[St. Pachomius Library]

The Greek Anthology

The Greek Anthology is a very large collection of epigrams and occasional poetry from all periods of Greek history between Homeric times and the Great Schism. It assumed its present form in the X Century under the editorship of Constantine Cephalas; a number of similar works, such The Circle edited by Agathias Scholasticus, had appeared several centuries earlier and were incorporated into the Anthology in almost their entirety.

Since the Renaissance, the Anthology has fascinated Western classicists, but attention has been paid mostly to the pagan (and especially to the quite explicit erotic) poetry which it includes. However, there are works on Christian themes or by Christian authors (a number of them canonised saints) scattered throughout the collection; in addition, all of Book I is devoted to poems on Christian liturgical themes, or inspired by ikons, or meant to celebrate the dedications of new churches, and Book VIII is simply a collection of verse epitaphs written by St. Gregory the Theologian for members of his circle. The idea that there is some sort of radical break between "classical" and "Byzantine" literature did not occur to the "Byzantines"; they saw their own poetry as part of an unbroken tradition extending to the Iliad and beyond.

This view has not, obviously, been prevalent in the West, where a romantic vision of the pagan world has long coexisted with antipathy to Eastern Christianity (or Christianity in general). Readers of the Anthology interested in Orthodox civilisation are advised to seek an unabridged version (such as the Loeb Library one below); the abridged editions almost always omit the Christian content.

Norman Hugh Redington

Under construction --- far from complete! Read with caution.


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