonly known comedian, Plautus:
“Now that Plautus has found death, Comedy weeps,
Abandoned on the stage. And then, Laughter, Play and Jest
mourn together with all the uncountable Measures.”

postquam est mortem aptus Plautus, Comoedia luget,
scaena est deserta, dein Risus, Ludus Iocusque
et Numeri innumeri simul omnes conlacrimarunt,

 

Ennius, Varia 17-18

“Let no one honor me with tears nor celebrate my funeral
with weeping. Why? Alive I fly on the mouths of men.”

Nemo me lacrimis decoret nec funera fletu
faxit. cur?  volito vivos per ora virum.

 

epitaph
A real epitaph

Aristotle Poetics, 1451b1-6: Poetry is Better than History. And More Philosophical.

“It is clear from what we’ve said that the work of the poet doesn’t concern relaying what has happened but instead consists in communicating what might happen and what is possible according to likelihood or necessity. Accordingly, the historian and the poet differ from one another not because one composes in meter and one doesn’t—for if the work of Herodotus were set in verse it would be no less some kind of History with meter than without it. The poet and historian differ in this: one communicates events that have actually happened and the other relays those kind of events that might happen. Because of this, poetry is more philosophical and serious than history.”

Φανερὸν δὲ ἐκ τῶν εἰρημένων καὶ ὅτι οὐ τὸ τὰ γενόμενα λέγειν, τοῦτο ποιητοῦ ἔργον ἐστίν, ἀλλ’ οἷα ἂν γένοιτο καὶ τὰ δυνατὰ κατὰ τὸ εἰκὸς ἢ τὸ ἀναγκαῖον. ὁ γὰρ ἱστορικὸς καὶ ὁ ποιητὴς οὐ τῷ ἢ ἔμμετρα λέγειν ἢ ἄμετρα διαφέρουσιν (εἴη γὰρ ἂν τὰ ῾Ηροδότου εἰς μέτρα τεθῆναι καὶ οὐδὲν ἧττον ἂν εἴη ἱστορία τις μετὰ μέτρου ἢ ἄνευ μέτρων)• ἀλλὰ τούτῳ διαφέρει, τῷ τὸν μὲν τὰ γενόμενα λέγειν, τὸν δὲ οἷα ἂν γένοιτο. διὸ καὶ φιλοσοφώτερον καὶ σπουδαιότερον ποίησις ἱστορίας ἐστίν•

Yes, Aristotle was engaged in one of the earliest disciplinary pissing contests. No one caused so much grief until Callimachus complained about that dirty river.

(That’s all hyperbole. Callimachus’ dirty river? The Hellenistic poet and librarian believed that lyric was superior to epic and that epic could no longer be written. Cue Apollonius of Rhodes’ exile and writing of the Argonautica).

For those who don’t know, here’s the (somewhat unclear) passage in question from Callimachus, Hymn to Apollo 105-112

And Envy deviously whispers to Apollo’s ears:
“I do not take pleasure in the singer who sings as wide as the sea.”
And Apollo drives Envy back with his foot as he says:
“Great is the flow of the Assyrian river, but it darkens itself
Dragging so much filth and debris from the land in its water.
It isn’t as pleasing when bees draw water from everyplace
As when a small clean and unpolluted drink flows
From a sacred stream onto a petal’s tender tip.”

ὁ Φθόνος ᾿Απόλλωνος ἐπ’ οὔατα λάθριος εἶπεν•
‘οὐκ ἄγαμαι τὸν ἀοιδὸν ὃς οὐδ’ ὅσα πόντος ἀείδει.’
τὸν Φθόνον ὡπόλλων ποδί τ’ ἤλασεν ὧδέ τ’ ἔειπεν•
‘᾿Ασσυρίου ποταμοῖο μέγας ῥόος, ἀλλὰ τὰ πολλά
λύματα γῆς καὶ πολλὸν ἐφ’ ὕδατι συρφετὸν ἕλκει.
Δηοῖ δ’ οὐκ ἀπὸ παντὸς ὕδωρ φορέουσι μέλισσαι,
ἀλλ’ ἥτις καθαρή τε καὶ ἀχράαντος ἀνέρπει
πίδακος ἐξ ἱερῆς ὀλίγη λιβὰς ἄκρον ἄωτον.’

Catullus 116: Callimachus’ Poems Can’t Fight Your Magic Missiles

“I find myself turning over and over in my mind again
How I might send you some of Callimachus’ poems
To soften you towards me, so you might not try
To pour out your missiles on my head too.
But now I see that I have taken up this task in vain,
Gellius, and that my prayers are worth nothing.
I will make your weapons miss me in flight
But you’ll be struck fast and then pay my price.”
 

Saepe tibi studioso animo venante requirens
carmina uti possem mittere Battiadae,
qui te lenirem nobis, neu conarere
tela infesta mittere in usque caput,
hunc video mihi nunc frustra sumptum esse laborem,
Gelli, nec nostras hic valuisse preces.
contra nos tela ista tua evitabimus amitha
at fixus nostris tu dabis supplicium.

Want to Make Love? Abstain from Lettuce; Athenaeus, 2.80

“Callimachus says that Aphrodite hid Adonis in lettuce, this being poetic allegory meaning that those who are always eating lettuce have no strength for making love.”

καὶ Καλλίμαχος δέ φησιν (fr. 371 Schn.) ὅτι ἡ ᾿Αφροδίτη τὸν ῎Αδωνιν ἐν θριδακίνῃ κρύψειεν, ἀλληγορούντων τῶν ποιητῶν ὅτι ἀσθενεῖς εἰσι πρὸς ἀφροδίσια οἱ συνεχῶς χρώμενοι θρίδαξι.

Pssst, Man Near My Grave, You Probably Know Me: Callimachus, Epigram 21

“Whoever you are to put a foot near my grave, know me:
The child and the father of Kallimakhos of Cyrene.
You likely know both: One led the arms of his fatherland
And the other sang songs stronger than envy.
Don’t scoff at this: for whichever children the Muses
See at birth, they never abandon as friends when they’re old.”

῞Οστις ἐμὸν παρὰ σῆμα φέρεις πόδα, Καλλιμάχου με
ἴσθι Κυρηναίου παῖδά τε καὶ γενέτην.
εἰδείης δ’ ἄμφω κεν• ὁ μέν κοτε πατρίδος ὅπλων
ἦρξεν, ὁ δ’ ἤεισεν κρέσσονα βασκανίης.
[οὐ νέμεσις• Μοῦσαι γὰρ ὅσους ἴδον ὄμματι παῖδας
†ἄχρι βίου† πολιοὺς οὐκ ἀπέθεντο φίλους.]

Callimachus, Epigram 28: I Hate Cyclic Poetry, and Everything Else too…

“I hate the cyclic poem and I don’t enjoy
The road that goes too far this way and that.
I despise as well the loved one who wanders—I
Don’t drink from just any stream: I loathe all common things.
Yes, Lysanius, you are fine—but before I say that clearly
Some Echo says “he belongs to another”.

᾿Εχθαίρω τὸ ποίημα τὸ κυκλικόν, οὐδὲ κελεύθῳ
χαίρω, τίς πολλοὺς ὧδε καὶ ὧδε φέρει•
μισέω καὶ περίφοιτον ἐρώμενον, οὐδ’ ἀπὸ κρήνης
πίνω• σικχαίνω πάντα τὰ δημόσια.
Λυσανίη, σὺ δὲ ναίχι καλὸς καλός—ἀλλὰ πρὶν εἰπεῖν
τοῦτο σαφῶς, ᾿Ηχώ φησί τις• ‘ἄλλος ἔχει.’

This poem, with its original reference to what many scholars consider the poems of the epic cycle has furnished much ammunition to the same scholars who wish to argue that Callimachus (and others) looked down on these poems. To be fair, in this poem Callimachus seems to hate everything–he uses four different ways to express his disdain (and that variation is Hellenistic as anything else). But he seems to be so angry (if we can believe this isn’t just a conceit of a poem) because a pretty boy is already taken…

In the light of unrequited love, doesn’t everything look a bit dimmer and sordid?

Callimachus, Epigram 8: Even in Death, Stepmothers are Deadly

“A boy was placing a garland on his stepmother’s grave
Believing that she had softened her ways after death
But the stone leaned and fell and killed the child.
Avoid your stepmother, even in death, first sons!”

Στήλην μητρυιῆς, μικρὰν λίθον, ἔστεφε κοῦρος,
ὡς βίον ἠλλάχθαι καὶ τρόπον οἰόμενος•
ἡ δὲ τάφῳ κλινθεῖσα κατέκτανε παῖδα πεσοῦσα.
φεύγετε μητρυιῆς καὶ τάφον οἱ πρόγονοι.