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Cut These Words into My Stone

Ancient Greek Epitaphs

translated by Michael Wolfe foreword by Richard P. Martin

Publication Year: 2012

Cut These Words into My Stone offers evidence that ancient Greek life was not only celebrated in great heroic epics, but was also commemorated in hundreds of artfully composed verse epitaphs. They have been preserved in anthologies and gleaned from weathered headstones. Three-year-old Archianax, playing near a well, Was drawn down by his own silent reflection. His mother, afraid he had no breath left, Hauled him back up wringing wet. He had a little. He didn't taint the nymphs' deep home. He dozed off in her lap. He's sleeping still. These words, translated from the original Greek by poet and filmmaker Michael Wolfe, mark the passing of a child who died roughly 2,000 years ago. Ancient Greek epitaphs honor the lives, and often describe the deaths, of a rich cross section of Greek society, including people of all ages and classes— paupers, fishermen, tyrants, virgins, drunks, foot soldiers, generals—and some non-people—horses, dolphins, and insects. With brief commentary and notes, this bilingual collection of 127 short, witty, and often tender epigrams spans 1,000 years of the written word. Cut These Words into My Stone provides an engaging introduction to this corner of classical literature that continues to speak eloquently in our time.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

Translator’s Note

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xxviii

Epigrams are literally “inscriptions.”* An epitaph, the earliest form of epigram, is an inscription “on a tomb” (epi- and taphos). In both cases, the name explains the poetic form—its origins and its most striking characteristic, brevity. Verses inscribed on an object, whether a marker for a grave or an offering to the gods, ...

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I: Anonymous Epitaphs of No Known Date

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pp. 1-20

Anonymous epitaphs and dedications are among the earliest surviving examples of Greek writing. Rudimentary samples appear concurrently with the invention of the alphabet, in the middle of the eighth century BCE. Chiseled on pillars, incised on votive tablets and funerary pottery, ...

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II: Late Archaic and Classical Periods 600–350 BCE

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pp. 21-44

A small group of well-known epigrams have traditionally been assigned to the first Greek lyric poets and to several later literary luminaries. According to this tradition, early in the sixth century canonical innovators of the Greek lyric, like Sappho and Anacreon, crafted masterful elegiac couplets and tombstone verse. ...

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III: Hellenistic Period: Age of Alexander, c. 323–100 BCE

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pp. 45-108

Of the many surviving tombstone verses composed before the late fourth century BCE, a great majority are serviceable, sentimental, nothing special. Beginning early in the third century, however, the epigram, and so the epitaph, were rapidly refined into a sophisticated literary form capable of depicting contemporary Alexandrian life ...

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IV: The Millennium: Pagan Roman Empire, 100 BCE–99 CE

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pp. 109-142

In the centuries flanking the millennium, writing Greek epigrams became a well-established profession. The form served widespread public needs and in some cases even supported its practitioners. A prolific epigrammatist might earn a living composing dedications for fountains, stairs, walls, temples and public buildings, ...

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V: Late Antiquity: Christian Roman Empire, 200–599 CE

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pp. 143-162

The Roman Emperor Constantine yoked the Classical world to Christianity early in the fourth century. In time, the imperial educational curriculum passed into theologians’ hands. Under the double weight of religion and empire, the delicate epigram began to buckle. ...


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pp. 163-170

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 171-172

Biographies of the Poets

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pp. 173-178

E-ISBN-13: 9781421408057
E-ISBN-10: 1421408058
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421408040
Print-ISBN-10: 142140804X

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2012