The birthplace and early home of Meleager (mehl-ee-AY-gur) was Gadara in Syria, a town which, because of its cultural tradition, he called the Syrian Athens. This tradition was the result largely of its famous citizen, the Cynic philosopher and writer of satirical philosophical potpourris, Menippus. Menippus had lived in the third century b.c.e., whereas Menander was born in the next century, but Menippus’s influence was still strong. Among his earliest creations Meleager composed satirical dialogues in the style of Menippus. The subject of one is reported as a comparison of pease-porridge and lentil soup. (The later dialogues of Lucian preserve something of the spirit of these works.) The dialogues, however, have been lost.
Meleager’s reputation rests on the approximately 130 epigrams that have been preserved in the late collection of ancient Greek epigrams, the Greek Anthology. Most of these are love epigrams. Meleager doubtless first wrote some of them while still in Gadara. As a young man, however, he moved to Tyre, and it was the long period of his residence there that saw the full expression of his talents. Tyre, a cosmopolitan commercial city, was an ideal setting for the erotic attachments to Heliodora, Zenophila, and all the others who are celebrated in his poems. It would be unwise, however, to deduce an erotic biography from the fanciful variety of his epigrams. It should simply be noted that, conformably with...
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