The form was already well into its twilight in Coleridge’s day, due in part to the vagaries of taste and fashion but also, one is tempted to infer, because it had become a casualty of its own crisis of identity.
556-468), like Anakreon principally a lyric bard, but who earned what we would now call a national reputation on the strength of his lines honoring the casualties of the Persian Wars: We did not flinch but gave our lives to save Greece when her fate hung on a razor’s edge.
(“Cenotaph at the Isthmos”—translated by Peter Jay) Take this news to the Lakedaimonians, friend, That here we lie, who followed their command.
But the real vexation sets in when you try to classify the thing with any sort of modest accuracy. That was once a question of no small import for the best and brightest literary minds, and if Coleridge’s riposte is suitably brisk, there is something curiously poignant about it as well.
For who gets exercised anymore over the enigma of the epigram?