Famous Epigrams

Need some examples of famous epigrams? An epigram is a short, witty statement that makes use of a play on words, usually words that would contradict each other if they were used in a different context. Typically, an epigram comes in the form of a short poem, such as a couplet or quatrain. It is memorable, ironic and easily quotable. Epigram is one of those literary terms that people use to loosely describe just about any brief, entertaining statement or proverb.

Epigram Basics
Epigrams often look like this:

He was so wealthy, he could not spare the money.

You no doubt notice the contradiction inside the sentence; the real meaning is that this man is wealthy because he does not spend his money. The statement is written so that it provokes a chuckle from anyone who knows this stingy person.

Epigrams were originally developed by the ancient Greeks. The word "epigram" comes from the Greek term "epi-gramma," meaning to inscribe. The Greeks placed epigrams on statues of their heroes and athletes, as well as on grave markers. Today, we know the short statements on gravestones as epitaphs.

Some of the most famous epigram authors are Oscar Wilde, John Donne and Alexander Pope. The following are famous epigrams written by each of these men.

Epigrams by Oscar Wilde

I suppose society is wonderfully delightful.
To be in it is merely a bore.
But to be out of it simply a tragedy.

I hope you have not been leading a double life,
pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.
That would be hypocrisy.

The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on;
it is never of any use to oneself.

To be modern is the only thing worth being nowadays.

Epigrams by John Donne

A Lame Beggar
I am unable, yonder beggar cries, 
To stand, or move; if he say true, he lies.

Hero and Leander
Both robb'd of air, we both lie in one ground;
Both whom one fire had burnt, one water drown'd.

Antiquary
If in his study he hath so much care
To hang all old strange things, let his wife beware
 

Epigrams by Alexander Pope

And more than echoes talk along the walls.

'Tis education forms the common mind. Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclin'd.

I am his Highness' dog at Kew; pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

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