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Epigrams are brief, interesting, usually memorable and sometimes surprising statements. Derived from the Greek: ἐπίγραμμα epigramma "inscription" from ἐπιγράφειν epigraphein "to write on – inscribe", this literary device has been employed for over two millennia.


  • Report says that you, Fidentinus, recite my compositions in public as if they were your own. If you allow them to be called mine, I will send you my verses gratis; if you wish them to be called yours, pray buy them, that they may be mine no longer.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book I, Epigram 29.
  • The book which you are reading aloud is mine, Fidentinus; but, while you read it so badly, it begins to be yours.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book I, Epigram 38.
  • You are pretty,—we know it; and young,—it is true; and rich,—who can deny it? But when you praise yourself extravagantly, Fabulla, you appear neither rich, nor pretty, nor young.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book I, Epigram 64.
  • "You are too free spoken," is your constant remark to me, Chœrilus. He who speaks against you, Chœrilus, is indeed a free speaker.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book I, Epigram 67.
  • You complain, Velox, that the epigrams which I write are long. You yourself write nothing; your attempts are shorter.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book I, Epigram 110.
  • What's this that myrrh doth still smell in thy kiss,
    And that with thee no other odour is?
    'Tis doubt, my Postumus, he that doth smell
    So sweetly always, smells not very well.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book II, Epigram 12.
  • Since your legs, Phœbus, resemble the horns of the moon, you might bathe your feet in a cornucopia.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book II, Epigram 35.
  • In whatever place you meet me, Postumus, you cry out immediately, and your very first words are, "How do you do?" You say this, even if you meet me ten times in one single hour: you, Postumus, have nothing, I suppose, to do.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book II, Epigram 67.
  • If you wish, Faustinus, a bath of boiling water to be reduced in temperature,—a bath, such as scarcely Julianus could enter,—ask the rhetorician Sabinæus to bathe himself in it. He would freeze the warm baths of Nero.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book III, Epigram 25.
  • I could do without your face, and your neck, and your hands, and your limbs, and your bosom, and other of your charms. Indeed, not to fatigue myself with enumerating each of them, I could do without you, Chloe, altogether.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book III, Epigram 53.
  • Lycoris has buried all the female friends she had, Fabianus: would she were the friend of my wife!
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book IV, Epigram 24.
  • You were constantly, Matho, a guest at my villa at Tivoli. Now you buy it—I have deceived you; I have merely sold you what was already your own.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book IV, Epigram 79.
  • Do you wonder for what reason, Theodorus, notwithstanding your frequent requests and importunities, I have never presented you with my works? I have an excellent reason; it is lest you should present me with yours.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book V, Epigram 73.
  • You put fine dishes on your table, Olus, but you always put them on covered. This is ridiculous; in the same way I could put fine dishes on my table.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book X, Epigram 54.
  • You ask for lively epigrams, and propose lifeless subjects. What can I do, Cæcilianus? You expect Hyblæn or Hymethian honey to be produced, and yet offer the Attic bee nothing but Corsican thyme?
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book XI, Epigram 42.
  • And have you been able, Flaccus, to see the slender Thais? Then, Flaccus, I suspect you can see what is invisible.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book XI, Epigram 101.
  • When to secure your bald pate from the weather,
    You lately wore a cap of black neats' leather;
    He was a very wag, who to you said,
    "Why do you wear your slippers on your head?"
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book XII, Epigram 45. Translation by Hay.
  • See how the mountain goat hangs from the summit of the cliff; you would expect it to fall; it is merely showing its contempt for the dogs.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book XIII, Epigram 99.
  • Never think of leaving perfumes or wine to your heir. Administer these yourself, and let him have your money.
    • Martial, Epigrams (c. 80-104 AD), Book XIII, Epigram 126.
  • Some learned writers … have compared a Scorpion to an Epigram … because as the sting of the Scorpion lyeth in the tayl, so the force and virtue of an epigram is in the conclusion.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical QuotationsEdit

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 227-29.
  • What is an epigram? a dwarfish whole,
    Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
    • Author unknown. See Brander Matthews, American Epigrams, Harper's Magazine (Nov., 1903).
  • The diamond's virtues well might grace
    The epigram, and both excel
    In brilliancy in smallest space,
    And power to cut as well.
  • Lumine Acon dextre,—capta est Leonilla sinistre,
    Et potis est forma vincere uterque dees:
    Blande puer, lumen quod habes concede sorori,
    Sic tu cæcus Amor, sic erit illa Venus.
    • Acon his right, Leonilla her left eye
      Doth want; yet each in form, the gods out-vie.
      Sweet boy, with thine, thy sister's sight improved:
      So shall she Venus be, thou God of Love.
    • Epigram said to be the "most celebrated of modern epigrams," by Warton, in his Essay on Pope. I, p. 299. (Ed. 1772). Translation as given in a Collection of Epigrams, Volume I. No. 223.
  • Unlike my subject, I will make my song.
    It shall be witty, and it shan't be long.
  • This picture, plac'd the busts between
    Gives Satire all its strength;
    Wisdom and Wit are little seen
    While Folly glares at length.
    • Epigram on the portrait of Beau Nash placed between the busts of Pope and Newton in the Pump Room at Bath, England. Attributed to Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield by Dr. Matthew Maty in his Memoirs of Chesterfield, Section IV, prefixed to second ed. of Miscellaneous Works of the Earl of Chesterfield. Locker-Lampson credits only four of the lines of the whole epigram to Chesterfield. Jane Brereton given credit for them. (See poems. 1744.) A copy of the poems of Henry Norris (1740) in the British Museum contains the lines. See Notes and Queries, Feb. 10, 1917, p. 119; also Aug., 1917, p. 379.
  • Sir Drake whom well the world's end knew
    Which thou did'st compass round,
    And whom both Poles of heaven once saw
    Which North and South do bound,
    The stars above would make thee known,
    If men here silent were;
    The sun himself cannot forget
    His fellow traveller.
    • John Owen, Epigram on Sir Francis Drake, Part II. 39 of first volume dedicated to Lady Mary Neville. Translation by Cowley. See Grossart's ed. of Cowley, Volume I, p. 156.
  • Thou art so witty, profligate and thin,
    At once we think thee Satan, Death and Sin.
    • Edward Young, Epigram on Voltaire, who had criticised the characters of the same name in Milton's Paradise Lost.
  • The qualities all in a bee that we meet,
    In an epigram never should fail;
    The body should always be little and sweet,
    And a sting should be felt in its tail.
    • Attributed to Charles Yriarte by Brander Matthews, American Epigrams. Harper's Monthly (Nov., 1903).

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