Meleager Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

The son of Eucrates, a Hellenistic Galilean, Meleager (mehl-ee-AY-gur) of Gadara lived in Tyre during his youth and early adulthood. He was fluent in Greek, Syrian, and Phoenician. In his early career, he composed Charites (“the graces,” now lost), Menippean satires on popular philosophical themes. His philosophy may have been Cynic, but because all his philosophical works are lost, his leanings cannot be ascertained.

Meleager was one of the earliest Greek epigrammatists. He adapted the epigrams of Asclepiades and Callimachus of Cyrene and paid homage to Antipater of Sidon. As an older man, on Cos, he compiled Stephanos (c. 90-80 b.c.e.; Fifty Poems, 1890; best known as Garland), an anthology of epigrams. Its original scope and composition cannot be determined because, in the tenth century, Constantine Cephalas incorporated it into the Anthologia Hellīnikī (collected in the late ninth century c.e., revised and augmented in the late tenth century c.e.; The Greek Anthology, 1916, also known as Palatine Anthology). About 130 of Meleager’s own epigrams survive. A specialist in erotic poetry, his diction is emotional but his prosody is controlled.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Meleager’s Garland determined to a large extent the content of The Garland of Philip of Thessalonica (Thessaloníki), inspired Greek poets throughout the classical and Byzantine eras, and affected such diverse poets as the Roman Catullus, the Englishman Robert Herrick, and the American Ezra Pound.

Other literary forms

(European Poets and Poetry)

Meleager (mah-LEE-gur) specialized in collecting and writing epigrams, as understood in the original meaning of the word: short, pithy phrases intended to be chiseled on monuments and temples to commemorate important events, religious celebrations, or the lives of political and military leaders. He is known to have engaged in literary forms other than epigrams and short poetry, particularly satires in the style of his countryman Menippus (fl. third century b.c.e.), whom he admired, but these have not survived.


(European Poets and Poetry)

Meleager’s chief claim to fame is his invention of the concept of the poetry anthology, both in form and in name; a later compiler called such collections anthologies, from the Greek words anthos, meaning “flower,” and logia, meaning “gathering,” preserving both the intent and definition of Meleager’s the Garland. The idea of the anthology has been extended to cover collections of short stories, novels, comic strips, and other literary works.

Though others before him had collected witty sayings and poetical inscriptions, Meleager was the first to put together a comprehensive, systematic collection of significant writings gleaned from buildings, statuary, and cemeteries that attributed the words to their proper authors. His Garland gathered the encapsulated ideas and well-turned phrases from Greek writers, encompassing the work of predecessors from past centuries, as well as the work of contemporaries. In the process, Meleager demonstrated that epigrams were a literary form in their own right and need not be confined solely to engravings on stone.

Although the manuscript of the Garland has been lost, it has formed the basis for later anthologies. In 917, Constantinus Cephalas, a Byzantine official in Constantinople, compiled an anthology that included Meleager’s Garland with collections made by other poets. However, Cephalas’s anthology survives only in the Greek Anthology, discovered in a library in Heidelberg in 1606. In modern editions, the fifteen-volume Greek Anthology contains thirty-seven hundred epigrams from the Archaic through the Byzantine periods, grouped by themes.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Cameron, Alan. The Greek Anthology: From Meleager to Planudes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Extends far beyond the poetry of Meleager, but it does include a wealth of information about the poet and a helpful bibliography.

Clack, Jerry. Meleager: The Poems. Wauconda, Ill.: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1992. A good place to begin for anyone who desires further information about Meleager. This work includes all of Meleager’s extant poems (in Greek with an English translation) and a useful commentary.

Fowler, Barbara Hughes. The Hellenistic Aesthetic. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

Gutzwiller, Kathryn J. Poetic Garlands: Hellenistic Epigrams in Context. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Literary study of these poems looks at the epigrams, including those of Meleager, within the context of the poetry books in which they were originally collected. Includes an index and bibliography.

Whigham, Peter, and Peter Jay, eds. The Poems of Meleager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975. Renders the poems in both verse and literal translations; its introduction also adds some valuable commentary.