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Here Comes the Bride: Brokering Female Patronage in Callimachus’ Victoria Berenices

Brett Evans

University of Virginia

In recent decades scholars have significantly reevaluated the social status of Hellenistic poets. Scholar-poets in Alexandria, for instance, were not isolated in the Museum writing only for other scholars; instead, the court offered important and prestigious venues for their works to be performed and/or discussed, like the royal symposium (Weber [1993], 122–84 and [2011]; Cameron [1995], 71–103; Acosta-Hughes/Stephens [2012], 130–40). Increasingly it is recognized that many poets like Callimachus, along with intellectuals in various fields, had the lifestyles, if not also the titles, of philoi, ‘courtiers’ (Cameron [1995], 3–11; Petrovic [2016], [2017]; Strootman [2017], 104–8; Berrey [2017], 91–5). It follows that royal patronage can be understood in terms of philia, a relationship of gift-exchange in the competitive world of court. How, though, does gender affect the construction of Hellenistic royal patronage?

This paper examines the emergent Hellenistic phenomenon of female patronage through the case study of Callimachus’ Victoria Berenices. Apart from elucidating the meaning of individual fragments, scholarship on the poem has focused especially on its Roman reception (Thomas [1983]), the literary influences of Pindar (Szastyńska-Siemion [1988]; Fuhrer [1992], 86–138; Sevieri [1997]) and comedy (Ambühl [2002]), and most recently its intercultural poetics (Acosta-Hughes/Stephens [2012], 163–5, 168–70, 185–7; Kampakoglou [2013]). My paper draws attention to an unnoticed metaphor interwoven throughout the poem of patronage as marriage. I argue that Callimachus casts victorious Berenice as a powerful bride, and in posing as her suitor seeks for himself exclusive patronage and distinguished status at court.

Callimachus’ designation of his epinician as ἕδνον (‘bridal gift’, fr. 54.1 Harder) has previously been explained as catachrestic, meaning ‘gift’ in a general sense while possibly nodding to Berenice’s marriage to Ptolemy III (Parsons [1977], 8; Harder ad loc.; Clayman 2014: 145–6). First, I argue that Callimachus adapts two topoi of archaic epinician, of the epinician as hedna exchanged between men (Kurke 1991: 116–34) and of the poet as his patron’s erastes (Nicholson 2000), to cast Berenice as a marriageable maiden to whom he offers his poem as a bridal gift in hopes she will ‘wed’ him as his patron. Second, I show how the theme of marriage is woven into the narrative of Heracles and Molorchus, tightly linking it to the poem’s opening conceit. In describing Heracles making the Nemean lion’s skin into an ἀνδρὶ καλύπτρη (‘veil for a man’, fr. 60a.1 Harder), I suggest Callimachus assimilates the hero to a bride and to Berenice’s veiled portrait on coins (Mørkholm 1991: 108). Callimachus’ veiled Heracles thus makes a fitting, feminized analog for Berenice’s masculine vigor. Then, in thanks for Molorchus’ hospitality, Heracles ‘honored him like one of his kin by marriage’ (τίεν δέ ἑ ὡς ἕνα πηῶν, fr. 54i.20 Harder). Just as the xenia of victor and host is like a relationship of in-laws, so too, the epinician suggests, Berenice should honor her poet Callimachus by accepting his ἕδνον.

Third I turn to the competition for patronage Callimachus’ marital metaphor implies. Callimachus was not Berenice’s only poet: Posidippus’ Hippika preserves several epigrams for Berenice, including one possibly written for the very same Nemean victory (AB 79). Yet whereas Posidippus is happy to be one of many poets singing Berenice’s fame (εἴπατε, πάντες ἀοιδοί, AB 79.1), Callimachus insists that she can only have one: many suitors offer ἕδνα, but only one will be chosen to be her husband. In offering Berenice this ἕδνον that creates for her a powerful public image, Callimachus masterfully vies for a prime position among her courtiers.

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Hellenistic Poetry

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