In Mackail’s Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology is the following one, of Demodocus.
Πάντες μὲν Κίλικες κακοὶ ἀνέρες· ἐν δὲ Κίλιξιν
εἶς ἀγαθὸς Κίνυρης, καὶ Κινύρης δὲ Κίλιξ.
All the Cilicians are bad men; but among the Cilicians
there’s one good one, Cinyras; but Cinyras too is a Cilician.
(My translation.) Mackail thinks it is imitated from similar epigrams of Phocylides, among which is this, which begins with attribution to the author.
Καὶ τόδε Φωκυλίδεω. Λέριοι κακοί· οὐχ ὅ μὲν, ὃς δ’ οὔ·
Πάντες, πλὴν Προκλέους· καὶ Προκλέης Λέριος.
This too is Phocylides’. Lerians are bad; not this one, not that;
All, save Proclees; and Proclees is a Lerian.
Phocylides’ version—the part of the epigram that follows his name, I mean—is sparer than Demodocus’s, and superior in development. What do we enjoy in it? There’s the paradoxical character: Hermann Weyl compares the epigram to the famous paradox of Epimenides the Cretan (that all Cretans are liars), which he regards as sharper. And there’s the comical notion of a whole island (Leros) of people whose badness admits no exception. But let’s consider in detail how the argument runs. The speaker begins with an unqualified assertion about a class; then, as if facing doubt—his own, or another’s—he affirms the absence of any exception within it; having done so, upon reaching the pentameter he affirms the absolute qualification, but only to acknowledge by contrast one exception after all, as if it arose out of his very certainty; a moment later, he is drawn back to its inescapable membership in the class. A universal declaration; an exceptional particular case; its confrontation with the general assertion. A little tragedy? He shouldn’t have started with that universal claim. A little comedy? His devotion to the claim renders him ridiculous. And how could all the Lerians be bad? The argument begins with a statement that can hardly be true; in any case, one whose truth or falsity no one could know. It is made arrogantly, perhaps in anger, out of some cause hidden from us. The speaker condemns the locals, who may be his own people; yet he has a sense of justice; he ends equivocally. Proclees is damned, it seems; but there remains the possibility that the speaker’s unreason has left him uneasy.
The English classical scholar Richard Porson thought ill of some comments on prosody by the German scholar he called “Godfrey Herman” (Johann Gottfried Jakob Hermann). “An Etonian, a friend of mine,” wrote Porson, made this epigram upon the object of his disapproval, in imitation of Phocylides:
Νήϊδες ἐστὲ μέτρων, ὦ Τεύτονες· οὐχ ὅ μὲν, ὃς δ’ οὔ·
Πάντες, πλὴν ἝΡΜΑΝΝΟΣ· ὁ δ’ ἝΡΜΑΝΝΟΣ σπόδρα Τεύτων.
You are ignorant of meters, Germans; not this one, not that;
All, save Herman; and Herman is very much a German.
The Etonian gets away with making the middle syllable of the name short, despite the double Ν—because of its English pronunciation? His epigram, says Porson, “I thus endeavoured to do into English:
Are sadly to seek;
Not five in five score,
But ninety-five more;
All; save only HERMAN,
And HERMAN’s a German.”
“To seek,” i.e. wanting, not to be found. Porson is a worthy ancestor of Housman, who will write of another continental scholar, among other pleasantries, that his work was published at “Strasburg, a city still famous for its geese.” I wonder if the jingling verse makes us feel the way a comic epigram did an ancient Greek.