Callimachus

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Callimachus (Greek: Καλλίμαχος, Kallimachos; 310/305–240 BC) was a native of the Greek colony of Cyrene, Libya. He was a noted poet, critic and scholar of the Library of Alexandria and enjoyed the patronage of ancient Egyptian Greek Pharaohs Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Ptolemy III Euergetes. Although he was never made chief librarian, he was responsible for producing the catalogue of all the volumes contained in the Library. His Pinakes, 120 volumes long, provided the complete and chronologically arranged catalogue of the Library, laying the foundation for later work on the history of Greek literature. As one of the earliest critic-poets, he typifies Hellenistic scholarship.

Contents

Family and early life

Callimachus was a man of Libyan Greek origin. He was born and raised in Cyrene, as member of a distinguished family, his parents being Mesatme (or Mesatma) and Battus, supposed descendant of the first Greek king of Cyrene, Battus I, through whom Callimachus claimed to be a descendant of the Battiad dynasty, the Libyan Greek monarchs that ruled Cyrenaica for eight generations and the first Greek Royal family to have reigned in Africa. He was named after his grandfather, an "elder" Callimachus, who was highly regarded by the Cyrenaean citizens and had served as a general.

Callimachus married the daughter of a Greek man called Euphrates who came from Syracuse. However, it is unknown if they had children. He also had a sister called Megatime but very little is known about her: she married a Cyrenaean man called Stasenorus or Stasenor to whom she bore a son, Callimachus (so called "the Younger" as to distinguish him from his maternal uncle), who also became a poet, author of "The Island".

In later years, he was educated in Athens. When he returned to North Africa, he moved to Alexandria.

Works

Elitist and erudite, claiming to "abhor all common things," Callimachus is best known for his short poems and epigrams. During the Hellenistic period, a major trend in Greek-language poetry was to reject epics modelled after Homer. Instead, Callimachus urged poets to "drive their wagons on untrodden fields," rather than following in the well worn tracks of Homer, idealizing a form of poetry that was brief, yet carefully formed and worded, a style at which he excelled. In the prologue to his Aitia, he claims that Apollo visited him and admonished him to "fatten his flocks, but to keep his muse slender," a clear indication of his choice of carefully crafted and allusive material. "Big book, big evil" (μέγα βιβλίον μέγα κακόν, "mega biblion, mega kakon") is another of his verses, attacking long, old-fashioned poetry using the very style Callimachus proposed to replace it. Callimachus also wrote poems in praise of his royal patron and a wide variety of other poetic styles, as well as prose and criticism. Callimachus' most famous prose work is the Pinakes (Lists), a bibliographical survey of authors of the works held in the Library of Alexandria. It is said to have comprised 120 books.

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