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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Callimachus (c. 310–240 B.C.)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
CALLIMACHUS, the most learned of poets, was the son of Battus and Mesatme of Cyrene, and a disciple of Hermocrates, who like his more celebrated pupil was a grammarian, or a follower of belles-lettres, says Suidas. It is in this calling that we first hear of Callimachus, when he was a teacher at Alexandria. Here he counted among his pupils Apollonius Rhodius, author of the ‘Argonautica,’ and Eratosthenes, famous for his wisdom in science, who knew geography and geometry so well that he measured the circumference of the earth. Callimachus was in fact one of those erudite poets and wise men of letters whom the gay Alexandrians who thronged the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus called “The Pleiades.” Apollonius Rhodius, Aratus, Theocritus, Lycophron, Nicander, and Homer son of Macro, were the other six. From his circle of clever people, the king, with whom he had become a prime favorite, called him to be chief custodian over the stores of precious books at Alexandria. These libraries, we may recall, were the ones Julius Cæsar partially burned by accident a century later, and Bishop Theophilus and his mob of Christian zealots finished destroying as repositories of paganism some three centuries later still. The collections said to have been destroyed by Caliph Omar when Amru took Alexandria in 640 A.D., on the ground that if they agreed with the Koran they were superfluous and if they contradicted it they were blasphemous, were later ones; but the whole story is discredited by modern scholarship. The world has not ceased mourning for this untold and irreparable loss of the choicest fruits of the human spirit.  1
  Of all these precious manuscripts and parchments, then, Callimachus was made curator about the year B.C. 260. Aulus Gellius computes the time in this wise:—“Four-hundred-ninety years after the founding of Rome, the first Punic war was begun, and not long after, Callimachus, the poet of Cyrene in Alexandria, flourished at the court of King Ptolemy.” At this time he must have been already married to the wife of whom Suidas speaks in his ‘Lexicon,’ a daughter of a Syracusan gentleman.  2
  The number of Callimachus’s works, which are reported to have reached eight hundred, testifies to his popularity in the Alexandrian period of Greek literature. It contradicts also the maxim ascribed to him, that “a great book is a great evil.” Among the prose works which would have enriched our knowledge of literature and history was his history of Greek literature in one hundred and twenty books, classifying the Greek writers and naming them chronologically. These were the results of his long labors in the libraries. Among them was a book on the Museum and the schools connected with it, with records of illustrious educators and of the books they had written.  3
  It is his poetry that has in the main survived, and yet as Ovid says—calling him Battiades, either from his father’s name or from the illustrious founder of his native Cyrene—
  “Battiades semper toto cantabitur orbe:
Quamvis ingenio non valet, arte valet.”
(Even throughout all lands Battiades’s name will be famous;
Though not in genius supreme, yet by his art he excels.)
  4
  Quintilian, however, says he was the prince of Greek elegiac poets. Of his elegies we have a few fragments, and also the Latin translation by Catullus of the ‘Lock of Berenice.’ Berenice, the sister and wife of Ptolemy Euergetes, who succeeded his father Philadelphus in B.C. 245, had sacrificed some of her hair, laying it on the altar of a temple, from which it was subsequently stolen. In his poem, Callimachus as the court poet sang how the gods had taken the tresses and placed them among the stars. The delicate and humorous ‘Rape of the Lock’ of Alexander Pope is a rather remote repetition of the same fancy.  5
  We have also from Callimachus’s hand six hymns to the gods and many epigrams, the latter of which, as will be seen by the quotations given below, are models of their kind. His lyric hymns are, in reality, rather epics in little. They are full of recondite information, overloaded indeed with learning; elegant, nervous, and elaborate, rather than easy-flowing, simple, and warm, like a genuine product of the muse. Many of his epigrams grace the ‘Greek Anthology.’  6
  Among the best editions of Callimachus is that of Ernesti (1761). The extant poems and fragments have been in part translated by William Dodd (1755) and H. W. Tytler (1856). His scattered epigrams have incited many to attempt their perfect phrasing.  7
 
 
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