The word derives from the Greek word for garland — or bouquet of flowers — which was the title of the earliest surviving anthology, assembled by Meleager of Gadara. Meleager's Garland became the seed that grew into the Greek Anthology. The term miscellany is also used, but was more common in the past.
In medieval Europe the term florilegium, again meaning a collection of flowers, was used for an anthology of Latin proverbs and textual excerpts.
In music, the term refers to a collection of works by an artist with a long and varied career. While the definition would include typical "greatest hits" sets, the term is used as a marketing device to indicate a collection that can include a performer's best-known songs along with lesser known pieces, demos, live recordings, unreleased work, etc such as The Beatles Anthology in the 1990s, which also had a television series connected to it.
The term is also applied to a radio or TV programs, movies, comic books and other such media featuring a variety of different stories. Examples of radio anthologies are Suspense and Escape. Examples of TV anthologies are The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Tales from the Darkside, Producers' Showcase, the Disney anthology television series, Playhouse 90, and Tales from the Crypt, which was not only an HBO series but also a movie anthology, both based on the EC horror-comic anthology. Other examples of anthology films are Four Rooms, Tales of Manhattan, Flesh and Fantasy, and The Cat o' Nine Tails.
In East Asian tradition, an anthology was a recognised form of compilation of a given poetic form. It was assumed that there was a cyclic development: any particular form, say the tanka in Japan, would be introduced at one point in history, be explored by masters during a subsequent time, and finally be subject to popularisation (and a certain dilution) when it achieved wide-spread recognition. In this model, which derives from Chinese tradition, the object of compiling an anthology was to preserve the best of a form, and cull the rest.
In Malaysia, an anthology (or antologi in Malay) is a collection of syair, sajak (or modern prose), proses, drama scripts, and pantuns. Notable anthologies that are used in secondary schools include Sehijau Warna Daun, Seuntai Kata Untuk Dirasa, Anak Bumi Tercinta, Anak Laut and Kerusi. In the twentieth century, anthologies became an important part of poetry publishing, for a number of reasons. For English poetry, the Georgian poetry series was trend-setting; it showed the potential success of publishing an identifiable group of younger poets marked out as a 'generation'. It was followed by numerous collections from the 'stable' of some literary editor, or collated from a given publication, or labelled in some fashion as 'poems of the year'. Academic publishing also followed suit, with the success of the Quiller-Couch Oxford Book of English Verse encouraging other collections not limited to modern poetry. In fact the concept of 'modern verse' was fostered by the appearance of the phrase in titles such as the Faber & Faber anthology by Michael Roberts, and the very different William Butler Yeats Oxford Book of Modern Verse.
Since publishers generally found anthology publication a more flexible medium than the collection of a single poet's work, and indeed rang innumerable changes on the idea as a way of marketing poetry, publication in an anthology (in the right company) became at times a sought-after form of recognition for poets. The self-definition of movements, dating back at least to Ezra Pound's efforts on behalf of Imagism, could be linked on one front to the production of an anthology of the like-minded.
Also, whilst not connected with poetry, Publishers have produced collective works of fiction from a number of authors and used the term Anthologies to describe the collective nature of the text. These have been in a number of subjects, including Erotica as edited by Mitzi Szereto.