Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.02.04

Benjamin Acosta-Hughes, Polyeideia: The Iambi of Callimachus and the Archaic Iambic Tradition.   Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2002.  Pp. xvi, 351.  ISBN 0-520-22060-9.  $65.00.  

Reviewed by Paul Ojennus, Creighton University (
Word count: 2029 words

In Polyeideia Benjamin Acosta-Hughes (hereafter A.-H.) makes an important contribution to the scholarship on Callimachus' Iambi. A.-H. provides a new text and translation of most of the Iambi, excluding 8, 10, and 11, of which we have little more than the diegeses. While A.-H.'s text is based on Pfeiffer's edition,1 he incorporates a papyrus fragment confined to Pfeiffer's addenda, conjectures proposed in the 50 years since Pfeiffer (including some not previously published), and a few new readings.2 The primary contribution of the book, however, is literary, and A.-H. concentrates on Callimachus' response to Hipponax and the organization of the book based on pairs of poems that treat a common theme. A.-H. also demonstrates Callimachus' pervasive concerns throughout the Iambi with ethical and aesthetic criticism, the metaphor of a journey for the connection to earlier Greek poetry, the mixing of humble and elevated registers, the crossing of genres, and Callimachean poetics.

The book is organized by theme rather than by the sequence of the Iambi in the papyri, and, after an introduction that touches on a number of the perennial controversies in the Iambi (the poetry book, the place of the Mele, the Diegeses), each of the six chapters deals with two of the Iambi (three in the last chapter) and the theme they share. Chapters 1 and 2 together examine Iambi 1 and 13, and Hipponax as their common theme. Chapter 3 examines Iambi 12 and 1, and Callimachus' use of the Seven Sages and Apollo as "high" models, while chapter 4 demonstrates the use of fable as a correspondingly "low" model in Iambi 2 and 4. Chapter 5 connects Iambi 3 and 5 in that they both criticize their subjects' sexual practices. Finally, chapter 6 considers the role of ecphrasis in Iambi 6, 7 and 9. There is no general conclusion or restatement of findings, but the book does include a select bibliography and indices of passages in ancient authors, Greek words, and topics.

The introduction deals briefly with many of the recognized problems in approaching the Iambi: Callimachus' use of Hipponax, the relation of the Iambi to the Aetia, the so-called Mele, the Iambi as a consciously ordered poetry book, the Diegeses, and a conspectus of A.-H.'s own thematic approach. On most of these issues, A.-H. does not enunciate a strong position, but reviews the current state of the scholarship and its relation to his current work. The two cases in which A.-H. does advance his own views deserve particular attention: Hipponax and the Mele. A.-H. turns to the familiar problem of whether or not to include frr. 226-29, the "Mele", in the book of the Iambi, ultimately deciding that Iambi 1-13 were the original collection, and that the Mele were added later as Iambi 14-17, perhaps by Callimachus himself, drawing a parallel with the shorter speeches of Demosthenes and the Idylls of Theocritus. Conclusiveness is naturally impossible, but the problems of the debate are well illustrated.3 In the case of Hipponax, A.-H. makes a strong case that Callimachus successfully bridges the gap between archaic Ephesus and Hellenistic Alexandria. This is A.-H.'s key argument, and a fuller explanation of the critical background here would help a reader who is not already familiar with the issues in Hellenistic poetry understand what exactly is at stake in this claim (see further below).

Chapter one focuses on Callimachus' use of Hipponax in Iambus 1. After brief sections on Hipponax' aesthetic criticism and other receptions of Hipponax in Hellenistic poetry, A.-H. examines the poem section by section, demonstrating its multiple dualities: the speaker is both Hipponax and Callimachus, the time both archaic and contemporary, and the place both Ephesus and Alexandria. Especially well developed are the sections dealing with Callimachus' invention of the Alexandrian setting: the Serapeum, Euhemerus, the Diegesis' φιλόλογοι, and the importance of writing and literacy. This is a particularly effective approach to the poem, but it is perhaps surprising that A.-H. does not make more of the similar paradoxes in Iambus 1, namely that it is both invective and conciliatory, and that Callimachus is attacking the same learned controversy that he himself so eagerly pursues.4

Iambus 13 is presented as a complement to Iambus 1 in the second chapter. The central approach is again to read the poem as a sort of dialogue between the archaic and the Alexandrian but in this case with a sort of reversal; while Iambus 1 emphasized the comparability of the two settings, Iambus 13 emphasizes their difference. For example, A.-H. notes that in Iambus 1 journeys are completed (Hipponax to Alexandria, Amphalces to the Seven Sages), but they are rejected in Iambus 13 (the poet does not go to Ephesus). The second major concern of this chapter is "polyeideia". A.-H. adds to the traditional understandings of polyeideia as referring to Callimachus' variety of meters and dialects among the Iambi and of genre in his entire oeuvre by showing how Callimachus' claims to poetic skill transcend genre, specifically citing references to Hesiod and his own Aetia. This defense of polyeideia by appeal to a skill that "transcends any artificially structured boundaries" (99) is further strengthened by A.-H.'s own remarks on "hymnic" elements in Iambus 13 (70-1, 100-3). This approach, which acknowledges Callimachus' crossing of generic boundaries, will become one of A.-H.'s major tools in reading the Iambi.

In chapter three, A.-H. examines Callimachus' use of the elevated examples in Iambus 12 and 1 (Apollo's song for the newborn Hebe and Bathycles' cup). Naturally, the emphasis on hymnic elements in the Iambi continues here, and the mixing of high and low elements is A.-H.'s first main observation in this chapter. Ultimately, he suggests that this blurring of such boundaries, in this case between human and god, serves Callimachus' interests in the divine aspirations of the Ptolemies. This could lead to an important new interpretation of the Iambi, and it is perhaps surprising that A.-H. does not develop it further.5 In his discussion of Apollo's song, A.-H. effectively explains Apollo's rejection of a golden (i.e. divine) gift for Hebe by showing how Apollo consistently reflects the interests of Callimachean poetics; gold is rejected because of its epic associations. The end of the chapter brings forward the story of the cup of Bathycles from Iambus 1 as a parallel use of a high or serious example, which also shows the fundamental difference between the two poems: Iambus 12 assimilates Apollo and Callimachus, and Hebe and Leon's daughter, but Iambus 1 emphasizes the gap between Thales and the φιλόλογοι.

The fourth chapter turns to the use of a correspondingly humble sort of paradigm, fable, in Iambi 2 and 4. After a brief review of fable in Greek literature and elsewhere in Callimachus, A.-H. moves to the main argument of this chapter, that Callimachus appropriates Aesop and the olive tree as models of Callimachean poetics, and that their humble status is particularly appropriate to his uninflated (i.e. Hesiodic) poetic stance. This is an apt observation, though it is perhaps a truism to repeat that Callimachus' poetry is all about poetics. More interesting is the discussion of the play between high and low throughout these poems, such as the scientific (or pseudo-scientific) language Callimachus uses to describe the animals in the fable in Iambus 2, or the play of the laurel's holiness against the olive's usefulness. Although A.-H. maintains his argument that "the cultural authority of the past [...] validate[s] the poet's voice" (204), a more complex approach to exemplarity might contribute to his approach to these poems. For example, even on A.-H.'s own reading, the parallel of Callimachus and the olive does not fit exactly: the laurel also has Callimachean associations (191-2), and it is difficult to assign to Callimachus' poetry the olive's winning virtue of "usefulness".

A.-H. examines Callimachus' development of archaic blame poetry in chapter 5. A.-H.'s approach is to show how Callimachus recreates the key interactions of Archilochus and Hipponax with their audiences for his new Alexandrian setting. Thus, in Iambus 3 Callimachus recreates Hipponax' marginalized persona in terms of a poet in need of patronage and in Iambus 5 as a colleague of the humble school-teacher that he admonishes. The second major theme of the chapter is Callimachus' reversal of the archaic/classical figuration of homoeroticism as paideutic. This reversal is clearly applicable to Iambus 5, where Callimachus attacks his target for contaminating the roles of erastes and didaskalos, but the importance of the theme for Iambus 3 is less clear. A.-H. is rightly wary of drawing strong conclusions, given the fragmentary nature of Iambus 3, but he needs to clarify what we could gain from this argument if the evidence were more solid. A further notice of the mixing of genres also runs through this chapter, particularly emphasizing Callimachus' admixture of archaic lyric and elegy, as well as Hellenistic epigram, to the "official" iambic style.

The last chapter considers the ecphrasis in Iambi 6, 7, and 9, where many of the study's themes reappear: spatial distance, aestheticization of earlier iambus, reference to Callimachus' other works, crossing of high and low, and figuration of the Callimachean (iambic) poet. Again A.-H. begins by reviewing the evidence for ecphrasis in Archilochus and Hipponax, which, although not decisive, contributes to his larger argument that Callimachus is not so much innovating here as developing trends already present in the genre. As in chapters 3 and 4, Callimachus' variation between high and low is especially well developed. Thus, the description of Pheidias' statue of Zeus at Elis in Iambus 6 is a "high" counterpart to Epeius' "low" statue of Hermes on Ainus in Iambus 7, but the construction of high and low is further complicated by the use of the "low" fable of the hare and the tortoise in Iambus 6, and so on. Less well developed is the relation of these poems to the subject of Hellenistic ecphrasis in general, which would be a natural counterpart to A.-H.'s discussion of ecphrasis in archaic iambus. He does contrast Apollonius', Moschus', and Theocritus' preference for low subjects to Callimachus' wider range, but does not engage the scholarship on this topic; this is something of a missed opportunity, especially as A.-H.'s observation here fits so well with the theme of Callimachus' universality that he develops in chapter 2.

Polyeideia is a beautifully produced book and I found only a few minor typos: on page 6 πάρεργον has an unwanted subscript dot under the π; on page 91, at the end of the first paragraph, "object" should be "objects"; on page 126, n. 16, "Iambus 12.I was" should presumably be "Iambus 12, I was". In two cases A.-H. repeats material: the text and translation of Iambus 1.32-77 and the corresponding Diegesis are included in both chapters 1 and 3 (perhaps necessarily); and pages 208 and 244 repeat the argumentation for the accentuation of μοχθηρος. On the other hand, an appendix including the Diegesis and meager fragments of Iambi 8, 10 and 11 would have been useful as A.-H. does occasionally refer to them. A.-H.'s use of the lunate sigma is certainly appropriate, but the press has used a character that is slighter than the rest of the Greek type, which detracts somewhat from the presentation. All of these are extremely minor defects and in no way diminish the book's usefulness.

Once again, Polyeideia represents a major advance in the appreciation of Callimachus' Iambi, which will continue to stimulate discussion of these often under-appreciated poems for years to come. A.-H.' s demonstration of the ways Callimachus connects with and recreates the archaic iambic tradition is exceptionally clear and fills a real need in the scholarship on the Iambi. In a few cases, a clearer response to trends in Hellenistic scholarship could have helped define A.-H.'s position: first, the idea of "connection" or "recreation" in Hellenistic poetry is problematic and many scholars emphasize "rupture" or "disintegration" instead.6 A.-H. is clearly aware of this debate, but a direct reply to this alternative approach is omitted. In a similar way, one of A.-H.'s primary concerns is with genre and die Kreuzung der Gattungen, but his exact position remains implicit. These are not critical omissions, however, and are perhaps best thought of as the beginning of a "stimulated discussion".


1.   R. Pfeiffer, ed., Callimachus, 2 vols. Oxford 1949, 1953.
2.   A.-H. recognizes that D'Alessio, ed., Callimaco Inni Epigrammi Frammenti, 2 vols. Milan 1996, has partly anticipated this work but notes the need for a new English translation.
3.   I favor an original book of 17 Iambi. A.-H.'s parallels for adding the Mele later are not exact, especially as frr. 226-29 would have to be added to an already existing "poetry book". This raises more questions than it answers, especially whether Iambi 1-13 were recognizable as a "book" to the later editor. A.-H. of course includes all the necessary caveats that the issue is ultimately undecidable on our evidence, but, since the connection of Iambi 1 and 13, the strongest evidence for a collection of 13 poems, is one of the book's demonstranda rather than a given, and as A.-H. is selective of which poems he treats, it is not clear that a strong position on the Mele is desirable here. In fact A.-H. does use fr. 226 as evidence for thematic continuity within the Iambi (235).
4.   See A.-T. Cozzoli, "Il I giambo e il nuovo ἰαμβίζειν di Callimaco," Eikasmos 7 (1996) 129-147, and D. Clayman, Callimachus' Iambi, Leiden 1980, respectively.
5.   The Iambi are often overlooked in discussions of Callimachus' relation to the Ptolemaic court; perhaps S. A. Stephens, Seeing Double: The Politics of Poetry in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Berkeley 2003, which A.-H. has seen, will remedy this oversight.
6.   For example, P. Bing, The Well-Read Muse, Göttingen 1988, pp. 50-90; S. Goldhill, The Poet's Voice, Cambridge 1991, pp. 301-321; B. Effe, "Tradition und Innovation," Hermes 124 (1996) 290-312.

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