BMCR 1994.05.13

1994.05.13, Callimachus

, , , Callimachus. Hellenistica Groningana ; v. 1. Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1993. 231 pages ; 24 cm.. $45.00.

The present volume represents the publication of the first of the “Groningen Workshops on Hellenistic Poetry” that took place in early September of 1992. Rumor had it that the event was both enjoyable and instructive. While the collection, comprised of 13 papers, does not let on about the former, the latter is very much in evidence. What a propitious beginning for the workshops and their publications!

The collection begins quite appropriately with a paper celebrating the 150th anniversary of the completion of Alphonsus Hecker’s dissertation Commentationes Callimacheae (Groningen 1842), an event that, in the words of organizer Annette Harder, “put Groningen on the map as a place where one could profitably work on Callimachus” (p. vix). In “Il Prologus Aetiorum di A. Hecker,” Giovanni Benedetto describes the Dutch scholar’s remarkable contribution to the reconstruction of the preface of the Aetia. Long before the discovery of P. Oxy. 2079 Hecker intuited from a handful of fragments and from an anonymous elegiac couplet preserved by Fronto that the prologue of the Aetia involved both an invective against his critics and the Heliconian dream. While he was followed in this view by O. Schneider, later scholars, including Pfeiffer and Wilamowitz, rejected the notion of a bipartite prologue and focused exclusively on the dream. The publication of P. Oxy. 2079 changed that. In addition to his vision of a lively polemical introduction to the Aetia, Hecker also intuitively argued that the poet had in mind in particular those who criticized him for not writing an epic. Even more interesting, Hecker followed Naeke in excluding Apollonius from this group of critics—something the Florentine Scholia confirm—on the basis of the epic poet’s many imitations of his teacher. In this he anticipated the current view that the supposed quarrel between student and teacher is apocryphal. Moreover, Hecker also proposed that the prologue of the Aetia concluded with the aetion of the Graces, something that Vitelli and Maas confirmed in 1934. This particular conclusion is germane to the present debate over the Musenanruf in the Aetia. In sum, Benedetto has provided a fascinating sidelight to the history of the reconstruction of the Aetia.

The second paper, “On Adverbs in Callimachus: A Contribution to Greek Poetical Language,” by Jerker Blomqvist, is the most philological of the collection, as the title suggests. Basing his work on earlier studies, Blomqvist begins from the propositions that adverbs are less frequent in poetry than prose; that their scarcity is due to their lack of vividness, abstractness, aridity, etc.; and that poets used other means of expressing adverbial notions. For the present study, the author focuses by and large on words ending in -WS, -DHN, -DON, -DA, -DIS, and -TI. Blomqvist concludes that “Callimachus’ use of adverbs does not differ significantly from that of other poets” and that these conclusions regarding Callimachus are “valid for Greek poetical language in general” (p. 34). The author includes two useful tables summarizing some of his findings. While the topic of this paper may not scintillate, the results of the survey appear to be cogent.

There are five papers that deal with Callimachus’ hymns: Claude Calame, “Legendary Narration and Poetic Procedure in Callimachus’Hymn to Apollo“; Mary Depew, “Mimesis and Aetiology in Callimachus’Hymns“; Michael Haslam, “Callimachus’Hymns“; Albert Henrichs, “Gods in Action: The Poetics of Divine Performance in the Hymns of Callimachus”; and Kurt Sier, “Die Peneios-Episode des kallimachsischen Deloshymnos und Apollonios von Rhodos. Zur Datierung des dritten Buchs der Argonautika.” Since the editors present the papers in alphabetical order of the last names of the authors, these particular pieces are not contiguous in the collection. It might prove more interesting, however, to keep them together and so I proceed out of order.

Calame exposes an overarching duality in the Hymn to Apollo that manifests itself in several ways. First, by including the founding of Cyrene within a hymn to Apollo, Callimachus is seen to combine the human and divine. Second, there are several apparent bipolar movements in the hymn: one from precivilized nomadic life in the country to civilized life in the city and another from Apollo’s relationship with Admetus to that with Cyrene. Comparable geographical and cultural progressions exist in the episode at Delphi. Moreover, Callimachus is said to have set Apollo’s birth at Delos opposite his victory at Delphi to point up the two geographical and religious poles of Apollinian cult, modeled on the two sections of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. Calame then views the celebrated conclusion of the hymn within this overall scheme of thematic polarization: Apollo’s battle with Python turns into the literary conflict between the god and Envy. Through the biographical allusions and other personal interjections in the poem, Callimachus associates himself with Cyrene, its founding god, and ultimately the poetic program promoted by that god. Calame concludes by offering a new insight on the literary coda to the hymn: similar to its archaic predecessors, the Hymn to Apollo can be read as a prelude to other verse through its establishment of a programmatic posture.

Depew focuses on two salient features of the Callimachean narrative: mimesis and aetiology. Both were inherited from the two genres that are central models for the poet—the hymn and epinician—and both set the speaker’s utterances within the audience’s community and experiences. Even more to the point, both, as Depew goes on to show, underscore the textuality, intertextuality, and artificiality of the poems. Callimachus does this by manipulating the conventions of his genre and the expectations of the reader. For instance, one expects in both Hymns 5 and 6 that the poet will have as his goal the honoring of the goddesses. Yet, in both cases the poet veers away from the praise of the divinity. In Hymn 1 Depew notes that “Callimachus has adapted the premise of a priamel—that the poet is telling the truth for a particular occasion of praise—only to emphasize the artificiality necessarily involved in imitating conventions of this sort” (73). In fact, she observes, the poet directs his attention not to the god, but to the conjunction of geographical, lexical and generic arcana. Thus, ironically, mimesis and aetiology, which would normally support the realism of the scenarios envisaged, ultimately call that realism into question.

While Callimachus’ manipulation of earlier and contemporary writers is apparent and is indispensable for a full understanding of the artistry of his verse, Haslam argues that the hymns can be read and enjoyed even without knowledge of the material to which the poet alludes. The argument is executed in two movements: a more detailed analysis of Hymn 3 and a more abbreviated look at several other hymns. The key to reading the Hymn to Artemis is para prosdokian. Right from the beginning, according to Haslam, Callimachus throws the reader off balance. As the poem begins, we encounter contrasts between high and low stylistic registers (something Haslam himself amusingly instantiates with his insertion of more than a few colloquial expressions) and between the quotidian and the Olympian. Within this set of contrasts we find the incongruous but apt scene of a baby daughter asking her father for life-long virginity. From there, the poet sustains his “catch-me-if-you-can sparkle” (113) by leading us on several wild goose chases, including several false conclusions and new starts. The other hymns reveal a similar disdain for “organizational stereotyping” (114) and proclivity toward the unusual. The Hymn to Zeus, the king of the gods, is the shortest in the collection and is followed by the similarly abbreviated Hymn to Apollo. The Hymn to Artemis is conversely quite long, “in line with Callimachus’ modernist upsetting of the proper proportional relations of things” (117). The theatricality and unreality of the Hymn to Delos, together with the intertextual exchange it has with the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, call attention to the self-consciousness of the poem. Finally, in the Hymn to Athena the goddess’consolatio is seen as a willful destabilization of the text: her speech is rhetorically excellent, but executed in unspeakably bad taste. According to Haslam, in the hymns the poet constantly ironizes his characters and their tales, even at their most emotional points.

Instead of asking what the gods in Callimachus mean, Henrichs examines what they do. The answer entails an investigation into divine epithets, enumerations, precocious children, epiphanies, and role models. Epithets, by themselves, associated with rituals, or in combination, all attest to the range of power and popularity of the gods as viewed in the hymns. They can function allusively or in clusters direct the narrative along a path they suggest. A god’s performance can also be underscored by the enumeration of significant activities (e.g., the seven swans who sing prior to Apollo’s birth are the model for the seven strings of the lyre). The role of the poet is eventually introduced into this study on the gods. Callimachus, Henrichs states, outperforms the gods he celebrates by revealing that he determines their success or failure. Similarly, epiphany in the three hymns where it is a possibility happens (as in H. 6) or does not happen (as in H. 2 and 5) on his terms. In the Hymn to Zeus, several elements lead one to conclude that “Divine performance becomes synonymous with royal performance through the medium of the poetic voice … as the god, the king and the poet join forces” (141). Callimachus, Henrichs perceptively notes, appears “to construct a triangle composed of the ways gods perform, the way a poet performs, and the way a Hellenistic king performs,” yet, as he adds, “it takes a poet to corroborate the connection” (146).

The final paper on the hymns limits itself to the Hymn to Delos but has important implications beyond the Callimachean corpus. Sier, in what is the most speculative piece in the book, argues that the Peneus episode in the hymn is modelled on a crucial sequence in Apollonius’Argonautica : Jason’s acceptance and completion of the contest of the fire-breathing bulls. In the hymn, Sier argues, Callimachus contrasts the subtle and complicated psychology seen in the speeches of Leto and Peneius with the thundering bluster of Ares, a contrast recalling the opening of the Aetia. In the Argonautica, the Thessalian Jason, just like the river from the same locale, takes on contests involving Ares, faces impossible odds against a boisterous and powerful thug, and is ultimately rescued by women. Moreover, both Callimachus and Apollonius look to the same models (the Titanomachy and Typhonomachy in the Theogony and the shield of Achilles in the Iliad). So far, an interesting case has been made. Where the paper becomes truly speculative is in the argument why the Argonautica is the earlier of the pieces. The argument ultimately rests on likelihood and as such may be correct. If correct, however, the ramifications for dating are interesting. The Hymn to Delos has two termini post quem (mention of the revolt of Magas [c. 275 BC] and the Celtic attack against Delphi [279/8 BC]) and one terminus ante quem (the end of the supremacy of Philadelphus in the Aegean [c. 255 BC]). Since Callimachus alludes to the Argonautica, Sier would place the poem before 255 BC. The author concludes by speculating on the reason for Callimachus’ imitation and comes down in favor of seeing this as the work of an irascible scholar-poet more clearly distinguishing his approach from those writing more traditional epic.

I turn next to the two papers that deal with the Aetia : “Aspects of the Structure of Callimachus’Aetia,” by Annette Harder and “Fighting against Antimachus: The Lyde and the Aetia Reconsidered,” by Nita Krevans. In the first, Harder offers a lucid and compelling analysis of the issues involving the structures and dating of the Aetia and Argonautica. In the first of her two-part article, Harder investigates the progression of stories in the opening of the Aetia. In each case, she finds programmatic elements. The story of the Muses and Graces, who reappear in the Epilogue, both lend their authority and validation to the work. As for Apollo and Heracles, programmatic aspects can reasonably be suspected: Apollo, as protector of poets, plays a central role in episodes at opposite ends of the Aetia in the aetion at Anaphe and in that on Cyzicus; Heracles, on the other hand, was the ancestor of the Ptolemies. When turning to the Argonautica, Harder notes citing many examples that in many ways the epic is the structural inverse of the elegiac poem. She even suggests that the first (Lemnos) and last (Anaphe) major episodes of the Argonautica framing the epic together allude to the foundation of Cyrene. This last suggestion, however, is based on the supposition that the Lemnian episode is indeed the first major episode of the poem, which I would question. Still, the overall picture that Harder paints would tend to bear out the contention that “whoever was the second to finish his work knew—at least at the time of the final redaction—the overall structure and contents of the other’s work” (109).

Krevans revisits the critical position that Callimachus expressed regarding the poetry of Antimachus and has it in mind to take a new look at the role that both poets had in the development of Hellenistic poetics. The paper begins from the view espoused by Wyss that Callimachus did not entertain a complete antipathy for the work of Antimachus, but that it was limited to a “specific view about one or two Antimachean practices” (150). Krevans first focuses on the similarities between the two poets: both are scholars and poets, write in more than one genre, claim Mimnermus as a major model, have an interest in antiquarian and philological digression, feature Argonautic episodes in prominent places in their chief works, use rare words and create new ones. Furthermore, both the Lyde and the Aetia are collections of elegies possessing a common theme set within a personal frame. After establishing the similarities, Krevans turns to several passages that offer a possible solution to the question of Callimachus’ attitude toward Antimachus. In general, Krevans suggests, if in fr. 1.9-12 Callimachus assumes Mimnermus and Philetas, and rejects Antimachus, as his models, he does so because the work of the former two does not offer the same combination of scholarship and structural innovation found in both Antimachus and Callimachus; in other words, we encounter another instance of the anxiety of influence. In particular, by calling the Lyde παχύς, Callimachus was probably using it in two senses found among ancient critics: excessively ornamented and metrically harsh. These, Krevans concludes, were the charges Callimachus leveled against the Lyde. I find her comparison of the relationship between Antimachus and Callimachus with that between Lucilius and Horace very useful.

Critics took Callimachus to task for involving himself in, and mixing up, too many genres. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the poet’s handling of the epinician, which he featured in two elegies (the Victoria Berenices [ SH 254-268C] and the σωσιβίου νίκη [fr. 384]) and one iamb ( Iamb 8). Therese Fuhrer, in her paper “Callimachus’ Epinician Poems,” looks at this fascinating aspect of Callimachus’ remarkable poetic repertoire. Fuhrer approaches the first two pieces (the third is too fragmentary to consider) from two points of view: how they relate to both the archaic lyric tradition and to contemporary agonistic epigrams. Similar to early epinicians, Callimachus’ renditions are fulsome poems that announce the victor, in two cases provide an aetiological myth, and even borrow certain stylistic traits from the archaic tradition. Moreover, the myths are not presented in a linear, but rather in a disjointed fashion. Where Callimachus differs from his archaic models is in his allusive style, in his rejection of the documentary function, and in his playful handling of the myths. The comparison with contemporary agonistic epigrams reveals that Callimachus’ epinicians share the role of bystander as opposed to the archaic messenger, the pretense to be dedicatory (many were envisaged as being on statues), and the emphasis on the fact that the victory is a first for a family. In sum, these Hellenistic epinicians provide further evidence of how Callimachus pushed the limits of the genres he took up.

In “Die Einbezierhung der Lesers in den Epigrammen des Kallimachos,” Doris Meyer examines several funereal and votive epigrams by Callimachus from the perspective of Rezeptionsforschung. The central question of the paper concerns in what ways the traditional role of the reader is developed in Callimachus’ handling of the genre. As Meyer points out, even among the earliest epigrams the exchanges between author and reader involved a fictive situation whereby the author creates a fictional speaker—the voice behind the inscription—which foists a role upon the reader—that of the passerby. As such the fictive speaker and reader are situated within the text, while the real author and reader inhabit a “plane exterior to the text” (165). With this background Meyer looks at several Callimachean epigrams, in three of which the implied reader is shown to be problematic: someone who needed time to figure out the person identified on the inscription (Ep. 15), a bronze hen who questions the authority of its message (Ep. 56), and a forgetful Asclepius (Ep. 54). In short, the epigrams problematize the role and function of the reader. Meyer concludes that epigram in general is unique in that it raises theoretical questions on the contingencies of communication. Callimachus in particular is shown to have transcended the boundaries of yet another genre.

Richard Thomas, in “Callimachus Back in Rome,” offers a compelling reassessment of the influence that Callimachus exerted among the Roman poets, in particular Vergil. Acknowledging the vast amount of work that has been done in this area in recent years, Thomas asks if scholars have overdone Callimacheanism in Rome and answers with a cautious “no.” Beginning with the celebrated recusatio at Aetia 1.17-28, Thomas rejects the older view that allegiance to Callimachean poetics ended with Persius. Rather, he argues, Persius, like others before him, appropriated Callimachus’ metaphor for his own generic use. Moreover, Thomas adds, that which attracted Roman writers to Callimachus from Livius on was his high degree of self-consciousness, which becomes the point of departure for a discussion on Vergil. Thomas combats the view that Vergil, as a writer of high epic, never descended to the playful or academic self-consciousness so evident in other writers of the period. To counter this interpretation, he offers several examples of Callimachean self-consciousness and Vergilian parallels. These include structure, chiasmus, verbal patterns, embedded learning, strangeness of tone, metapoetic play with time, intertextuality and allusions. The survey concludes with the very challenging suggestion that Vergil, following in the footsteps of his Cyrenian model, was not far from the ambiguity and “persuasive lying” that Callimachus claimed for himself in the Hymn to Zeus. For instance, at Georgics 2.45-46, Vergil says non hic te carmine ficto / atque per ambages et longa exorsa tenebo. This disavowal of falsehood is stated at the same time that Vergil provides a list of grafts which are mostly fictional. The paper concludes with several other examples which build an excellent case for seeing in Vergil’s poetry the Callimachean potential for exploiting “the gap between truth and plausible fiction” (215).

In the last and, appropriately in a book on Callimachus, most terse of the collection, Frederick Williams questions the applicability of “realism” to all of Callimachus’ poetry in his piece “Callimachus and the Supranormal.” Rather than limit readings of Callimachean passages at the level of mere pictorialism, Williams pushes even further such scenarios as the description of the Cyclopes in the Hymn to Artemis (50-51). We are dealing not merely with mythological figures, but with “mountains with eyes” (219). Since Callimachus includes in his poetry floating islands, fleeing mountains, divine foetuses honoring unconceived mortals—one could add other oddities such as people eating cats or whole cows!—”realism,” as Williams suggests, does not appropriately describe the poet’s literary creations. “If we must appropriate technical terms from the visual arts, perhaps we might try ‘surrealism,’ which, according to a standard definition ‘sought to explore the frontiers of experience and to broaden the logical and matter-of-fact view of reality by fusing it with instinctual, subconscious, and dream experience in order to achieve an absolute or ‘super’ reality'” (224-225).

While the papers in this collection are uniformly excellent, there are some very minor negative points in the book that I point out with the intention of offering suggestions for future volumes. While the author receives sufficient coverage overall, the quality of the papers and the questions posed only make the absence of contributions focused on the Iambs, Hecale, lyrical poems and perhaps even the prose works all the more apparent. Also missed is the opportunity to add to the outstanding bibliographical work of Luigi Lehnus: if the editors did not want to list works cited, at least works not cited in Lehnus might have been collected at the end of the book. Finally, the production is less than perfect: several pages (124-130) were hard to read, several misspellings and grammatical infelicities were allowed to stand, and at least in one case an internal reference was left as “000.” Yet, I hasten to add, one gets the impression not of incompetence, but of hastiness; and the speed with which the editors published this conference would suggest that this indeed might have been a factor in the appearance of the final product. My advice: festina lentius!

All in all, Volume I of Hellenistica Groningana is a great success. I for one am indebited to the authors and the editors for assembling a fine collection of papers that have made me think about and carefully reconsider the work of this compelling and challenging writer. One can only wish the organizers similar good results in their future workshops.