In the middle of the erotic epigrams in Book Five of the Greek Anthology, three poems stand out for not being personal or entirely erotic. In each epigram a speaker addresses a servant about the preparations for a symposium. If it were not for the epigrammatic context, 181 (Asclep. 25, Gow-Page), 183 (Posidipp. 10, Gow-Page), and 185 (Asclep. 26, Gow-Page) might be mistaken for dramatic fragments. Gow and Page 1965 (132), who termed these poems “thumb-nail mimes”, observed that 182 (Mel. 171, Gow-Page) and 184 (Mel. 172, Gow-Page) also seem to have been modeled on dramatic scenes (132). Gutzwiller 1998 (295-96) has further asserted that 181-187 are a designed “mime sequence” within Meleager’s Garland. Scholars are correct to note the intentional ordering of these epigrams, but to group them together as a “mime” sequence without further explanation does not show how unique 181, 183, and 185 are. 182, 184 and 186-87 are personal erotic epigrams that borrow from drama, while the other three epigrams actually imitate drama. Significantly, Meleager is the author of all but one of the personal epigrams. Therefore, we can examine this sequence as Meleager’s interaction with his Hellenistic predecessors’ experiments with mime and comedy. Furthermore, we can read this dramatic sequence firmly as book poetry by the time of Meleager’s collection and can then infer back about the much debated relationship between reading and performance in the Hellenistic period.
181 and 182 programmatically introduce the impersonal and personal poems in this sequence. In 181 Bacchon scolds a servant for laziness and accuses him of theft. The speaker’s name and the names of the other characters, Phryne and Aischra, are all evocative of the world of mime (Sens 2011, 163). Like other Hellenistic imitations of mime, such as Theoc. 15. 27-33 and Herod. 7. 5-13, Asclepiades develops the character of his speaker through the orders to his servant; indeed, this is also the appeal of the other two thumb-nail mimes of Posidippus and Asclepiades (Sens, 173-74). In the last lines, Bacchon tells his servant to go to Aeschra to acquire five silver flasks, one for every time he had sex with her in a single session (181. 10-12). As proof, he says their bed was inscribed as a witness (12 κλÎ¯νη μÎ¬ρτυς á¼πεγρÎ¬φετο). While á¼πιγρÎ¬φομαι can have the technical meaning of “to cause to be endorsed”, it is probable that Asclepiades here is also drawing attention to his “inscribed” art, τá½¸ á¼πÎ¯γραμμα, at the close of his imitation of a dramatic scene (Sens 172), similar to allusions to the textual imitation of drama in Theocritus and Herodas (Kutzko 2007, 141-55).
In 182 Meleager orders Dorcas to send a message to his mistress (1-2), then stops her to revise the message (3-6), and finally resolves to go with her to convey the message himself (7-8). His speech is filled with implied stage directions – τρÎχε (2), á¼πÎ¯σχες (3), ποá¿– σπεÏδεις (4), σá½ºν σοι καá½τÏŒς, á¼°δοÏ, προÎ¬γων (8) – and Gutzwiller (328-29) notes that Meleager focuses on the lover’s emotional ambivalence through a dramatic setting. Interestingly, the standard manner for portraying a lover’s ambivalence in both epigram and comedy (i.e. Men. Sam. 325-56) is through a monologue. Meleager here follows the technique of Asclepiades, who develops Bacchon’s character and the epigram’s scenario solely through imitation of dramatic dialogue, and applies it to his own epigram. Interweaving the rest of the thumb-nail mimes with the erotic epigrams, Meleager shows the influence of drama on his predecessors and himself.
Not enough has been made of Aclepiades’ and Posidippus’ imitations of mime in the epigram form or Meleager’s engagement with them. A full reading of this mime sequence supports the view that Hellenistic poets actively experimented with the non-dramatic imitation of drama that influenced both later Greek and Roman book poetry.