Callimachus: Hymn to Apollo, a Commentary

Callimachus: Hymn to Apollo, a Commentary

Callimachus: Hymn to Apollo, a Commentary

Callimachus: Hymn to Apollo, a Commentary

Excerpt

In this commentary I attempt to solve some of the literary problems of the Hymn to Apollo, and to examine in detail Callimachus' use and enrichment of the epic language he inherited from his predecessors.

The Hymn has often been approached from other directions: it has been regarded as primary evidence for the political and diplomatic history of Ptolemaic Egypt and the city of Cyrene; as a source of biographical material on the poet's life and especially on his relations with Apollonius Rhodius; and as a document for the study of Cyrenean religion. These non-literary approaches can hardly be said to have produced satisfactory results. One factor is that the poem cannot be securely dated; for not only are there 'no precise dates in any of the Hymns' (Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria, i. 652), but the value and validity of the references to contemporary events which they allegedly contain are questionable, above all in this hymn, as Vahlen's study showed (Über einige Anspielungen in den Hymnen des Callimachus, 1895). Often these allusions are conventional, and unspecific, as in lines 26-7, where hostility to Apollo is equated with hostility to 'my king'; sometimes Callimachus' words have been forced to yield a 'contemporary reference' without any regard for their context, as has happened with line 68; and the wild allegorical fantasies catalogued by Ehrlich in 1894 (De Callimachi Hymnis Quaestiones Chronologicae), and justly ridiculed by Kuiper in 1898 (Studia Callimachea, ii. 139-41) continue to be canvassed as serious contributions to scholarship. The credulity which can see Ptolemy Philadelphus (or Euergetes; or even both) disguised as the beautiful beardless Apollo, or detect Berenice masquerading as the Thessalian nymph Cyrene, or uncover the ruler Demetrius hidden beneath the mane of the cow-slaughtering lion, testifies to a deep human craving to identify Literature and Life even at the cost of a few category-mistakes. While such fancies, as long as they are entertained in private, may bring their authors harmless psychological comfort, they are as irrelevant to an understanding of Callimachean poetry as the Persian chain.

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