Authors: Meleager

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Syrian poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Stephanos, C. 90-80 B.C.E. (anthology; Fifty Poems, 1890; best known as Garland)

Biography

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.{$I[AN]9810000512}{$I[A]Meleager}{$I[geo]GREECE;Meleager}{$I[geo]SYRI A;Meleager}{$I[tim]0140 b.c.e.;Meleager}

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 the almost universal tradition of ancient Greek erotic poetry, the loves he celebrates are affairs either with hetaerae (courtesans) or with boys in their early teens. As for Meleager’s means of livelihood, the Cynic traces in some of his epigrams may suggest a career as a philosophical rhetorician.

In his later years Meleager moved to the island of Cos. It was there that he completed his final literary production, Stephanos, or Garland, an anthology of some fifty epigrammatic poets (himself included), with a preface in verse which compared each of the poets to whichever plant most suggested his poetic style (“. . . the sharp needles of Mnasalcas’ pine”). The preface has been preserved, and most of the rest of the Garland found its way into the Greek Anthology.

The poetry of Meleager has several clearly distinguishing characteristics. Its style is extravagant in cleverness, imagery, and rhetoric; the poet frequently attempts to surpass previous treatments of topics or themes (such as that of the lover who has been turned to ashes by his passion). Together with this luxuriant artifice there is a vein of sentiment which, except at a few moments, excludes emotional depth. The poetry is redeemed by a persistent Menippean trait, a playful and ironic wit that can be seen in such poems as those addressed to a mosquito, cicada, and bee.

With all his shortcomings, Meleager remains the chief creative writer who has survived from the impoverished Greek literature of the first century b.c.e.

BibliographyCameron, 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.
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