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Callimachus of Cyrene ( ancient Greek Καλλίμαχος ὁ Κυρηναῖος Kallímachos ho Kyrēnaíos , Latinized Callimachus Cyrenius ; * around 305 BC in Cyrene ; † around 240 BC in Alexandria ) was a Hellenistic poet, scholar and Alexandrian librarian.

He is considered the founder of scientific philology and gained a reputation for researching etiology , that is, the mythical and legendary origins of names, cults and customs. Both his scientific achievements as well as the wealth of allusions, the playfulness and irony of his literary work made him one of the most important representatives of culture among the Ptolemies in Egypt and of Hellenism in general.


Callimachus came from a distinguished family in Cyrene in Libya, the city, the founder and first king Battus I. was derived. He grew up in Alexandria at the court of the Ptolemies and received a comprehensive literary education there. In the Suda , a Byzantine encyclopedia with a detailed article on him, it is mentioned that he was a school teacher in Eleusis, a suburb of Alexandria, but this cannot be reconciled either with his noble origins or with his high position at the court of the Ptolemies.

Several surviving poems on Ptolemy II and his second wife Arsinoë II prove Callimachus to be close confidants of this royal couple. He also worked on the Alexandrian library . Going back to a statement by Johannes Tzetzes , who in turn refers to a traditional comment ( scholium ) on the Roman poet Plautus , he is often named as the third head of this library, a position for which he was ideally qualified. The Suda knows nothing about it, and a papyrus found in Oxyrhynchos with a list of the library directors does not list him. Since some poems of his mature years point to Cyrene as a residence, it has been considered that Callimachus sought refuge there due to political tensions between Alexandria and Cyrene or represented the Ptolemies diplomatically.


Sparse tradition

Callimachos are attributed by the Suda to works amounting to around 800 books (ie ancient papyrus scrolls) on various topics, most of which, however, have been lost or only fragmentarily preserved.

Are only completely preserved

  • six hymns to the Olympian gods : to Zeus , Apollon , Artemis ; to the island of Delos ; to Athena and Demeter . The first two served to praise Ptolemy II, all six brought to a reading public vividly and at the same time ambiguous cult activities in which they no longer participated. The hymn to The Bath of Pallas (Athena) deals with the ritual washing of a statue of Athena in Argos . While the spectators wait to see the statue, it is told how the seer Teiresias was blinded when he once surprised Athena in the bath. - Are also preserved
  • 63 epigrams (in the Greek anthology ).

In addition, about 740 fragments can be ascribed to Callimachus with certainty or with some certainty. Some of these are quotes from ancient authors or in the Suda , and some are papyrus finds. They came across as early as the 19th century

  • larger fragment of the Epyllion (small epic poem ) Hekale . It tells of the adventures of Theseus , his stop at an old woman after whom the text is named, and his conversation with a crow after her death. Numerous smaller quotations had already proven the widespread use and popularity of the text; the larger text reference mentioned was probably used for school lessons.

Further finds, especially in Oxyrhynchos, have since made it possible to reconstruct the

  • Aitia ("original poems", from ancient Greek: αἴτιον - origin, guilt, cause; αἴτια - origins), a four-volume work in poetry about the emergence of various cultic customs. It should have comprised around 5000 individual verses (in elegiac distiches ) and emerged in two stages. The first two books are designed as a dialogue with the Muses , the tenth of which is Arsinoë II, suggesting a compilation shortly after 270 BC. Chr. Indicates. The third and fourth books are framed by poems in honor of Berenike II , who was the wife of Ptolemy III. 246 came to Alexandria. In the epilogue he comes back to the programmatic introduction to the complete work, in which Callimachus describes how he questions the muses in a dream at the Helicon - varying the beginning of Hesiod's theogony .
Callimachus, The Hair of Berenike . Papyrus fragment in Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana , PSI 1092 (1st century BC)
A papyrus from Callimachus' Aitia from the 2nd century

The Aitia

A total of 45 “aitiological” stories can be traced, whereby the smaller fragments give no impression of how Callimachos was able to interleave his stories. In the introductory poem of the third book about a victory of Berenike in the Nemean Games (in the chariot race), the founding of these games by Heracles is mentioned, but the main plot is how Heracles stops at the farmer Molorchos and helps him against his mouse plague - and finally as The main thing is the aitia , the "founding sagas " for two types of mousetraps. Markus Asper attests to Callimachos "a wild pleasure in telling stories, re-contextualizing, cunningly alienating known and proudly incorporating new elements" and Aitia "a strange kind of humor or irony."

In the final poem of Aitia , Berenike's hair , which in the autumn of 245 BC, tells the story . BC was probably established as a constellation with this same poem, in a cadastre , as it came to heaven after Berenike had sacrificed it to fulfill a vow. For centuries the poem was only known in the Latin translation of Catullus ( c. 66 , announced in c. 65 as the Callimachos translation), it was not until the 20th century that larger parts of the Greek original were rediscovered in Oxyrhynchos.

Literary feuds?

Callimachos is considered a master of the meticulous, perfectionist small painting. It has long been claimed that he therefore fundamentally rejected extensive poems in the style of epics in the Homer tradition and that he fell out with his pupil Apollonios of Rhodes , but has recently been questioned. His harsh criticism was of the Lyde of Antimachus of Colophon , but not even of the other works of this author.

The sentence often quoted in this context: “A big book is a big evil” (old Gr. Μέγα βιβλίον μέγα κακόν - méga biblíon méga kakón) may have related to his work as a librarian.

Scientific texts

The most important prose writing of Callimachus was the 120-volume directory of authors (Greek πίνακες - directories), in which he listed a short biography and a catalog of works for a selection of Greek authors from the library of Alexandria, thus creating the world's first 'scientific' library catalog . In addition, he wrote several encyclopedias on expressions typical of the area , barbaric customs , founding stories of islands and cities and renaming , etc., as well as works on literary criticism.

Callimachus' research, which extended to the whole area from which the new Greek population of Alexandria was recruited, served the development of a common cultural memory of these Greeks. He did not address Egypt directly, but according to one of Daniel Selden's theses, the impression of bizarre callimachos' texts often dissolves when viewed against the background of Egyptian mythology, king (ie pharaoh) ideology and iconography; Callimachus would have suggested double reading and symbolic transfers here.


Callimachus' pupils included several later heads of the Alexandrian library, in addition to the aforementioned Apollonios of Rhodes, Eratosthenes of Cyrene and Aristophanes of Byzantium .

The numerous papyri found with his writings and his frequent citations suggest that Callimachus was one of the most widely read authors of his time. Above all , he had a great influence on the poetry of the Roman neotericists (Catullus), as well as on Properz and Ovid , and they took it up with translations and revisions. In Greek-speaking area he was in the 4th century by Gregory Nazianzen appreciated, and even in the 13th century had Michael Choniates the Aitia .

Editions and translations

  • Markus Asper (Ed.): Works. Greek and German . Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2004. ISBN 3-534-13693-4 (exact prose translation)
  • Annette Harder: Callimachus, Aetia. Volume 1: Introduction, Text, and Translation . Volume 2: Commentary . Oxford University Press, Oxford 2012.
  • Adrian S. Hollis (Ed.): Callimachus: Hecale. 2nd, revised edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford 2009 (with introduction and commentary). - Review by Peter Habermehl in H-Soz-u-Kult November 16, 2009 .
  • Ernst Howald , Emil Staiger (transl.): The poems of Callimachos. Greek and German . Artemis, Zurich 1955 (successful metric translation)
  • Rudolf Pfeiffer (Ed.): Callimachus . Clarendon Press, Oxford 1949–1953 (authoritative edition)


Overview presentations and introductions


  • Annemarie Ambühl: Children and young heroes. Innovative aspects of dealing with the literary tradition of Callimachos (= Hellenistica Groningana 9). Peeters, Leuven / Paris et al. 2005, ISBN 90-429-1551-X (material and extensive representation of some essential motifs in Callimachos, which, beyond the subject given in the title, gives an impression of the coherence of the work so fragmented)
  • Markus Asper: Groups and Poets: On the program and addressee reference in Callimachos. In: Antike und Abendland 47, 2001, pp. 84–116
  • Peter Bing : The well-read muse. Present and past in Callimachus and the Hellenistic poets . Göttingen 1988, ISBN 3-525-25189-0 .
  • Rudolf Blum: Callimachos and the bibliography of the Greeks. Studies on the history of biobibliography . Booksellers Association, Frankfurt am Main 1977, ISBN 3-7657-0659-0 (special print from Archive for the History of the Book Industry 18)
  • Alan Cameron : Callimachus and His Critics . Princeton University Press, Princeton 1995, ISBN 0-691-04367-1
  • Marco Fantuzzi, Richard Hunter: Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2004, ISBN 0-521-83511-9
  • Oleg Nikitinski : Kallimachos studies (= studies on classical philology , 98). Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1996, ISBN 3-631-30070-0
  • Daniel L. Selden: Alibis. In: Classical Antiquity 17/2, 1998, pp. 289–412 (discusses strangeness as a fundamental experience of all residents of Alexandria, which was newly founded under Alexander and who takes Callimachus into account on all levels in his work)


  • Annemarie Ambühl: Callimachos. In: Christine Walde (Ed.): The reception of ancient literature. Kulturhistorisches Werklexikon (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 7). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02034-5 , Sp. 407-420.
  • Richard Hunter: The Shadow of Callimachus. Studies in the Reception of Hellenistic Poetry at Rome . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2006, ISBN 0-521-87118-2


Web links


  1. ^ Rudolf Blum: Callimachos: the Alexandrian Library and the origins of bibliography . University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin 1991, ISBN 978-0-299-13173-9 , pp. 2 .
  2. Suda , keyword Kallimachos ( Καλλίμαχος ), Adler number: kappa 227 , Suda-Online
  3. ^ Alan Cameron: Callimachus and His Critics , Princeton 1995, p. 10 f.
  4. Annette Harder. Callimachus. Aetia. Vol. 1. P. 14. Oxford UP. 2012
  5. Markus Asper: Introduction, in: Ders. (Transl.): Callimachus. Works. Greek and German , Darmstadt 2004, p. 22.
  6. Alan Cameron: Callimachus and His Critics , Princeton 1995, pp. 303-338.
  7. ^ Uwe Jochum: The Alexandria Library and its aftermath. In: Library History 15, 1999, pp. 5-12.
  8. Matthew Battles: The World of Books: A History of the Library . Artemis and Winkler, Düsseldorf 2003, ISBN 3-538-07165-9 , pp. 38 .