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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Occupation poet, critic and scholar

Callimachus (Greek: Καλλίμαχος, Kallimachos; 310/305-240 BC) was a native of the Greek colony of Cyrene, Libya. He was a noted poet, critic and scholar of the Library of Alexandria and enjoyed the patronage of ancient Egyptian Greek Pharaohs Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Ptolemy III Euergetes. Although he was never made chief librarian, he was responsible for producing the catalogue of all the volumes contained in the Library. His Pinakes (tables), 120 volumes long, provided the complete and chronologically arranged catalogue of the Library, laying the foundation for later work on the history of Greek literature. As one of the earliest critic-poets, he typifies Hellenistic scholarship.


Family and early life

Callimachus was a man of Libyan Greek origin. He was born and raised in Cyrene, as member of a distinguished family, his parents being Mesatme (or Mesatma) and Battus, supposed descendant of the first Greek king of Cyrene, Battus I, through whom Callimachus claimed to be a descendant of the Battiad dynasty, the Libyan Greek monarchs that ruled Cyrenaica for eight generations and the first Greek Royal family to have reigned in Africa. He was named after his grandfather, an "elder" Callimachus, who was highly regarded by the Cyrenaean citizens and had served as a general.

Callimachus married the daughter of a Greek man called Euphrates who came from Syracuse. However, it is unknown if they had children. He also had a sister called Megatime but very little is known about her: she married a Cyrenaean man called Stasenorus or Stasenor to whom she bore a son, Callimachus (so called "the Younger" as to distinguish him from his maternal uncle), who also became a poet, author of "The Island".

In later years, he was educated in Athens. When he returned to North Africa, he moved to Alexandria.


Elitist and erudite, claiming to "abhor all common things," Callimachus is best known for his short poems and epigrams. During the Hellenistic period, a major trend in Greek-language poetry was to reject epics modelled after Homer. Instead, Callimachus urged poets to "drive their wagons on untrodden fields," rather than following in the well worn tracks of Homer, idealizing a form of poetry that was brief, yet carefully formed and worded, a style at which he excelled. In the prologue to his Aitia, he claims that Apollo visited him and admonished him to "fatten his flocks, but to keep his muse slender," a clear indication of his choice of carefully crafted and allusive material. "Big book, big evil" (μέγα βιβλίον μέγα κακόν, "mega biblion, mega kakon") is another of his verses, attacking long, old-fashioned poetry using the very style Callimachus proposed to replace it. Callimachus also wrote poems in praise of his royal patron and a wide variety of other poetic styles, as well as prose and criticism. Callimachus' most famous prose work is the Pinakes (Lists), a bibliographical survey of authors of the works held in the Library of Alexandria. It is said to have comprised 120 books.

Due to Callimachus' strong stance against the epic, he and his younger student Apollonius of Rhodes, who favored epic and wrote the Argonautica, had a long and bitter feud, trading barbed comments, insults, and ad hominem attacks for over thirty years. It is now known, through a papyrus fragment from Oxyrhynchus listing the earliest chief librarians of the Library of Alexandra, that Ptolemy II never offered the post to Callimachus, but passed him over for Apollonius Rhodius. Some classicists, including Peter Green, speculate that this contributed to the poets' long feud.

Though Callimachus was an opponent of "big books", the Suda puts his number of works at (a possibly exaggerated) 800, suggesting that he found large quantities of small works more acceptable. Of these, only six hymns, sixty-four epigrams, and some fragments are extant; a considerable fragment of the Hecale, one of Callimachus' few longer poems treating epic material, has also been discovered in the Rainer papyri. His Aitia ("Causes"),[1] another rare longer work surviving only in tattered papyrus fragments and quotations in later authors, was a collection of elegiac poems in four books, dealing with the foundation of cities, obscure religious ceremonies, unique local traditions apparently chosen for their oddity,[2] and other customs, throughout the Hellenic world In the first three books at least, the formula appears to ask a question of the Muse, of the form, "Why, on Paros, do worshippers of the Charites use neither flutes nor crowns?"[3] "Why, at Argos is a month named for 'lambs'?"[4] "Why, at Leucas, does the image of Artemis have a mortar on its head?"[5] A series of questions can be reconstituted from the fragments. [6] One passage of the Aitia, the so called Coma Berenices, has been reconstructed from papyrus remains and the celebrated Latin adaptation of Catullus (Catullus 66).

The extant hymns are extremely learned, and written in a style that some have criticised as labored and artificial. The epigrams are more widely respected, and several have been incorporated into the Greek Anthology.

According to Quintilian (10.1.58) he was the chief of the elegiac poets; his elegies were highly esteemed by the Romans (see Neoterics), and imitated by Ovid, Catullus, and especially Sextus Propertius. Many modern classicists hold Callimachus in high regard for his major influence on Latin poetry.

Callimachus was undoubtedly an authority on dogs in his day[7] and his works shed light on the origins of the Maltese Dog as being sprawn from the island of Mljet (Latin: Melita), which he placed near Korčula along the Dalmatian coast in the Adriatic Sea.


  • Pfeiffer, Rudolf. Callimachus. V. 1, Fragmenta. (Oxford 1949, repr. 1965); V. 2, Hymni et epigrammata (Oxford 1953). (in classical Greek)
  • Source for Family Information
  • Callimachus
  • Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia - 2002


  • Bing, Peter. Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos 1-99: Introduction and Commentary (U. Michigan, 1981).
  • Bulloch, A. W. Callimachus: The Fifth Hymn (CUP, 1985).
  • Hollis, Adrian Swayne. Callimachus: Hecale (OUP, 1990).
  • Hopkinson, Neil. Callimachus: Hymn to Demeter (CUP, 1984).
  • Kerkhecker, Arnd. Callimachus' Book of Iambi (OUP, 1999).
  • McKay, K. J. Erysichthon: A Callimachean Comedy (Brill, 1962).
  • McKay, K. J. The Poet at Play: Kallimachus, The Bath of Pallas (Brill, 1962).
  • McLennan, G. R. Callimachus: Hymn to Zeus (Edizioni dell'Ateneo & Bizzarri, 1977).
  • Williams, Frederick. Callimachus: Hymn to Apollo (OUP, 1978).


  • Nisetich, Frank. The Poems of Callimachus (Oxford 2001). ISBN 0-19-814760-0
  • Lombardo, Stanley and Diane Rayor. Callimachus: Hymns, Epigrams, Select Fragments (Johns Hopkins 1988). ISBN 0-8018-3281-0

Criticism and history

  • Acosta-Hughes, Benjamin. Polyeideia: The Iambi of Callimachus and the Archaic Iambic Tradition (U. California, 2002).
  • Bing, Peter. The Well-Read Muse: Present and Past in Callimachus and the Hellenistic Poets (Göttingen, 1988).
  • Blum, Rudolf. Kallimachos. The Alexandrian Library and the Origins of Bibliography (U. Wisconsin, 1991).
  • Cameron, Alan. Callimachus and his Critics (Princeton, 1995).
  • Green, Peter. Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age (U. California, 1990), chapters 11 ('The Critic as Poet: Callimachus, Aratus of Soli, Lycophron') and 13 ('Armchair Epic: Apollonius Rhodius and the Voyage of Argo').
  • Hunter, Richard. The Shadow of Callimachus (CUP, 2006).
  • Selden, Daniel. "Alibis," Classical Antiquity 17 (1998), 289-411.

External links


  1. ^ An aition is a founding myth.
  2. ^ Noel Robertson, "Callimachus' Tale of Sicyon ('SH' 238)" Phoenix 53.1/2 (Spring 1999:57-79), p. 58
  3. ^ Aitia 1, frag. 3.
  4. ^ Aitia 1, frags. 26-31a.
  5. ^ Aitia 1, frags. 31b-e.
  6. ^ Robertson 1999:58f, note 5.
  7. ^ Rawdon Briggs, Lee. A history and description of the modern dogs of Great Britain and Ireland (Non-sporting division), published by H. Cox, London, 1894, pp 312-322


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Callimachus of Cyrene (c. 310 BC – c. 240 BC) was a Greek poet, critic and bibliographer, of Libyan birth. He is considered the most influential figure of the Alexandrian school.



  • A big book is a big misfortune.
    • Fragment 465; translation by A. W. Bulloch, in P. E. Easterling and B. M. W. Knox (eds.) The Cambridge History of Classical Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1989) vol. 1, part 4, p. 30.
  • Nothing unattested do I sing.
    • Fragment 612; translation by A. W. Bulloch, in P. E. Easterling and B. M. W. Knox (eds.) The Cambridge History of Classical Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1989) vol. 1, part 4, p. 30.


  • They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
    They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
    I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
    Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
  • Two goddesses now must Cyprus adore;
    The Muses are ten, the Graces are four;
    Stella's wit is so charming, so sweet her fair face;
    She shines a new Venus, a Muse, and a Grace.
    • Epigram 5; translation by Jonathan Swift, cited from Henry Wellesley (ed.) Anthologia Polyglotta (London: John Murray, 1849) p. 47.
  • Here sleeps Saon, of Acanthus, son of Dicon, a holy sleep: say not that the good die.
    • Epigram 10; translation from J. Banks (ed.) The Works of Hesiod, Callimachus and Theognis (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1856) p. 194.
  • O Charidas, what of the under world? Great darkness. And what of the resurrection? A lie. And Pluto? A fable; we perish utterly.
  • Set a thief to catch a thief.
    • Epigram 43; translation by Robert Allason Furness, from Poems of Callimachus (London: Jonathan Cape, 1931) p. 103.


  • His blend of sensitivity and detachment, elegance, wit, and learning, had a profound influence on later Roman poets, especially Catullus, Ovid, and Propertius (the last thought of himself as the Roman Callimachus), and through them on the whole European literary tradition.
    • D. E. W. Wormell, in The Penguin Companion to Literature (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969) vol. 4, p. 47.
  • The most outstanding intellect of this generation, the greatest poet that the Hellenistic age produced, and historically one of the most important figures in the development of Graeco-Roman (and hence European) literature.
    • A. W. Bulloch, in P. E. Easterling and B. M. W. Knox (eds.) The Cambridge History of Classical Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1989) vol. 1, part 4, p. 9.

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

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