Book 5 contains epigrams on the topics of desire, feminine beauty, love, and sex. The desire it manifests is fairly strictly heterosexual (though there are exceptions, e.g., 5.28, 78, 122, 145); this restriction is due not to ancient anthologists but rather to Cephalas, who (with some inaccuracy) separated homoerotic poems into what has now become Book 12 of the Greek Anthology.
Erotic epigram has no direct inscriptional precedent; it was created from a collision of epigrammatic models and elegiac themes. Among its earliest practitioners, and arguably its creator, was Asclepiades, many of whose erotic epigrams incorporate elements from dedicatory (e.g., 5.203) or sepulchral (e.g., 5.85, 161, 162) epigram; without these elements, his readers would not have recognized the poems as epigrams at all.
Many of the epigrams in Book 5 are bittersweet. They complain of any circumstance that impedes their love—the dawn that interrupts a liaison (5.3, 172, 173, 223) or a beloved who is unreliable or unfaithful (5.6–8, 52, 150, 164, 184, 186, 265, 279). Equally, they complain of the state of being in love itself (5.24, 50) and curse the god Love for subjecting them to his forces (5.10, 176–80, 188, 198, 215, 268). Others focus on the body of the beloved, waxing lyrical on her features (5.15, 48, 56, 70, 94, 195) or, more crassly, invoking the ravages of age (5.12, 21, 27, 74,
76, 79, 80, 103, 204, 271, 273) or judging her body in a beauty contest (5.35, 36). Many of the women seen in these poems are courtesans or prostitutes of a lower grade (complaints of their venality are common, e.g., 5.29–34), but this cannot be assumed of all of them; even the lemmatist occasionally misleads (e.g., 5.126). Not every poem features sex, but a great many do; description of the act ranges from metaphorical admiration of the woman’s skill (5.202–3) to something nearer pornography (5.49, 55, 127), or rape (5.199, 275).
One recurring motif is the paraclausithyron (5.23, 103, 145, 153, 167, 189, 191, 213). In this adaptation of a folk custom, a lover, drunk and garlanded from a symposiastic party, makes his way to the door of his beloved and attempts to persuade the woman, or her servants, to let him in. In the epigrams, he is invariably unsuccessful, and expresses his disappointment in a variety of ways.
Book 5 has at its core one of the four books of the Garland of Meleager. This book of Meleager’s was then expanded by additions from the anthologies of Philip and Agathias, and finally arranged by Constantine Cephalas into approximately the form we now have. Alan Cameron outlines the sources of the book as follows:1
|1–103||Rufinus and others (Meleager, Philip, and Diogenianus)|
- 1Cameron, The Greek Anthology, pp. xvi–xvii.