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Epyllion (diminutive of epos), term applied in modern (not ancient) times to some ‘short epics’, hexameter poems of mythological narrative in not more than one book. The texts most frequently called ‘epyllion’ are Hellenistic (especially the Hecale of Callimachus (3), certain poems of Theocritus, and Moschus’ Europa) and Roman (the sixty-fourth poem of Catullus (1), lost works by other neoterics, and the Ciris).

Characteristics often considered typical of epyllion include: unfamiliar mythical subject-matter, often erotic; a subjective, emotional style; an uneven narrative scale, with some events elaborated and others quickly passed over; the inclusion of a second theme within the main narrative by means of a speech or ekphrasis.

However, many of these features are shared with other Hellenistic or neoteric poetry, with earlier poems in the post-Homeric epic tradition, or with shorter poetic narratives in other metres (especially lyric), while some poems usually identified as ‘epyllia’ exhibit only one or two of them. The meaningfulness of the term has therefore been questioned, although its convenience is generally agreed.


A. Perutelli, La narrazione commentata. studi sull'epillio latino (1979).Find this resource:

    K. J. Gutzwiller, Studies in the Hellenistic Epyllion (1981).Find this resource:

      É. Wolff, Revue de philologie, de littérature et d'histoire anciennes 62 (1988), 299–303; Der Neue Pauly 4. 31–3 = Brill’s New Pauly 4. 1170–2.

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