Leonidas of Tarentum Biography


Leonidas of Tarentum’s biography, like that of most Hellenistic poets, is strictly conjectural, and, in the absence of contemporary references to him, is completely dependent on the evidence of his epigrams, in which he says very little about his own life. Most authorities place him in the first or second generation of Hellenistic poets, either early in the third century b.c.e., with Asclepiades, Callimachus, and Theocritus, or nearer the middle of the century, closer to such poets as Dioscorides and Antipater, whose epigrams echo his style. An epigram purporting to be his own epitaph (Epigram 715 in book 7 AP. or Leonidas 93 G.-P.) represents him as a wanderer who died far from his native Tarentum, itself a plausible claim, because his one hundred-odd surviving epigrams represent people and places scattered all over the Greek-speaking world, the eastern Mediterranean littoral loosely referred to as the oikoumenē.

Though a native of Italy, Leonidas (like the Sicilian Theocritus) was in every sense of the word a member of the Greek world. His city (the modern Taranto) was colonized at the end of the eighth century b.c.e. by Spartans, and from the middle of the fifth century b.c.e. it was the leading Greek city of southern Italy. By the end of the next century, however, Tarentum came under pressure from Italian tribes to the north and depended on various mercenary leaders for protection. The last of these was Rome’s famous adversary Pyrrhus, who left Tarentum to the Romans in 275. From about that time until the Hannibalic wars at the end of the...

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Epigrams: History of the Form

Historically and etymologically, an epigram is an inscription on something, usually a tomb, a statue, or a dedicatory plaque. At an early stage, epigrams were sometimes set to verse, and in time it was customary to write them in elegiac couplets consisting of a dactylic hexameter followed by a shorter pentameter line. The conciseness required of an inscription on metal or stone was a special challenge to the first epigrammatists, and from these circumstances evolved a miniature literary form that became extremely popular in the Hellenistic age, whose reading public was tired of rambling heroic poetry and prized concise workmanship.

One effect of this development was that the epigram became, by Hellenistic times, more or less independent of its inscriptional origins, not being intended for actual writing on anything more substantial than a piece of paper; still, it sometimes retained vestiges of its origins by masquerading in the form of an inscribed dedication or epitaph.

New types were also invented: The epideictic or display epigram is a versified comment about a statue, poem, or any other object, such as a fig tree or a carved piece of incense. The love epigram is a short poem about love, often not even ostensibly inscriptional or memorial in character. The protreptic, hortatory, or admonitory epigram is likewise not formally associated with an object; it is simply a versified bit of wisdom—“what oft was said but ne’er so well...

(The entire section is 407 words.)