Scott Lawson wrote:Δοῦλος Ἐπίκτητος γενόμην καὶ σῶμ' ἀνάπηρος καὶ πενίην Ἶρος καὶ φίλος ἀθανάτοις.
Slave, poor as Irus, halting as I trod, I, Epictetus, was the friend of God.
An anonymous epigram translated by H Macnaghten.
I was perusing Louis Sorenson’s “Let’s Read Greek” website and came across the above epigram. First, I had to look up the definition of epigram and found that it is a short, often satirical poem dealing concisely with a single subject and usually ending with a witty or ingenious turn of thought.
I was surprised to see φίλος ἀθανάτοις translated as "...was the friend of God." But from that, I’ve learned that the omission of εἴναι can be in the imperfect, future, imperative, subjunctive, optative, infinitive and even the participle! Pretty cool! (Robertson 395) But, if that is in fact an epigram wouldn’t it be better translated as I, Epictetus, am the friend of God? It'd be funnier or at least more satirical
An "epigram" originally meant "inscription" -- a few words inscribed upon some sort of monument to commemorate something, such as an inscription on a monument celebrating an important event, or a characterization of a man or woman on a gravestone. The "funerary epigram" became a genre in its own right; there are anthologies of them, some of them imaginary. That's what this poem is. It's actually two lines, the first a dactylic hexameter setting forth simple facts: Δοῦλος Ἐπίκτητος γενόμην καὶ σῶμ' ἀνάπηρος, the second a line consisting of two half-hexameters that sets forth a witty or poignant emphasis: καὶ πενίην Ἶρος καὶ φίλος ἀθανάτοι. The verb γενόμην (epic dialect usage: an unaugmented aorist 1 sg.) is to be understood with all of the affirmations in the epigram, which reads -- more literally: "(I) Epictetus was a slave and a cripple (lit. "lame in body"), both an Iros in poverty (Iros in the Odyssey became the paragon of beggars) and dear to the gods." The translation you cite Christianizes the sentiment of the Greek as "friend of God." In the text φίλος ἀθανάτοις should be construed with that original verb γενόμην: "(I was) dear to the gods" or "(I was) a friend to the gods." The poem was written in the manner of a tombstone inscription that would characterize Epictetus.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω