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ἐλεγεῖον, a distich consisting of an hexameter line followed by a pentameter; then in the plural, a collection of such distichs, and hence ἐλεγεία). The general term in Greek for any poem written in the elegiac metre, a combination of the dactylic hexameter and pentameter in a couplet. The word ἔλεγος is probably not Greek, but borrowed from the Lydians, and means a plaintive melody accompanied by the flute. How it happened that the word was applied to elegiac poetry, the earliest representatives of which by no means confined it to mournful subjects, is doubtful. It may be that the term was chosen only in reference to the musical setting, the elegy having originally been accompanied by the flute. Like the epic, the elegy was a production of the Ionians of Asia Minor. (See Epos.) Its dialect was the same as that of the epos, and its metre only a variation of the epic metre, the pentameter being no more than an abbreviation of the hexameter. The elegy marks the first transition from the epic to lyric proper. The earliest representatives of the elegy, Callinus of Ephesus (about B.C. 700) and Tyrtaeus of Aphidnae in Attica (about B.C. 600), gave it a decidedly warlike and political direction, and so did Solon (B.C. 640-559) in his earlier poems, though his later elegies have mostly a contemplative character. The elegies of Theognis of Megara (about B.C. 540), though gnomic and erotic, are essentially political. The first typical representative of the erotic elegy was Mimnermus of Colophon, an elder contemporary of Solon. The elegy of mourning or sorrow was brought to perfection by Simonides (q.v.) of Ceos (died B.C. 469). After him the emotional element predominated. Antimachus of Colophon (about B.C. 400) gave the elegy a learned tinge, and was thus the prototype of the elegiac poets of Alexandria, Phanocles, Philetas of Cos, Hermesianax of Colophon, and Callimachus (q.v.) of Cyrené, the master of them all. The subject of the Alexandrian elegy is sometimes the passion of love, with its pains and pleasures, treated through the medium of images and similes taken from mythology; sometimes learned narrative of fable and history, from which personal emotion is absent.

This type of elegy, with its learned and obscure manner, was taken up and imitated at Rome towards the end of the Republic. The Romans soon easily surpassed their Greek masters both in warmth and sincerity of feeling and in finish of style. The elegies of Catullus are among their earliest attempts; but in the Augustan Age, in the hands of Cornelius Gallus , Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, the elegiac style was entirely appropriated by Latin literature. Ovid, in his Fasti, showed how a learned subject could be treated in this metre. From his time onward the elegiac metre was constantly employed, and was used even in schools for practice in style. In the later literature it was applied, like the epic metre, to every possible subject, as, for instance, by Rutilius Namatianus in the description of his return from Rome to Gaul (A.D. 416). In the sixth century A.D. the poet Maximianus, born in Etruria at the beginning of that century, is a late instance of a genuine elegiac poet.

On the elegy, see an article by O. Crusius in the Wochenschrift für klass. Phil. for 1885; Eichner, De Poetarum Lat. Distichis (Breslau, 1866); Prien, Symmetrie und Responsion der röm. Elegie (Lübeck, 1867); Madvig in his Adversaria, ii. 110; and Gruppe, Die röm. Elegie, ed. by Schulze (Berlin, 1884).

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