You are here

Reconsidering Hellenistic Theologoumena: Between Callimachus and Euhemerus

Monica Park

Vanderbilt University

This paper takes another look at the two passages of Callimachus that are most cited with reference to Euhemerus—from Callimachus’ First Iamb and Hymn to Zeus—and asks what kind of issues are at stake here for this paradigmatic poet of early Ptolemaic Alexandria. Most scholars of Hellenistic poetry seem now to agree that Callimachus’ references to his (near) contemporary Euhemerus, which were once frequently interpreted as a straightforward critique of the latter’s Sacred Register or Sacred Inscription (Hiera Anagraphē), should instead be examined in the light of other contemporary political and theological debates, and with regard for Callimachus’ own poetic and theological self-fashioning (Stephens 2003; Kirichenko 2012; Michalopoulos 2012; cf. Winiarczyk 2013). However, Euhemerus’ vision of divine origins was but one voice among a chorus of competing theologoumena (“discourses about the gods”), spurred in part by recent developments in Greek/Greco-Egyptian cultic practice, namely, the worship of kings (and queens) as gods (on the struggle to represent this development appropriately cf. Roubekas 2015, responding to Versnel 2011).

Based on the fragmentary evidence of later authors, I begin from the premise that such a development occasioned more literary and philosophical commentary and critique in the early Hellenistic period than we usually allow. I then argue that Callimachus’ particular appropriation of the voices of Euhemerus and other participants in this discourse, especially in the Hymn to Zeus, culminates in what one might call a “sum of talk,” adapting a phrase from Nigel Nicholson on the “intertextual” relationship between epinician and the more diffuse genre of the “hero-athlete narrative” (Nicholson 2016: 13, 16). While the juxtaposition in the Hymn to Zeus is not one between privileged poetic form and oral traditions (as in Pindaric epinician), there is nevertheless an insistence on a new kind—or new form—of wisdom about matters divine as a response to an imagined community of chat. What was at stake for Callimachus was not only the confrontation between Greece and Egypt, new and old theologoumena, sophistic critique of the gods and more recent philosophical developments, but also, perhaps most importantly, the successful modeling of a competitive sophia about divine genealogies and theological doubt at the interface of mortal and divine—and the resolution of that doubt in a hermeneutic strategy that works by “dialogic composition” and “an atomistic treatment of sources” (borrowing from Dohrmann 2016: 34). Drawing on Dohrmann and her interpretation of Smith (1982), I make a final argument that the dialogic world of the First Iamb and the Hymn to Zeus is shaped not only by literary and generic concerns (e.g. Bing 1988), but also as a response to canonical closure.

Session/Panel Title

Greek Religious Texts

Session/Paper Number


Share This Page

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy