Skip to main content
Select Source:

Callimachus

Callimachus

The Greek poet Callimachus (ca. 310-240 B.C.) is regarded as the most characteristic representative of Alexandrian poetry. Learning, polish, and contemporaneity characterize his work, which had enormous influence on the Roman elegiac poets.

Very little is known about the life of Callimachus. What is known comes primarily from the 10th-century encyclopedist Suidas, not all of which is reliable, and from other, limited references in ancient sources. Callimachus was born in Cyrene; he apparently claimed descent from Battus, the founder of Cyrene, and lived during the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (reigned 285-247 B.C.) and survived into the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (reigned 246-221 B.C.).

Prior to his introduction into the Ptolemaic court, Callimachus, who many scholars argue had been poor, taught school in the Alexandrian suburb of Eleusis. Among Callimachus's more famous pupils were Eratosthenes of Cyrene, Aristophanes of Byzantium, and Apollonius of Rhodes. Callimachus is most often mentioned in connection with Apollonius because of a literary quarrel that eventually led to a personal feud. Apollonius believed in the viability of the Homeric tradition (in modified form) for epic poetry, whereas Callimachus argued for a learned modernized poetry, attuned to Alexandrian times, that was short and highly polished. From this quarrel resulted the poem of invective Ibis, after which Ovid modeled his own poem of the same name, and there is no doubt that it is Apollonius who is being castigated and viewed as a traitor.

Callimachus was also the librarian of the great library at Alexandria and is often said to have succeeded Zenodotus. Callimachus is credited with having compiled the first scientific literary history, the Pinakes (Tablets), an annotated catalog in 120 volumes of all the books in the library, from Homeric manuscripts to the latest cookbooks—a feat of no mean accomplishment.

Suidas reports that Callimachus wrote some 800 works and mentions a wealth of titles, including satyric dramas, tragedies, comedies, and lyrics. Only a few hymns and epigrams have survived.

Style and Influence

At one point early in his career Callimachus had apparently been criticized for not writing anything of great length. He countered this criticism by producing the Hecale, a sizable work cited frequently by Greek and Roman authors but now lost. It narrated, with unusual digressions, Theseus's encounter with the Marathonian bull. However, it is clear that Callimachus was not primarily interested in bulk but in perfection of poetic form, refinement and purity of style, innovative ways of expressing the familiar, and graceful descriptions. Certainly one of the most influential figures in later ancient times, Callimachus outdistanced all contemporary poets in prestige and popularity, was quoted frequently by grammarians, metricians, and lexicographers, as well as scholiasts, and was studied by the Byzantines.

Callimachus's poetry seems to have survived till the time of the Fourth Crusade (1205). Modern critics have rediscovered Callimachus and have found true poetic genius in his works, even though he may not actually have been the most popular or most important poet as far as his contemporaries were concerned.

His Works

Since only a small portion of Callimachus's writings has survived, it is difficult for the modern reader to appreciate what a prodigious author he was. The six extant hymns are not necessarily his best work or even the most representative, but they do give an idea of his interests and range, dealing with Zeus's birth, raising, and might; a festival in Apollo's honor in Cyrene; Artemis; Delos, including the story of Apollo's birth, mythology, and Ptolemy's Gallic encounter; the bath of Pallas and how Tiresias saw her bathing and was struck blind; and Demeter's search for her daughter Kore and the punishment of Erysichthon.

The elegiac Aitia, in four books, also survives in fragments and deals with legendary origins of various localities and rites; it was much cited in antiquity. The Lock of Berenice survives in a Latin rendition by Catullus.

In Callimachus's hands the epigram emerges as a literary genre. Even though some of his epigrams are tomb inscriptions, the epigram now becomes a literary vehicle for real emotions, including love.

Further Reading

There are two Loeb Library editions of Callimachus: Callimachus and Lycophron, translated by A. W. Mair (1921), and Aetia, Iambic, Lyric Poems, Hecale, Minor Epic and Elegiac Poems, translated with notes by C. A. Trypanis (1958). Accounts of Callimachus in English are extremely limited and sometimes contradictory. The standard work, in Latin, is undoubtedly R. Pfeiffer's two volume study, Callimachus (1949, 1953). Georg Luck, The Latin Love Elegy (1959), is indispensable for students of Latin elegiac poetry; Luck includes a discussion of Callimachus as the Romans saw him. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Callimachus." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Callimachus." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/callimachus

"Callimachus." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/callimachus

Callimachus (ca. 280 B.C.–245 B.C.)

Callimachus (ca. 280 b.c.245 b.c.)

An ancient Greek scholar and librarian, Callimachus was known in the Renaissance for his poetry and for a lost work known as the Pinakes, or Lists, a guide to the collection of the Library of Alexandria. Born in North Africa, Callimachus may have belonged to a noble family, although historians know few details of his life. He was well educated as a youth and eventually made his home in Alexandria, a city on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt established by Alexander the Great, and which became the center of Greek scholarship, science, and philosophy. Callimachus joined the court of Ptolemy II, the king of Egypt, and also became a member of the Museum, the Alexandrian school of philosophy and science that was built by Ptolemy I, founder of Egypt's Ptolemaic dynasty.

The hundreds of thousands of scrolls at the Alexandrian Library had been gathered from all corners of the Greek world and were meant to include every important literary, historical, philosophical, and scientific work in the world. Callimachus organized the collection and compiled the Lists to include the names of the books and some information about the lives of their writers. The authors were arranged according to their field, such as law, poetry, history, mathematics, or rhetoric, and listed in alphabetical order, as were their works.

His poetic works, unlike the Lists, survived in the form of fragments and quotations into the Renaissance. Aetia was a group of narrative poems describing legendary figures and events, while Iambi was a collection of shorter poems, some of them describing the scholars and students Callimachus knew or heard about in Alexandria. He was also the author of a short epic, Hecale, and a collection known as Hymns. As a scholar, he wrote short studies in various fields of knowledge and collected them into the Epigrams. Callimachus engaged in a famous and longstanding debate with one of his own students, Apollonius of Rhodes, over the proper form and length of poetry, with Callimachus ridiculing the traditional longer epic poems and Apollonius mocking his rival's preference for shorter forms. Jealous of Apollonius's securing the job of librarian, Callimachus endlessly needled Apollonius for his pretentious and oldfashioned manner of writing. The work of Callimachus in the Library of Alexandria provided a foundation for later studies of ancient Greek writers; his debate with Apollonius over the nature of poetry was also well remembered and provided scholars and authors of the Renaissance with one of their most common points of debate.

See Also: classical literature

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Callimachus (ca. 280 B.C.–245 B.C.)." The Renaissance. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Callimachus (ca. 280 B.C.–245 B.C.)." The Renaissance. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/arts-construction-medicine-science-and-technology-magazines/callimachus-ca-280-bc-245-bc

"Callimachus (ca. 280 B.C.–245 B.C.)." The Renaissance. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/arts-construction-medicine-science-and-technology-magazines/callimachus-ca-280-bc-245-bc

Callimachus (fl. c.280–45 BC, Hellenistic Greek poet and critic)

Callimachus, fl. c.280–45 BC, Hellenistic Greek poet and critic, b. Cyrene. Educated at Athens, he taught before obtaining work in the Alexandrian library. There he drew up a catalog, with such copious notes that it constituted a full literary history. He also wrote criticism and other works in prose, but is most notable as a poet. It is said that he wrote more than 800 different pieces. Of these, six hymns (meant for reading, with no religious use), a number of epigrams, and fragments of other poems survive. His greatest work was the Aetia, a collection of legends. Other longer poems of which fragments survive are The Lock of Berenice,Hecale, and Iambi. Callimachus' poetry is notable for brevity, polish, wit, learning, and inventiveness in form. He engaged in a famous literary quarrel with Apollonius of Rhodes over whether well-crafted short poems were superior to long poems. His works had a considerable influence on later Greek and Roman poets, especially Catullus.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Callimachus (fl. c.280–45 BC, Hellenistic Greek poet and critic)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Callimachus (fl. c.280–45 BC, Hellenistic Greek poet and critic)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/callimachus-fl-c280-45-bc-hellenistic-greek-poet-and-critic

"Callimachus (fl. c.280–45 BC, Hellenistic Greek poet and critic)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/callimachus-fl-c280-45-bc-hellenistic-greek-poet-and-critic

Callimachus

Callimachus (c.430–400 bc). Athenian credited by Vitruvius with the invention of the Corinthian capital. See acanthus.

Bibliography

Vitruvius Pollio (1955–6)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Callimachus." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Callimachus." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/callimachus

"Callimachus." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/callimachus

Callimachus

CallimachusBacchus, Caracas, Gracchus •Damascus •Aristarchus, carcass, Hipparchus, Marcus •discus, hibiscus, meniscus, viscous •umbilicus • Copernicus •Ecclesiasticus • Leviticus • floccus •caucus, Dorcas, glaucous, raucous •Archilochus, Cocos, crocus, focus, hocus, hocus-pocus, locus •autofocus •fucus, Lucas, mucous, mucus, Ophiuchus, soukous •ruckus • fuscous • abacus •diplodocus • Telemachus •Callimachus • Caratacus • Spartacus •circus

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Callimachus." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Callimachus." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/callimachus

"Callimachus." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/callimachus