Meleager Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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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(European Poets and Poetry)

Meleager was born in Gadara, the major metropolis of a Macedonian colony between the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River then in Syria. The ruins of the ancient settlementreferred to as the land of the Gadarenes in the New Testamentcan be found near modern-day Umm Qays, Jordan. Meleager was the son of Eukrates and may have had a Syrian mother. He probably grew up speaking Aramaic and undoubtedly learned Greek and Phoenician. At some point, he became enamored of the work of Cynic poet and satirist Menippus, a fellow Gadarene.

At the age of twenty, Meleager moved north to the ancient cosmopolitan Phoenician port city of Tyre (now in Lebanon), where he received his higher education. While biographical details are scarce, it is supposed that Meleager followed Cynic philosophy, shunning fame and fortune, and lived in self-sufficient poverty. He began writing poetry and satires in Cynic style, combining the elements of the serious and the frivolous in his work. It is presumed that while residing in Tyre, he began recording the inscriptions of his Greek predecessors from cemeteries, monuments, statues, and buildings; it is unknown how far afield he may have traveled to add to his collection. When he had sufficient material, Meleager published his anthology, the Garland, probably as a papyrus scroll, the usual form for literary works of the timetypically produced in small quantities, since each copy had to be made by hand. Meleager probably published other writings, but they, like the Garland, have since been lost.

Late in life, Meleager continued migrating north and settled on the Greek island of Cos, a few miles off the southwestern shores of Turkey, where he died. It is unknown whether he married or produced heirs.