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Poetic Foundations on Delos: The Homeric Hymns to Apollo and Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos

Amelia Margaret Bensch-Schaus

University of Pennsylvania

The longest of Callimachus’ six hymns, the Hymn to Delos stands out as unusual, in large part because of its addressee. Instead of a god or goddess, Delos as both island and nymph receives the honor of the poet’s song, and throughout the poem Callimachus exploits the slippage between place and personification in clever and often comic ways (Giuseppetti). Despite this major innovation, commentators such as Stephens and Ukleja consider this hymn to have the most straightforward antecedent among the Homeric Hymns, namely that to Apollo—or, more specifically, its Delian section. This paper argues that Callimachus’ poem also incorporates the Pythian section of that same poem, treating it as the earliest reception of its first half. In this way, the latter half of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo becomes an intermediate link in the chain of reception, earlier than Pindar’s treatment of the myth, which Depew and others have identified as the second most important intertext for Callimachus’ work. Drawing out the allusions to the Pythian hymn is thus essential for appreciating the layers of reception that Callimachus constructs in his Hymn to Delos.

Early in his poem, Callimachus signals the importance of the Pythian material by focusing on Asteria, the nymph Delos was before Apollo, whose very name recalls the famous simile describing Apollo as a star in the second half of the Homeric Hymn (440-2). Later, Callimachus describes Hera’s dual watchdogs, Ares stationed over the mainland and Iris over the islands, which neatly reflects the shift from island to mainland travels between the two parts of the Homeric Hymn. Once this Pythian presence is established, Callimachus integrates the Pythian poem by both strengthening and, occasionally, reversing how this second half interprets and develops its Delian themes. In either case, Callimachus includes subjects and approaches that are far more pronounced in the second half of the Homeric Hymn than in its first half. For instance, while the Delian section strongly anticipates Apollo’s pride and anger, these emotions are only realized in the Pythian section of the poem. Callimachus makes these traits even more prominent in Apollo’s first speech in utero, which haughtily threatens Thebes with future violence. This same scene demonstrates the importance of prophecy to Callimachus’ presentation of the god, since he performs it even before birth. In the Homeric Hymn, the Delian half mentions this aspect of the god’s domain, but it is the Pythian half that brings this aspect to the fore as Apollo searches for the site of his most famous oracle. The Pythian section grows the seeds of Apollo’s violence and prophecy planted in the earlier half of the poem, and Callimachus further cultivates these characteristics.

Less often, Callimachus reverses rather than intensifies themes that become more prominent in the second half of the Homeric Hymn. While Delos is granted some personification and agency in the first section, the Pythian half denies agency to Telphousa and personification to Delphi. Callimachus, on the other hand, delights in envisioning the corporality of the landscape as it flees Leto. Similarly in the Homeric Hymn, Delos employs slight manipulation to obtain greater honors, while Telphousa outright deceives Apollo to glorify herself (Miller). In the Hymn to Delos, however, both Peneius and Delos selflessly offer themselves up to the pregnant Leto at great personal risk. As Callimachus embodies his landscapes, he also makes them more altruistic. In these instances, Callimachus “corrects” the reception of the Delian material within the latter half of the poem. He is engaging with the Pythian section critically, alternately endorsing and challenging its interpretations of the earlier poem. Bing has shown the titular subject of the Hymn to Delos to be a metaphor for Callimachus’ own poetry, and this paper demonstrates how indebted that poetry is to engagement with the Homeric corpus across multiple levels of reception.

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Archaic Poetics of Identity

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