In this paper, I argue that Callimachus’ Hymn to Artemis was written in honor of the princess Berenike, daughter of Berenike II and Ptolemy Euergetes in 239 or 238 BCE. This identification makes the Hymn to Artemis Callimachus’ latest datable work and could push back the presumed date of Callimachus’ death, which is usually placed around 240-238 BCE. My argument is based on evidence from a trilingual inscription from 238 BCE known as the Canopus Decree (OGIS 56) as well as intertextual ties to Callimachus’ twelfth Iambus.
Throughout his works, Callimachus frequently praises the Ptolemaic family. This is especially prevalent in the Hymns, in which side-by-side praise of god and ruler blurs the line between mortal and divine. Sometimes this praise is overt: Apollo foretells the birth of “another god,” Ptolemy Philadelphos, in the Hymn to Delos (165) and, although it is highly fragmentary, the title of the Deification of Arsinoe leaves no question as to its content. At other times, however, the praise is more subtle, leading to debate about whom precisely Callimachus has in mind when, for example, he praises “my king” (Hymn to Zeus 86, Hymn to Apollo 27). The Hymn to Artemis presents similar difficulties, for we have no external information about the date, addressee, or the possible occasion for its composition.
Scholars have linked the Hymn to Artemis to Arsinoe, wife of Ptolemy Soter, due to a cameo depicting her in the guise of the goddess (Acosta-Hughes and Cusset 2012) as well as to Berenike II, whom Callimachus honors in the Lock of Berenike and the Victoria Berenices (Depew 2004, Gutzwiller 2007). Both Arsinoe and Berenike were associated with—and worshipped as—Demeter/Isis and Aphrodite, however, making their association with a virgin goddess incongruous, especially in a hymn which emphasizes her perpetual partheneia from the start (6). Instead, I argue that the Hymn to Artemis was written for a real-life perpetual parthenos, the deified daughter of Euergetes, who died at a young age in 238 BCE.
The Canopus Decree announces the princess Berenike’s post-mortem deification and proscribes the worship accompanying her divinity. We have limited information for her brief life, but scholars have argued that she was no more than a year old when she died (Bennett 2002). In the decree she is first referred to as a parthenos (47) and then specifically called the Mistress of Parthenoi (61). She is also compared to the Egyptian daughter of Helios/Ra, who was the “sight” and “crown” (56) of her father. The themes of virginity and paternal love in the Decree provide a clear link to the goddess Artemis in Callimachus’ hymn, who is depicted as a young girl, a favorite of her father, asking him for eternal maidenhood.
I argue that this claim is supported by Callimachus’ Iambus 12, which was written for the hebdoma or seventh-day celebration of the birth of a girl to Callimachus’ friend Leon. The Iambus’ narrative told of Hebe’s hebdoma, but the poem itself begins with a prayer to Artemis and has clear intertextual ties to the Hymn to Artemis and the Hymn to Zeus, mentioning both Cretan Artemis and the empty tomb of Zeus in what remains of the opening 16 lines. The fact that Iambus 12 was written for a little girl and has clear connections to the Hymn to Artemis supports the argument that the Hymn to Artemis was written for a little girl as well, maybe even also in celebration of her hebdoma.
If indeed the Hymn to Artemis was written for the princess Berenike in 239 or 238 BCE, this information supplements our scant knowledge of the end of Callimachus’ life and career. It also broadens our picture of which members of the Ptolemaic family were praised and in what guise, expanding our view of the politics of Callimachus’ Hymns.
Contexts and Paratexts of Hellenistic Poetry