BMCR 2012.05.48

Brill’s Companion to Callimachus. Brill’s companions in classical studies

, , , Brill's Companion to Callimachus. Brill's companions in classical studies. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011. xviii, 708. ISBN 9789004156739 $261.00.

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

Non possum reticere. Thus began Catullus’ poem of uninhibited praise and gratitude for a most appreciated benefaction (68b). Though un-Callimachean, I will aspire to such enthusiasm (sans verbosity given the imposed word limit) in lauding the recent collection of essays invited, organized, and edited by Benjamin Acosta-Hughes, Luigi Lehnus and Susan Stephens. Despite the fact that that the number of my decades is not few, I shall nonetheless take the time to stray from the common path and mix personal and scholarly, as the Battiad himself might approve.

In the fall of 1976 when I entered the graduate program at the University of California at Berkeley, Callimachus for most was little more than a passing esoteric reference in commentaries, especially on late Republican and Augustan poets. As luck would have it, Anthony Bulloch showed up at the same time and inaugurated his professorial career at Berkeley with an exciting graduate seminar on this learned footnote, a class even attended by other Berkeley professors to the fear and trembling of the students. Our textbooks included the two Loebs of Callimachus1 and Rudolph Pfeiffer’s History of Classical Scholarship from the Beginnings to the End of the Hellenistic age.2 Pfeiffer’s two-volume commentary on Callimachus was available for consultation,3 but this intense and epoch-making work, as well as Bulloch’s fascinating report on a critical forthcoming publication regarding the Victoria Berenices, were difficult to comprehend for those of us puzzling over these lacunose and rarefied texts for the first time.4 There were few publications, and reader-friendly ones at that, in the 1970s to help struggling graduate students, let alone august professors, gain even a basic understanding of the rich and complex Callimachean terrain that was waiting to be discovered by the masses, or at least by the four score or so scholars who would come to brave the fragmentary and then marginal.

All of this began to change in the 1980s as scholarly energy and attention on both sides of the Atlantic came to view the Hellenistic era as a period worth studying on its own and not as a link between Classical Greece and the literary coming of Rome. Universities now regularly host international conferences, and professional organizations include panels, dedicated to the Hellenistic world in general and individual authors, including Callimachus, Apollonius, Theocritus, and even Lycophron ( mirabile dictu). As a measure of the volume of work being done on the Hellenistic world, its literature and its influence on later peoples, Martine Cuypers, who manages an impressive on-line bibliography, notes that she added around 400 new items between July 2010 and January 2011. What is more, graduate students writing on Hellenistic topics no longer have to despair (fully, at any rate) at being ignored on the job market, something that I encountered with a dissertation on Apollonius; I was fortunate to have acquired my current position in 1984 as a Roman historian.

Within the context of an ever growing interest in things Hellenistic, Brill’s Companion to Callimachus reflects not merely an increasingly growing trend, but constitutes a watershed moment in Callimachean studies that provides a splendid history of work on the author to date, examination of the central and many of the ancillary issues that his texts raise, a look at his influence on later Greek and Roman authors, a convenient (though costly) place for students and scholars interested in learning about all of this, and as such a central staging area for future work. The editors divided up the collection of essays into five parts. Because each of the articles begins with a summary of their content—a very nice touch, I should add—I will mostly forgo a critique of content, impossible for a review of this size, and focus on an overview of the papers, their organization, and an impression of the collection as a whole.

“The Material Author,” which follows a helpful introduction by Susan Stephens, includes seven papers that look primarily at the history of the recovery of the fragmentary texts through papyri, commentaries, summaries and citations (Lehnus, Massimilla, Harder, Falivene, Pontani), with one paper focused on Callimachus’ scholarly works (Krevans) and another on the poet’s various linguistic registers (Parsons); each of the last two situates the poet comfortably within his time on the basis of scholarship and language. As I read each paper in this section, I marveled at the lucidity of presentation and wished over and over that such a resource were available years ago when I struggled to make sense of Loebs that were already dated only eight years after their publication and an ageless commentary teeming with references to authors I had not yet encountered.

The papers in “Social Contexts” examine Callimachus’ relationship with Ptolemaic geopolitics (Asper), kings and kingship (Barbantani), Alexandrian queens (Prioux), the Ptolemaic court in general (Weber), the manifestation of the divine in cult, statues and epiphanies (Hunter), and contemporary religious practices as compared with sacred regulations (Petrovic). All of the papers build on work of the past decades in which Callimachean poetry has been shown to engage and comment on the pan-Hellenic and bi-cultural worlds of Alexandria and the rulers who tried to negotiate the many and complex relations.

As we move into the next three parts, the diversity of the poet’s work becomes more manifest in the heterogeneity of the papers and their (at first) seemingly less cohesive juxtaposition, which accounts for why my summaries are longer. In fact, the papers accurately reflect the wide-ranging interests and publications of one of the worlds greatest docti poetae and hang together with considerable charm.

In “Sources and Models,” the papers focus on the different ways in which Callimachus echoes earlier works and trends in literature and scholarship. For instance, the New Music of the late fifth century anticipated many Callimachean gestures, including semantic instability, genre crossing, and polyeideia (Prauscello). Callimachus further engaged a variety of conversations involving contemporary literary theory (Romano) and his relationship with the Muses reflects the then current association of the Muses with the various areas of learning epitomized by the Museion (Morrison). The writings of the Atthidographers features in the long list of local chronicles that Callimachus consulted (Benedetto). Regarding popular literature, the presence of fables in Archaic lyric, Hellenistic philosophy, and Near Eastern traditions made them an appropriate subject for the poet’s interdisciplinary and bicultural literature (Scodel); the inclusion of proverbial and popular expressions also reveal a more personal side to Callimachus that contrasts with the esoteric author revealed in much of his writing (Lelli), a contrast that lies at the heart of the first essay of the next section.

“Personae” begins with Callimachus’ representation of himself as a child which underscores the sense of curiosity, wonder and imagination that fuels an inexhaustible desire for sophisticated and learned knowledge across disciplines (Cozzoli). In fact, a multiplicity of voices can be observed throughout Callimachus’ poetry, such as that of literary critic, organizer of a cult, editor, encomiast, a god, or earlier poets, such as Hesiod, the tragic poets, and Hipponax (Fantuzzi and Cusset). Other “personae” include a wide variety of characters: mythical and heroic, common and aristocratic, ancient and modern, Olympic victors and a Roman stereotype, an apt menagerie for a multicultural metropolis (Durbec). The section concludes by revisiting the issue of Callimachus as child, but from a Lacanian and not Freudian-Bloomian model: the poet’s conflict with his critics is said to represent instead a disappointed and ambitious mother’s insistence that he create an adult-sized poem (Payne).

“Callimachus’ Afterlife” completes the collection. The lack of a paper on Callimachus in Rome would be impossible to imagine and Barchiesi (not surprisingly) delivers: to wit, Callimachus represented a highly visible target not to be reproduced but absorbed and transformed by central Roman authors. De Stefani and Magnelli offer a detailed account of the “evolution of Callimacheanism,” focusing on how writers responded to the poet from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine eras and noting the various trends in his reception, from close imitation to oppositio in imitando. Speaking of which, the penultimate paper in the collection provides a lively history of scholarly grappling with allusion and intertextuality from Pasquali to Giangrande, Conte and beyond (Citroni). Acosta-Hughes brings the collection to a satisfying conclusion with an epilogue in which he defines Callimachus as the first modern poet because of his self-consciousness and awareness of earlier verse, comparing him with Cavafy and looking at his poem “In the Month of Athyr” in particular. The parallels between the latter and the The Tomb of Simonides (fr. 64 Pf. = 163 M.) are remarkable and convincing. While some might take issue with the identity of the first modern writer, the paper raises an important question and one that is most appropriate as we reflect on the sum of the parts of this successful book: to what extent does Callimachus’ literary contribution instantiate something revolutionary or classical, modern or ancient in outlook? Food for further thought.

Reading, let alone reviewing, a “companion” of 708 pages might seem daunting, especially when the topic is as demanding as Callimachus. But Acosta-Hughes, Lehnus, and Stephens have managed to assemble a collection of essays that not only advances Callimachean studies significantly, but, even more amazingly, is a delight to read from start to finish. I will be returning to all of these papers in the years ahead because one read does not suffice, given the detail, and because sometimes a μέγα βιβλίον can actually be a μέγα καλόν.

Table of Contents

Susan Stephens, “Introduction”
The Material Author
1. Luigi Lehnus, “Callimachus rediscovered in papyri”
2. Giulio Massimilla, “The Aetia through papyri”
3. Annette Harder, “Callimachus as fragment”
4. Maria Rosaria Falivene, “The Diegeseis papyrus : archaeological context, format, and contents”
5. Filippomaria Pontani, “Callimachus cited”
6. Nita Krevans, “Callimachus’ philology”
7. Peter Parsons, “Callimachus and his koinai
Social Contexts
8. Markus Asper, “Dimensions of power : Callimachean geopoetics and the Ptolemaic Empire”
9. Silvia Barbantani, “Callimachus on kings and kingship”
10. Évelyne Prioux, “Callimachus’ queens”
11. Gregor Weber, “Poet and court”
12. Richard Hunter, “The gods of Callimachus”
13. Ivana Petrovic, “Callimachus and contemporary religion: the Hymn to Apollo
Sources and Models
14. Lucia Prauscello, “Digging up the musical past: Callimachus and the new music
15. Allen J. Romano, “Callimachus and contemporary criticism”
16. Andrew Morrison, “Callimachus’ muses”
17. Giovanni Benedetto, Callimachus and atthidographers
18. Ruth Scodel, Callimachus and fable
19. Emanuele Lelli, Proverbs and popular sayings in Callimachus
20. Adele-Teresa Cozzoli, “The poet as a child”
21. Marco Fantuzzi, “Speaking with authority: polyphony in Callimachus’ Hymns”
22. Christophe Cusset, “Other poetic voices in Callimachus”
23. Yannick Durbec, “Individual figures in Callimachus”
24. Mark Payne, “Iambic theatre: the childhood of Callimachus revisited”
Callimachus’ Afterlife
25. Alessandro Barchiesi, “Roman Callimachus”
26. Claudio De Stefani and Enrico Magnelli, “Callimachus and later Greek poetry”
27. Mario Citroni, “ Arte allusiva : Pasquali and onward”
28. Benjamin Acosta-Hughes, “Epilogue”


1. C. A. Trypanis (ed.), Callimachus: Aetia, Iambi, Hecale and Other Fragments, Cambridge, Mass., 1968; A. W. Mair and G. R. Mair, Callimachus: Hymns and Epigrams; Lycophron; Aratus, Cambridge, Mass., 1969.

2. Oxford, 1968.

3. Callimachus, Oxford, 1949-53.

4. P. Parsons, “Callimachus’ Victoria Berenices,” ZPE 25 (1977) 1-50.