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Callimachus: a lasting influence on Catullus, Vergil, Horace, Propertius and Ovid

Marked by a focus on the small and discrete in topic and form

  • Hymn to Jupiter
  • What force, what sudden impulse thus can make 
  • The laurel-branch, and all the temple shake! 
  • Depart ye souls profane; hence, hence! O fly 
  • Far from this holy place! Apollo’s nigh; 
  • He knocks with gentle foot; The Delian palm 
  • Submissive bends, and breathes a sweeter balm: 
  • Soft swans, high hov’ring catch the auspicious sign, 
  • Wave their white wings, and pour their notes divine. 
  • Ye bolts fly back; ye brazen doors expand, 
  • Leap from your hinges, Phoebus is at hand.
  • When Love and Wine Inspire
  • If sober, and inclin’d to sport, 
  • To you, my fair one, I resort; 
  • The still-forbidden bliss to prove, 
  • Accuse me then, and blame my love. 
  • But if to rashness I incline, 
  • Accuse me not, but blame the wine: 
  • When Love and Wine at once inspire, 
  • What mortal can control his fire. 
  • Of late I came, I know not how, 
  • Embrac’d my fair, and kiss’d her too;
  • It might be wrong; I feel no shame, 
  • And, for the bliss, will bear the blame.
  • The Brightest Beauty of the Plain
  • Fond Callignotus sigh’d and swore, 
  • ‘Tis Violante I adore, 
  • The brightest beauty on the plain, 
  • And she alone my heart shall gain, 
  • He swore; but lover’s vows, they say, 
  • To heav’n could never make their way, 
  • Nor penetrate the bless’d abode, 
  • Nor reach the ears of any God. 
  • While for another maid he burns, 
  • Forsaken Violante mourns
  • Her blasted hopes, her honour gone; 
  • As Megra’s race were once undone.
  • Epitaph for Callimachus
  • Whoe’er with hallow’d feet approaches near, 
  • Behold, Callimachus lies buried here, 
  • I drew my breath from fam’d Cyrene’s shore, 
  • And the same name my son and father bore. 
  • My warlike fire in arms much glory won, 
  • But brighter trophies grac’d his favour’d son; 
  • Lov’d by the tuneful nine he sweetly sung, 
  • And stopt the venom of th’ invidious tongue: 
  • For whom the muse beholds with fav’ring eyes, 
  • In early youth, she’ll ne’er in age despise.
Callimachus

Callimachus (c. 310-240 B.C.) was a Greek poet of the ancient world, also renowned as a scholar and librarian at the equally renowned Library of Alexandria (which housed all the great works of the ancient world at one time before it and the texts were lost to time). His aesthetic theories on poetry had a lasting influence on classical Roman poetry — including that of the Roman greats, Catullus, Vergil, Horace, Propertius and Ovid, and subsequently on Western literature in general. His epigrammatic style also influenced the Roman poet Martial and was marked by a focus on the small and discrete in topic and form — eschewing the longer epic style and themes in fashion during his lifetime.

Art: Papyrus fragment of a poem by Callimachus.

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  • Hymn to Jupiter
  • What force, what sudden impulse thus can make 
  • The laurel-branch, and all the temple shake! 
  • Depart ye souls profane; hence, hence! O fly 
  • Far from this holy place! Apollo’s nigh; 
  • He knocks with gentle foot; The Delian palm 
  • Submissive bends, and breathes a sweeter balm: 
  • Soft swans, high hov’ring catch the auspicious sign, 
  • Wave their white wings, and pour their notes divine. 
  • Ye bolts fly back; ye brazen doors expand, 
  • Leap from your hinges, Phoebus is at hand.
  • When Love and Wine Inspire
  • If sober, and inclin’d to sport, 
  • To you, my fair one, I resort; 
  • The still-forbidden bliss to prove, 
  • Accuse me then, and blame my love. 
  • But if to rashness I incline, 
  • Accuse me not, but blame the wine: 
  • When Love and Wine at once inspire, 
  • What mortal can control his fire. 
  • Of late I came, I know not how, 
  • Embrac’d my fair, and kiss’d her too;
  • It might be wrong; I feel no shame, 
  • And, for the bliss, will bear the blame.
  • The Brightest Beauty of the Plain
  • Fond Callignotus sigh’d and swore, 
  • ‘Tis Violante I adore, 
  • The brightest beauty on the plain, 
  • And she alone my heart shall gain, 
  • He swore; but lover’s vows, they say, 
  • To heav’n could never make their way, 
  • Nor penetrate the bless’d abode, 
  • Nor reach the ears of any God. 
  • While for another maid he burns, 
  • Forsaken Violante mourns
  • Her blasted hopes, her honour gone; 
  • As Megra’s race were once undone.
  • Epitaph for Callimachus
  • Whoe’er with hallow’d feet approaches near, 
  • Behold, Callimachus lies buried here, 
  • I drew my breath from fam’d Cyrene’s shore, 
  • And the same name my son and father bore. 
  • My warlike fire in arms much glory won, 
  • But brighter trophies grac’d his favour’d son; 
  • Lov’d by the tuneful nine he sweetly sung, 
  • And stopt the venom of th’ invidious tongue: 
  • For whom the muse beholds with fav’ring eyes, 
  • In early youth, she’ll ne’er in age despise.
Callimachus

Callimachus (c. 310-240 B.C.) was a Greek poet of the ancient world, also renowned as a scholar and librarian at the equally renowned Library of Alexandria (which housed all the great works of the ancient world at one time before it and the texts were lost to time). His aesthetic theories on poetry had a lasting influence on classical Roman poetry — including that of the Roman greats, Catullus, Vergil, Horace, Propertius and Ovid, and subsequently on Western literature in general. His epigrammatic style also influenced the Roman poet Martial and was marked by a focus on the small and discrete in topic and form — eschewing the longer epic style and themes in fashion during his lifetime.

Art: Papyrus fragment of a poem by Callimachus.

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