The epigrams of Palladas of Alexandria

On twitter a couple of days ago I came across this item by Bettany Hughes:

Palladas of Alexandria c.350AD ‘in the darkness of night Zeus stood beside me and said: “Even I, a god, have learned to live with the times”. @Bettany_Hughes

I confess that Palladas is not a name that I had ever heard of.  But he is a pagan epigrammist, whose work is preserved in the Greek Anthology, of the 5th century – or so the introduction to the Loeb edition states.

From a selection from this available online at Gutenberg[1] I learn the following:

Palladas of Alexandria is the author of one hundred and fifty-one epigrams (besides twenty-three more doubtful) in the Anthology. His somber and melancholy figure is one of the last of the purely pagan world in its losing battle against Christianity. One of the epigrams attributed to him on the authority of Planudes is an eulogy on the celebrated Hypatia, daughter of Theon of Alexandria, whose tragic death took place A.D. 415 in the reign of Theodosius the Second. Another was, according to a scholium in the Palatine MS., written in the reign of Valentinian and Valens, joint-emperors, 364-375 A.D.

Thankfully the Greek Anthology is accessible online in the Loeb edition in five volumes.[2]  Better yet, since it is on, it is possible to search through the OCR’d text for his name.

This I have done, and have found what seems to be the real version of the quotation, in volume 3, on p.247, no. 441:


On a Statue of Heracles.[1]

I marvelled, seeing at the cross-roads Jove’s brazen son, once constantly invoked, now cast aside, and in wrath I said : “Averter of woes, offspring of three nights, thou, who never didst suffer defeat, art to-day laid low.” But at night the god stood by my bed smiling, and said : “Even though I am a god I have learnt to serve the times.”

[1] The statue had doubtless been cast down by the Christians.

I must confess that my search through the Greek Anthology moves me, rather, to read it!  I hesitate, however, to add five volumes to my straightened shelves.

  1. [1]J.W. Mackail, Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology, 1890.
  2. [2]Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4, Vol 5.

15 thoughts on “The epigrams of Palladas of Alexandria

  1. There is some splendid stuff in the Greek Anthology, Roger. You would enjoy reading it: especially, if like myself, you are a fan of well-turned epigrams and epitaphs. Go on, splash out on the five-volume Loeb edition! You won’t regret it!

  2. Kevin Wilkinson has done some work recently (especially, ‘Palladas and the Age of Constantine’, JRS 99 (2009),pp.36-60), which shows fairly convincingly that the poet was writing in the latter part of Constantine’s reign, and which might be of interest.

  3. Interesting – thank you! I must look at it.

    Although the climate of hostility, throwing down statues, etc, does seem rather more likely half a century later.

  4. Quite – but if he’s right, then it’s a very valuable witness to the religious climate at the end of Constantine’s reign. T.D. Barnes also discusses it in his ‘Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire’.

  5. Very much so. It would imply that the shift from persecuted to persecutors took place in less than a generation. Thanks also for the Barnes ref!

  6. The Anthologies are wonderful resources. Not only do they give us insight into the reception of epigrams written in some cases centuries before the compilation of works like the Palatine Anthology, they preserve vitally important works which illuminate our understanding of literature of periods such as the Hellenistic. They are a wonderful, if under-utilised, resource.

  7. The collections are all gathered in the Loebs. The Greek Anthology, the Palatine Anthology and the Garland of Philip are different, but the Loeb Greek Anthology brings them all together as far as I know. I became a pedant when referring to the texts in my PhD.

  8. You might be interested in the reference in this paper to a publication of new Palladas epigrams referred to in this article about the illegal papyri trade. Apparently the source of this material is under conjecture, but additional epigrams have been published. I don’t want to go into a discussion of the illegal trade vs new discoveries (it is a difficult and not easily assessed issue). However, if you do want to be up in the most recent Palladas scholarship, have a look.

  9. Thank you for the link. I was aware that a papyrus of epigrams, probably by Palladas, existed. I must follow it up some time.

    I quite understand your reluctance to be drawn into all the shouting. 🙂 Roberta Mazza is taking a view with which I profoundly disagree, I have to say.

  10. It is probably a bit late to add this, since anyone interested will have tracked this down by now, but the epigrams were published as:
    Kevin W. Wilkinson, New Epigrams of Palladas: A Fragmentary Papyrus Codex (P.CtYBR inv. 4000). American Studies in Papyrology, 52. Durham, NC: American Society of Papyrologists, 2012. Pp. xi, 214; 12 p. of plates. ISBN 9780979975851. $50.00.
    See also the review in BMCR:

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