From Latin epigramma which, in turn, comes from a Greek word that means “Overwrite”, a epigram is a inscription made of stone, metal or other material. The concept also allows naming the a short poetic composition that acutely expresses a unique thought principal.
In ancient Greece it was possible to find epigrams on the doors of buildings, on the lintels of mausoleums or at the feet of statues and were intended to commemorate an event or a person’s life that he would have changed history in some way, so that his time on Earth would not be forgotten, so that it would become eternal. These epigrams, written in honor of individuals or events of great importance, were generally constructed in couplets (stanzas composed of two verses).
The main characteristics of the epigram as gender they are his brevity, his satirical character, and his witty manner. It’s about a Hellenistic genre with origins in archaic lyric. The subjects portrayed in these compositions were highly varied and included the diverse interests and concerns of the time.
The name of the genus is linked to the first definition of epigram (inscription on an object). The epigrams are made on votive offerings (offerings in places of worship), statues or tombstones. Over time, epigrams on tombstones became known as epitaphs.
The term, after consolidating itself as this type of inscription, was extended to any poem ingenious that, due to its short length, could be understood as a label or a short expression. The notion even began to be used to refer to thoughts of any kind that are expressed briefly and sharply.
From the beginning of the 5th century BC. C., and far from maintaining a strict tie with its original meaning, the Greeks increasingly diluted the limits of the term, allowing its use to identify any phrase that had a sharp or bittersweet character, regardless of its shape, without need that it rhymed or that it respected a certain rhythmic structure.
Rome received the epigram at its most hurtful stage, and was deeply passionate about this form of expression. Its Latin version retained the initial structure, developed in Greece, although intention was given greater importance, and its features make it more related to the modern epigram.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Voltaire (1694-1778), Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Pío Baroja (1872-1956), Oliverio Girondo (1891-1967), Camilo José Cela (1916-2002), Jaime Gil de Biedma (1929-1990) and Ernesto Cardenal (1925) are some of the authors who produced works by characteristic own epigrams.
It is interesting to note that throughout the Middle Ages, the period of the history From the western civilization that began in the 5th century and ended in the 15th century, the production of epigrams ceased. It was only a century later that this genre reawakened the interest of the literary world.
It should be noted that the Spanish poet Juan de Iriarte (1702-1771) compared epigrams with bees, claiming that these should be “Small, sweet and sharp”.
José Coll y Vehí, a Spanish literary theorist born in Barcelona in 1823, helped distinguish the epigram from the inscription: the latter is created with the aim of immortalizing the memory of a particular event or to explain the reasons why it had place; An epigram, on the other hand, seeks to express a idea witty in a short and hurtful way. It was precisely when limits were imposed on the inscription that the epigram took on a personality of its own.
According to Coll and Vehí, epigrams can be concise and direct, or they can seek a greater impact on the reader through certain unexpected changes in their direction.