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The Greek word ”epigram” in its original meaning is precisely equivalent to the Latin word ”inscription”; and it probably came into
use in this sense at a very early period of Greek history, anterior even to the invention of prose. Inscriptions at that time, if they
went beyond a mere name or set of names, or perhaps the bare statement of a single fact, were necessarily in verse, then the single vehicle of organised expression. Even after prose was in use, an obvious propriety remained in the metrical form as being at once more striking  and more easily retained in the memory; while in the case of epitaphs and dedications–for the earlier epigram falls almost entirely under these two heads–religious feeling and a sense of what was due to ancient custom aided the continuance of the old tradition. Herodotus in the course of his History quotes epigrams of both kinds; and with him the word epigramma is just on the point of acquiring its literary sense, though this is not yet fixed definitely. In his account of the three ancient tripods dedicated in the temple of Apollo at Thebes,[1] he says of one of them, o men de eis ton tripodon epigramma ekhei, and then quotes the single hexameter line engraved upon it. Of the other two he says simply, ”they say in hexameter,” legei en exametro tono. Again, where he describes the funeral monuments at Thermopylae,[2] he uses the words gramma and epigramma almost in the sense of sepulchural epigrams; epigegrammai grammata legonta tade, and a little further on, epixosmesantes epigrammasi xai stelesi, ”epitaphs and monuments”. Among these epitaphs is the celebrated couplet of Simonides[3] which has found a place in all subsequent Anthologies. free ebook