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Five Fascinating Facts about Menander

Fun facts about a classical writer

1. For over 2,000 years, Menander’s works were lost. Then, in the twentieth century, they were rediscovered. Menander (c. 342/41 – c. 290 BC) was praised by his contemporaries as a great comic playwright – some even said the greatest, beating even Aristophanes into second place. Yet his work was lost during the Middle Ages and remained so until papyrus scrolls containing several of his plays surfaced, and even then only as incomplete manuscripts. Only one of his 108 plays, Dyskolos (‘Old Cantankerous’), can be read today in (more or less) its entirety. Among the plays which remain lost are Rhapizomene (‘The Woman Who Had Her Face Slapped’), Synaristosai (which roughly translates as ‘Ladies Who Lunch’), and Empimpramene (‘Woman on Fire’).

2. When Menander’s work was rediscovered in the twentieth century, it was something of a disappointment. The discovery of the Cairo codex in 1907, containing fragments of a number of Menander plays, and the finding of the Bodmer papyrus in 1959, brought Menander’s work back, seemingly, from oblivion – but this wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Read the rest of this entry


Five Fascinating Facts about Gallus

A short biography of one of ancient Rome’s lost poets

1. The poetry of Gallus inspired a whole raft of famous Roman poets, but none of his work survives. Author of the Metamorphoses, Ovid (pictured below right), praised Gallus alongside the Greek writers Homer and Sophocles (the author of the classic play Oedipus the King), and the celebrated Roman author Virgil. Virgil himself includes Gallus in two of his pastoral poems known as the Eclogues. Indeed, the tenth Eclogue is dedicated to Gallus. Propertius called him one of Rome’s first great love poets. Yet none of Gallus’ work survived antiquity.

2. Only one line of Gallus’ work has endured, but it isn’t particularly inspiring. In a book on geography, the writer Vibius Sequester quotes Gallus’ line ‘uno tellures dividit amne duas’. This line translates as nothing more poetic than ‘it is divided by one river into two lands’. Not exactly Ovid’s Amores, is it? Read the rest of this entry

10 of the Best Short Literary Epitaphs

The best epitaphs of famous writers

Writers love to have the final word, and many great poets have composed their final lines, the lines that will crown their lifetime’s achievement and adorn the stones marking their final resting place. Some of the most memorable literary epitaphs are also the briefest, and remain witty, moving, or memorable – or all three – thanks to this brevity. Here, then, are ten of the finest short literary epitaphs that commemorate the lives, and deaths, of ten great writers.

William Shakespeare. We may as well begin with the greatest poet in the English language. Surely Shakespeare penned one of the greatest literary epitaphs that the world can boast? Well, it’s certainly memorable, threatening to bring down a curse upon anyone who disturbs his tomb. Read the rest of this entry