BMCR 2021.02.10

The new politics of Olympos: kingship in Kallimachos’ Hymns

, The new politics of Olympos: kingship in Kallimachos' Hymns. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xviii, 298. ISBN 9780190059262 $85.00.

The surge in Callimachean scholarship over the past several decades has stimulated fruitful inquiry into the political and ideological dimensions of Callimachus’ poetic works.[1] As the first English language monograph devoted to all six Callimachean Hymns, Michael Brumbaugh’s The New Politics of Olympos: Kingship in Kallimachos Hymns (Oxford, 2019) is an invaluable contribution for illuminating the ideological potential of Callimachean poetry. Specifically, Brumbaugh interprets the six Hymns as commentaries on kingship, in which Callimachus reshapes traditional depictions of the gods (e.g., Zeus) to reflect contemporary notions of rulership. Aside from situating these Hymns in this cultural and political context, Brumbaugh’s approach presents compelling arguments for reading these six poems as a collection.

The monograph consists of six main chapters. Appropriately, the Hymn to Zeus, the first Hymn in the manuscripts and the poem most overtly tackling kingship (1.79-86), occupies the first three chapters. The remaining five Hymns are discussed in the last three chapters. In chapter 1 (“Zeus as Paradigm for Dynastic Continuity”), Brumbaugh analyzes the poem’s portrayal of Zeus’ birth and ascendance to power, while also discussing the god’s relevance for Macedonian and Ptolemaic kingship. As he argues, Callimachus enables a favorable association between the Ptolemaic kings and Zeus by downplaying certain elements, such as Zeus’ violent overthrow of Cronus. In this way, Callimachus constructs an image of smooth dynastic transition, as is appropriate for this Hymn’s likely context, the Basileia of 285 BCE, which celebrated Ptolemy II joining his father Ptolemy I on the throne.[2]

In the second chapter (“Kallimachos’ Hymn on Kingship”), Brumbaugh elaborates on these observations by analyzing Callimachus’ intertextual engagement with the Iliad, Works and Days, and Theogony. For instance, he construes the poem’s rejection of Zeus winning his kingdom through a lottery (1.57-67) not as a repudiation of ancient poets but a confirmation of Zeus’ absolute hierarchical power as endorsed by the Iliad (p. 55-60). Moreover, Brumbaugh shows how Zeus’ absolute power in this Hymn is based on agency, justice, intellect, protecting cities, and the proper treatment of clients.

Chapter 3 (“The Poetics of Praise in the Hymn to Zeus”) continues the focus on the patron/client relationship, specifically between honorand and praise poet. Citing the imagery that connects water with poetry (e.g., P. N. 7.11-12; p. 93), Brumbaugh interprets Rhea’s desperate search for a postpartum bath (1.10-32) as an extended metaphor for the poet’s quest for appropriate praise. Through this metaphor, Brumbaugh argues, Callimachus subtly establishes the validity of his praise, in contrast with the explicit statements of Pindar and Theocritus (p. 91).

Chapter 4 (“Apollo as a New Paradigm for Kingship”) covers the Hymn to Apollo. In this poem, Brumbaugh sees not only an expansion of the first Hymn’s portrayal of kingship but also a reconfiguration of Apollo. Minimizing the relationship between Apollo and poets (p. 129), Callimachus instead emphasizes Apollo’s role in founding cities and in doing so enhances the association between the god and kings. Likewise, Brumbaugh detects a consistent emphasis on Apollo’s antipathy to external enemies (2.2), a hatred shared by his sister Artemis in the subsequent Hymn (3.260-67). By forming an “Us Vs. Them” dichotomy (p. 151-52) and reorienting the siblings’ strife towards external enemies, Brumbaugh argues, Callimachus corroborates the image of familial and dynastic unity (p. 159-61).

In chapter 5 (“Saviors, Tyrants, and Poetics of Empire”), Brumbaugh examines the “Us vs Them” dichotomy posed in the Hymn to Delos. Reading Apollo here as an ordering and civilizing force (p. 169), Brumbaugh links this Hymn and its references to contemporary events (e.g., the Gallic sack; 4.171-76; 179-90) with the broader discourse of Savior (Sōtēr) kings that arose in the context of the Gallic sacks. At the same time, Brumbaugh observes in this Hymn a pointed contrast between saviors (Apollo and Ptolemy II) and wicked despots, who are embodied by Hera and her minions Ares and Iris.

The sixth chapter, “On the Good Queen,” deals with models of queenship in the Hymns. In their respective hymns, Artemis, Athena, and Demeter exemplify proper queenship by punishing hubristic transgressors: Lygdamis (3.251-58), Tiresias (5.77-81), and Erysichthon (6.65-115). Similarly, the goddesses behave as good queens by guaranteeing civic order and unity. For instance, Brumbaugh associates the request for abundance in the Hymn to Demeter (6.134-38) with the phenomenon of civic benefactions of grains, as enacted by monarchs (p. 233). Opposing these good queens is Hera in the Hymn to Delos, whom Brumbaugh sees yet again as a vindictive tyrant (δεσπότις, 4.239, p. 236-37).

In the conclusion, titled “On the Good King According to Kallimachos,” Brumbaugh ties together these arguments while also considering the rhetorical and didactic effects of praise. Viewing the Ptolemaic monarchs themselves as the audience, Brumbaugh speculates that the six Hymns were recompiled towards the end of Callimachus’ career, dedicated either to Ptolemy III or the infant Ptolemy IV (p. 245).

In general, Brumbaugh’s readings and arguments hinge on conceptualizing the six Hymns as an ordered collection. Of course, although we cannot be entirely certain whether Callimachus himself compiled and edited the collection, the various intratextual parallels that Brumbaugh assembles encourage reading the poems together and in the order in which they always appear in the manuscripts. In fact, the monograph’s strength is the discussion of these parallels. For instance, Brumbaugh convincingly demonstrates a relationship between the first three Hymns by observing that ἄναξ/ἄνασσα occur connected with Zeus (1.2), Apollo (2.79), and Artemis (3.137) (p. 207n.37). Likewise, he sees βασίλεια (“queen”) for Athena in Hymn 5.52 as evoking the Hesiodic maxim ἐκ δὲ Διὸς βασιλῆες (Theog. 96) quoted at Hymn 1.79 (p. 226). Not only do these examples suggest a textual relationship between the Hymns, they also attest to the Hymns’ pervasive concern with monarchical power.

At the same time, Brumbaugh succeeds in collecting historical evidence to produce insightful political readings. For instance, he connects the focus on Ephesus in the Hymn to Artemis (3.238-58) to Arsinoe II’s involvement with the city (p. 212-16). In discussing such associations, however, Brumbaugh eschews allegorical readings that demand one-to-one correspondences between a deity and a specific monarch. Rather than settling on a particular Ptolemy for the ruler mentioned in the Hymn to Zeus (1.86), he maintains the ambiguity of the phrase (p. 49-50). A similar approach figures in the treatment of the goddesses in chapter 6 (p. 191). Such an approach bears several benefits for the book’s arguments. First, Brumbaugh can sustain his ideological readings even for poems without a definite date (e.g., the Hymn to Athena). Furthermore, the ambiguity of an association allows a poem composed at one point to assume a new meaning in a later context, as in the collection hypothesized by Brumbaugh. Finally, Ptolemaic ideology promoted the parity between the various generations of monarchs. Arsinoe II, for instance, became the paradigm for Ptolemaic queenship.[3]

Yet, while Brumbaugh rightfully emphasizes the rich interpretive potential of analyzing the Hymns as a collection, the organization of the monograph itself does not reflect the Hymns’ arrangement, particularly the poems’ emphases on female figures.[4] Indeed, along with the importance of Rhea in the Hymn to Zeus, female deities dominate Hymns 3-6. In Brumbaugh’s monograph, however, the heightened focus on the Hymn to Zeus results in less close analysis of the remaining five Hymns. Similarly, explicit discussion of queenship is comparatively brief, limited mainly to the sixth chapter. Although Brumbaugh’s focus is reasonable considering the programmatic nature of the Hymn to Zeus, what is a better example of the “New Politics of Olympos” than the representation of this new mode of queenship through Callimachus’ goddesses? Indeed, while Callimachus possessed both archaic (Hesiod) and more recent models (Plato) for kingship to rework in the Hymn to Zeus, the recently emerging manifestations of Hellenistic queenship lacked pertinent literary Archaic and Classical precedents for Callimachus to reshape. As a result, Brumbaugh might have further interrogated Callimachus’ newness in this respect, perhaps by closely comparing the Hymns’ treatment of goddesses with contemporary and overt praises to queens, including Callimachus’ own (e.g., Apotheosis of Arsinoe, fr. 228 Pf.). In doing so, Brumbaugh could have also assessed whether Callimachus reserves specific encomiastic strategies for praising goddesses and queens.

Additionally, a systematic discussion of the Hymns’ widespread humorous elements might have benefitted the monograph. Such elements do receive some consideration, such as Zeus being called “father” (1.43) before his umbilical cord falls off (1.44). In this case, Brumbaugh sees a conflation between Zeus as father and son, which fits better with the harmonious relationship between Ptolemy I and II (p. 49-50). Likewise, Brumbaugh interprets the playful rivalry between Artemis and Apollo as a minimization of familial strife (p. 159-60). Yet, in addition to identifying these effects, Brumbaugh could have highlighted the rhetorical effect exerted by the humor in these scenes and other similar ones, likeErysichthon’s degradation in the Hymn to Demeter. At the same time, the conclusion would have been a suitable place to examine humor as another potential tool within Callimachus’ strategies for influencing monarchs.

The monograph features an index locorum and a subject index. A separate index of frequently discussed Greek words (especially ἄναξ, βασίλεια, etc.) would have been useful, but this absence does not hinder the book’s commendable clarity and readability. Indeed, combined with Stephens’ 2015 commentary on Callimachus’ Hymns,[5] this monograph marks an important step for further appreciating the Hymns’ engagement with praise and power.


[1] For instance, see Selden, D. 1998. “Alibis.” ClAnt 17: 289-412; Stephens, S. A. 2003. Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria. Berkeley; Asper, M. 2011. “Callimachean Geopoetics and the Ptolemaic Empire.” In Acosta-Hughes, B. et. al. eds. Brill’s Companion to Callimachus. Leiden: 155-77.

[2] Brumbaugh follows the arguments offered by Clauss, J. J. 1986. “Lies and Allusions: The Addressee and Date of Callimachus’ Hymn to Zeus.” ClAnt 5: 155-70.

[3] See Carney, E. D. 2013. Arsinoë of Egypt and Macedon: A Royal Life. Oxford.

[4] For discussion of the role played by female figures in the Hymns, see Depew, M. 2004. “Gender, Power, and Poetics in Callimachus’ Book of Hymns.” In Harder M. A. et al. eds. Callimachus II. Leuven: 117-37. For discussion of the family dynamics in the Hymns, see Petrovic, I. 2016. “Gods in Callimachus’ Hymns.” In Clauss, J. J. et al. eds. The Gods of Greek Hexameter Poetry: From the Archaic Age to Late Antiquity. Stuttgart: 164-79. These two studies also treat the Hymns as a collection.

[5] Stephens, S. A. 2015. Callimachus: The Hymns. Oxford.