Callimachus was a brilliant Hellenistic scholar, critic, and poet of early 3rd century Alexandria. Born in the Greek colony of Cyrene in North Africa around 310 BC, he settled in Alexandria, where one of his achievements was to compile a huge bibliographic review (his Pinakes in 120 volumes) of the contents of the Great Library. He exemplifies a trend for avoiding the composition of grand epic (‘a big book is a big misery’, he writes), choosing instead to compose poems that are relatively brief and episodic, intricately crafted, and allusive (‘I recoil from all everything common’ he writes). His Aitia (‘Causes’), an elegiac poem in four books, combined scholarship with poetry in surveying the origins of religious ceremonies, cities, and obscure local traditions. He wrote poetry of varied style in addition to prose and criticism, but only 6 Hymns and 64 epigrams survive in full along with numerous fragments of other works. His skillful and wide-ranging work had a considerable influence on Roman poets of the 1st century BC, and his elegiac poems in particular were used as models and imitated by, among others, Ovid, Catullus, and Propertius.
Armand D’Angour, Jesus College, Oxford University
Epigram 2 | The Death of Heraclitus
Contributed by Nicholas Debenham