BMCR 2007.04.31

Callimaco. Giambi XIV-XVII

, Callimachi Iambi XIV-XVII. Lyricorum Graecorum quae exstant ; 14. Roma: In Aedibus Athenaei, 2005. 217 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8884760186. €45.00 (pb).

Browsing through the works of Callimachus, a reader will, between the ‘Book of Iambs’ and the ‘Hecale’, come across four fragments that were grouped together under the title of μέλη by Rudolf Pfeiffer (fr. 226-229). The title is, among many others that cannot be matched with the surviving writings, attested in the Suda entry for Callimachus. These four pieces have now been introduced, re-edited, commented upon and translated, all with great care and in great detail by Emanuele Lelli (L.) who has recently published a literary study of Callimachus’ Book of Iambs.1 Since at least the two larger fragments 228 and 229 Pf., also referred to as Ἐκθέωσις Ἀρσινόης, i.e., the ‘Deification of Arsinoe’ and ‘Branchus’, are fascinating pieces, L.’s is a highly welcome contribution to Callimachean textual studies and commentaries.

L. understands these four fragments to be iambs or, to put it more exactly, a part of the ‘Book of Iambs’, which was arranged in 17 poems by Callimachus himself, ending with the ‘Branchus’ (fr. 229 Pf.). This idea goes back to Émile Cahen in 1936 and Carlo Gallavotti in 1946, and has been disputed ever since. The question, of modest importance even for Callimachean scholars, remains open. Most recently, Alan Cameron has argued in favor of an extended book of Iambs, Arnd Kerkhecker has defended Pfeiffer’s case, and Benjamin Acosta-Hughes has steered an intelligent middle course, inclining, however, towards the first position.2 L. cannot decide the matter, either. He adds fragments 217 and 555 Pf. to the disputed group, with good, but not compelling arguments: fr. 217 might just as well belong to the first Iamb (fr. 191 Pf.). That fr. 555 is quoted by Heraclitus apropos of Pharus and that the text probably puns on the name of the island, does not make the ‘Deification of Arsinoe’ the only possible context.

The discussion of the problem has been admirably summed up by Acosta-Hughes (as in 2). All arguments drawing on papyrology, metrics, content, and the structure of poetry books end in a neat impasse (as will be obvious to readers comparing Kerkhecker with Lelli). Just one remark: while no conclusive arguments have been brought forth on either side, it remains remarkable that there are still defenders of Pfeiffer’s concept of a ‘Book of Mele’, which comprises only four probably rather short poems, and which rests exclusively on the Suda testimony that there was a Callimachean work bearing such a title. Pfeiffer himself was obviously not happy with his solution, as the question marks in his edition indicate.

The ‘Pannychis’ (fr. 226 Pf.) and the ‘Branchus’ are quoted with their individual titles by Athenaeus and Hephaestio, respectively, and maybe this was perhaps also the case with the ‘Deification of Arsinoe’. At some time, then, these four poems may have circulated autonomously. The hymns would provide a suitable parallel for a group of poems that were originally not composed as a ‘book’, but were later collected and united in a comprehensive collection, as Kerkhecker has convincingly argued.3 While arguments using “the iambic spirit” may well be circular, given the fragmentary state of the ‘Book of Iambs’, there remains the problem that three of the four Pfeifferian ‘Mele’ show strong panegyric or dynastic tendencies, just as some parts of the ‘Aetia’ or Theocritus’ ‘Hymn to Ptolemy’ (id. 17), neither of which is present in the ‘Book of Iambs’, as far as we can judge. To me, it seems a long way from Hipponax’ polemics in the first Iamb (fr. 191 Pf.) to the nearly tragic mood of mourning for Arsinoe in fr. 228 Pf. or to the serious aetiological lore of the ‘Branchus’ with its ideological overtones (the shrine had just been re-founded by Ptolemy).

If it were not for this stretch of mood and register, it would indeed be easiest to assume that fr. 225-229 were part of the ‘Book of Iambs’. As far as I can see there is no argument that compellingly refutes the assumption. On the other hand, there is also no argument that compellingly proves it. Gallavotti observed that one good reason why Horace opted for the strange number of 17 poems for his ‘Book of Epodes’ could have been that Callimachus’ ‘Book of Iambs’ had 17 poems. Well, the fact that Silius’ Punica has 17 books, as well, instead of telling us that Silius was incapable, as L. seems to think, strongly encourages us to not take this as a compelling argument (which for methodological reasons it cannot be, anyway).

Thus, cautious Callimacheans should regard the ‘Book of Iambi’ as ending with Iamb 13 (fr. 203 Pf.), forget about a ‘Book of Mele’, and, instead, conceive of the subsequent four poems as independent single poems. One may object that, although tempting, the simplest solution is not necessarily the right one. I remain convinced, however, that nothing really is gained by looking at the four poems in question as iambs, whatever that means in Callimachus’ case, and that, therefore, one has to deal with them as autonomous poems anyway. To me, such a course seems to necessitate the fewest assumptions. Scholars are, however, largely free to decide whether Callimachus himself put these poems there after they had probably circulated individually for some time, or whether the act of collection was merely an editorial move by some later grammarian. Under current circumstances, such a decision appears to depend on how meaningful or aesthetically pleasing the reader finds the present arrangement. I confess that I am pleased by it because of the many intratextual references to the ‘Aetia’ and the ‘Iambs’: e.g., the ‘Branchus’ obviously refers back to the ‘Prologue of the Aetia’ and to Iambs 1, 4, and 13 and, therefore, leaves me with a wonderful feeling of closure, for which I would like to credit Callimachus himself.4 Other readers may decide differently.

Less cautious Callimacheans, however, are free to choose from a large range of solutions involving more complicated and, partly, arbitrary, assumptions. Gains and losses seem to be minimal, i.e. balanced, either way.

Apart from a passionate discussion of these matters, the reader will find in L. a thorough discussion of the individual pieces, partly as part of the introduction, partly in the form of a lemmatized commentary. Here, it is especially the discussion of the ‘Pannychis’ (fr. 227 Pf.) in the context of the Ptolemaic court and its culture of religious events that strikes me as valuable (pp. 33-46). In his discussion of fr. 228 Pf., L. assembles all of the Hellenistic poetry that dealt with Arsinoe II, in itself an achievement both impressive and instructive.

L.’s text is nearly identical with Pfeiffer’s, with the exception of the following details: He prints the lines of fr. 227 Pf. as epodes, which better brings out a potential iambic character. He gives a slightly different interpunction for the Diegesis of fr. 227 Pf., following B. Bravo. In fr. 228.52 Pf. his interpunction follows Maas and Pfeiffer’s addenda. In fr. 229.8 he prints κειομ with Pfeiffer instead of κεισμ (see Pfeiffer, vol. II, add. p. 120).

L’s treatment may appear somewhat extensive to some readers. Given, however, that there is no easily accessible discussion of all the aspects of fr. 226-229 Pf. other than Pfeiffer’s, we can and should gratefully use L’s introduction and commentary.


1. Critica e polemiche letterarie nei Giambi di Callimaco, Alessandria: Edizioni dell’Orso 2004. See Gnomon 78 (2006), 158-160.

2. A. Cameron, Callimachus and His Critics, Princeton 1995, 163-172. A. Kerkhecker, Callimachus’ Book of Iambi, Oxford 1999, 271-282. B. Acosta-Hughes, “Aesthetics and Recall: Callimachus Frs. 226-9 Pf. Reconsidered,” Classical Quarterly 53.2 (2003), 478-89.

3. I am aware of a recent tendency to treat the six hymns as a ‘poetry book’, too, by, e.g., Th. Fuhrer and R. Hunter, “Imaginary Gods? Poetic Theology in the Hymns of Callimachus,” in Callimaque. Entretiens sur l’antiquité classique, t. 48, ed. by. L. Lehnus e.a. Vandoeuvres-Genève 2002, 143-189. I remain unconvinced, however.

4. See Acosta-Hughes, above n. 2, p. 482, on the “aesthetics of ordering”.