“I can resist everything except temptation.”
The presence of various literary devices greatly enriches the English language. Famous writers have immortalised the use of these devices through their witty, poetic, entertaining and didactic sayings. ‘Epigram’ is yet another device derived from the Greek word ‘epigramma’ which means inscription. These are witty sayings that are concise, comprehensive and usually in verse. Many writers are quite well known for their epigrams. Aristotle, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Alexander Pope; Jonathan Swift and John Donne used them quite regularly.
The practice of epigrams began in the Greek tradition where dedications would be inscribed on statues or sanctuaries or other installations that were worthy of such an allegiance. The origin of this literary device is traced to the Hellenistic period in Greece. An event linked to one of the first recorded epigram is the Greek war where all the Spartans who had been sent to Thermopylae to fight the Persians were killed. Since everyone was dead there was nobody left to bring this news to Sparta. Thermopylae was memorable due to the heroism of the doomed rearguard, which in spite of certain death fought till the end. It was here that Simonides, a Greek lyric poet wrote the famous epigram on the memorial stone placed on the burial mountain of the Spartans, the mount on which they died. Thus began the tradition of epigrams with, Go tell it to the Spartans, passersby… This became a literary genre during the Hellenistic period. Some examples of eternal epigrams are, Questions are never indiscreet,
answers sometimes are by Oscar Wilde and Wit is educated
insolence by Aristotle.
An epigraph is a quotation at the beginning of a book that suggests its theme. It may be at the start or end of each chapter too. The epigraph may be used as a preface or as a synopsis to sum up a certain article. Some authors insert fictional
quotations into their writings to support the plot elements that are being developed. T S Eliot included a quotation from Dante's Inferno at the very beginning of The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock, his famous poem. However, epigraphs are not always famous quotations; they may be fictional and used to convey the theme of the work. Private faces in public places Are wiser and nicer than public faces in private places by W H Auden forms the epigraph for his collection of short stories. The epigraph to the preamble of Georges Perec’s book, Life: A User’s Manual, warns the reader that deception will be used and things may be different from what they appear to be.
The epitaph is distinctively a dedicatory
message on a tombstone or memorial, a speech or passage composed in remembrance of a dead person or a final opinion about a person or thing. Like the epigram, an epitaph also stems from the Greek word epitaphion meaning “a funeral oration”. The form of an epitaph may be poetry or prose. Many poets are known to have written their own epitaphs before their deaths. John Keats, the famous poet wanted the lines, Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water, as an epitaph. Since, Keats was just 25 years old when he died; he echoed his feelings in the epitaph which meant that fame and life are fleeting. Winston Churchill, a famous politician and the only prime minister to ever receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, has an epitaph that is so characteristic of his persona:
I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my
Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.