Meleager c. 140 b.c.-c. 70 b.c.
(Full name, Meleagros of Gadara, son of Eukrates) Greek poet and anthologist.
As a poet, Meleager brought formal perfection and the irony and melancholy of frustrated desire to the genre of the epigram. As an anthologist, he gathered epigrams dating from the seventh century b.c. through his own time into a collection called the Stephanos (Garland). Although his is not the only such collection, it is valued because it is extensive, containing some 4,000 lines. In the tenth century a.d. the Byzantine anthologist Kephalas incorporated the poems from Meleager's Garland into his collection called The Palatine Anthology, also known as The Greek Anthology, the collection of Greek lyrics that preserved them for later ages.
Little is known about Meleager. He was born in Gadara, now Jordan, under Hellenic rule. His father, Eukrates, was probably a well-to-do Syrian, and Meleager was probably bilingual, speaking Syrian and Greek. He grew up in the Phoenician coastal city of Tyre, but spent much of his adult life on the island of Kos in the southwest corner of Asia Minor, where he compiled his anthology, wrote the 134 epigrams that have survived, and apparently composed essays, which are not extant.
Meleager combined psychological subtlety, tonal dexterity, and vibrant images of light, flowers, and insects (in one epigram he asks a mosquito to be the messenger to his unfaithful beloved) to express love and longing in verses that equally treat heterosexual and homosexual love, promiscuity, infidelity, and jealousy. In the introduction to the Garland, Meleager refers to his collection of poems as a bouquet or garland of flowers—probably the first writer to use that metaphor.
Meleager is a poet whose works chiefly appeal to poets and scholars. His influence can be seen in the work of Catullus and the Roman elegists, and, centuries later, in the lyrics of Robert Herrick. In the 1830s, J. H. Merivale, in an edition of The Greek Anthology, wrote of Meleager that “as a … composer of Epigrams,” he was “very far superior to” the authors he included in the Garland collection. Some 140 years later, scholar and translator Peter Jay wrote of him, “Meleager's poetic authenticity lies in the mastery of every aspect of his medium.”