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Books Received: Encounters with Texts in Callimachus' Aetia and Iambi

Robin J. Greene

     Although intertextual and reception studies have largely been the bread and butter of Callimachean scholarship for several decades, comparatively little has been said about the poet’s literary representations of his engagement with actual, physical texts.  As the scholar charged with categorizing the Great Library’s collection, and as a poet immersed in the burgeoning book culture of Alexandria, Callimachus lived in an academic environment dependent upon the arrival and availability of physical texts.  The passage traditionally discussed in connection with this is Callimachus’ reference to Xenomedes’ Cean history, which he cites as the source for his Acontius and Cydippe narrative in the Aetia. Callimachus concludes his citation with the evocative phrase “from this source [the] story ran to our Calliope” (75.76-77:  ἔνθεν ὁ...μῡθον ἐς ἡμετέρην ἔδραμε Καλλιόπην), serving as a suggestion of a fictive line of transmission or the poet’s excitement over reading a new text (Hutchinson 2003, Harder 2012).  Yet this example of Callimachus’ interaction with texts is not an isolated one. In this paper I identify and interpret two other passages in the Iambi and Aetia in which Callimachus, as scholar and poet, dramatizes his encounters both with texts in the Library and texts newly-arrived in Alexandria.

     Callimachus’ position as a library scientist is central to his fragmentary second Iambus, wherein he reflects his work on the Pinakes by representing himself as a literary taxonomist.  The poem retells the Aesopic fable of a disastrous animal embassy to Zeus, which resulted in the animals’ loss of their powers of speech.  Following the fabulous narrative, Callimachus inverts the Aesopic original and proceeds to classify human authors working in different genres according to the “animal sounds” that each group makes (10-13).   I consider the relationship of the fable to the language and content of the poem’s introduction and conclusion.  Zeus’ retributive differentiation of the species’ voices is essentially an act of classification. This focus on classification—both in the fable and in Callimachus’ conclusion—is  presaged at the work’s beginning by the appearance of zoological terms used as taxonomic designations in Peripatetic natural histories (τό πτηνόν, τὸ τετράπουν).  By combining the content of the fable and scientific taxonomy, I show that Callimachus casts himself as a natural scientist of literature who classifies not species into phyla and classes, but the texts he encounters into genres. 

     Whereas Callimachus mixes the concerns of a library scientist with the aesthetic of a literary critic in Iambus 2,  in Aetia fr. 178 he is inspired by a text to create an authoritative character.  Scholars have found this episode, which details the meeting of Callimachus and a stranger from Icos at the celebration of an Athenian festival hosted by the Attic ex-patriot Pollis, a useful articulation of Callimachus’ poetic aesthetic (e.g. Cameron 1995, Fantuzzi-Hunter 2004).  I build on these studies and argue that the juxtaposition of the Attic and Ician characters and content of the scene, as well as the forms and placement of key terms (e.g. Άτθίσιν, a technical term for Atthides, in metrical contrast to  Ἴκιος), reveal Callimachus to be consulting and then contrasting the Atthides and Iciaca of the Atthidographer Phanodemus.  The Ician stranger who provides the lost Ician aetion introduced by the fragment is thus an anthropomorphization of the Iciaca, the poet’s textual authority. In light of this identification, Callimachus’ presentation of his created character becomes significant.  The Ician, we are told, has recently arrived in Alexandria (178. 5-7). As others have observed, the passage contains numerous linguistic echoes of Odyssean hospitality-scenes (Fantuzzi-Hunter 2004, Massimilla 2010, Harder 2012).  Accordingly, I suggest that Callimachus is responding to the Homeric convention of a stranger narrating his tale with the depiction of the anthropomorphized text telling its own tale, that is, the tale that the newly-arrived text actually contains.  Callimachus’ much-discussed delight over finding a like-minded friend in the Ician (fr. 178.91-12) is a poetic translation of Callimachus’ satisfaction with his new text.

Session/Panel Title

Contexts and Paratexts of Hellenistic Poetry

Session/Paper Number

61.4

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