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Insubstantial Voices: Some Observations on the Hymns of Callimachus1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

M. Annette Harder
University of Groningen


The hymns of Callimachus are generally divided into two groups: the ‘mimetic’ hymns (2, 5 and 6), which seem to be enactments of ritual scenes, and the ‘nonmimetic’ hymns (1,3 and 4), which seem to follow the pattern of the Homeric hymns. Occasionally this distinction has been challenged, for instance by pointing to an' element of mimesis in H. 1, but on the whole the division into two groups has been 1 adhered to rather rigidly. A drawback of this distinction is that it seems to prevent further insight into an important aspect of Callimachus' poetic technique. I think that there is in fact a subtle play with various aspects of diegesis and mimesis which pervades the whole collection of hymns and gives it a certain unity, because it draws attention to the way in which narratives or descriptions are presented in the hymns. Although the emphasis on mimesis or diegesis may vary, none of the hymns can be regarded as diegetic in all its aspects and there is a great deal of fluctuation between, the two modes of presentation both within the collection and within the individual hymns.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1992

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2 As to all the hymns of Callimachus it has been established long ago and is now generally agreed that these hymns are not cult-hymns or otherwise meant for serious religious performance. Cf. e.g. Legrand, Ph.-E., ‘Problèmes alexandrins I: Pourquoi furent composes les hymnes de Callimaque?’, REA 3 (1901), 281312CrossRefGoogle Scholar; von Wilamowitz, U., Hellenistische Dichtung (Berlin, 1924), p. 15Google Scholar. On the mimetic hymns see the discussions – and references to earlier literature – in Bulloch, A. W., Callimachus. The Fifth Hymn (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 4fGoogle Scholar. and Hopkinson (n. 1), p. 37. The most recent work on this subject is Albert, W., Das mimetische Gedicht in der Antike (Frankfurt am Main, 1988)Google Scholar. For a survey of the elements of the Homeric hymns see e.g. Janko, R., ‘The Structure of the Homeric Hymns’, Hermes 109 (1981), 924Google Scholar; on the distinction between cult-hymns and the Homeric hymns also Miller, A. M.. From Delos to Delphi (Mnem. Suppl. 93) (Leiden, 1986), pp. 1ffGoogle Scholar. A different view is taken by Cairns, F., Tibullus (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 121ffGoogle Scholar. (with references to earlier publications), who regards the hymns as choric hymns with the speaker ‘a mobile compound of chorus, chorus-leader and poet’ (p. 121) as in Pindar.

3 See the references in n. 25.

4 For a definition of these terms see 2.

5 Diegetic: e.g. fr. 75 (with a strongly personified narrator; see Harder, M. A., ‘Untrodden Paths: Where Do they Lead?’, HSCPh 93 (1990), 287309)Google Scholar; mimetic: fr. 64, 97 (?), 110 (monologues of fictional characters fixed in time and space); fr. 114 (dialogue of fictional, character with a statue; not located with certainty in a specific book of the Aetia, but likely to be from book 3; cf. Pfeiffer, R., Callimachus, i (Oxford, 1949), p.129).Google Scholar

6 I consider it as likely that Callimachus himself arranged the collection of the hymns in the order of our manuscript tradition. Cf. e.g. Pfeiffer, R., Callimachus, ii (Oxford, 1953), p. liiiGoogle Scholar; Hopkinson (n. 1), p. 13.

7 In a complex poet like Callimachus this is only one aspect of the treatment of mimetic elements in the hymns. Research as to the exact relation of the mimetic elements in Callimachus' hymns to the hints of mimesis in the Homeric hymns and the conventions of choral lyric could also be profitable, but I have left that out of account for the time being.

8 Cf. Pfister, M., Das Drama (Munich, 1988 5), p. 24Google Scholar on dramatic dialogue as ‘gesprochene Handlung’.

9 For criticisms of Albert's theory see also the reviews of Schenkeveld, D. M., Mnem. IV 43 (1990), 460–2Google Scholar; Barchiesi, A.. RFIC 118 (1990), 327–9.Google Scholar

10 I use the terms ‘diegetic’ and ‘mimetic’ rather than ‘narrative’ and ‘dramatic’ in order to prevent confusion when I speak about the ‘narrative/descriptive parts’ of the hymns. With both terms, diegesis and mimesis, I refer only to the communicative situation.

11 Cf. also Stanzel, F. K., Die Theorie des Erzählens (Göttingen, 1979), pp. 285f.Google Scholar

12 Cf. Pfister (n. 8), pp. 190f. on ‘Aktionale vs. nicht-aktionale Monologe’.

13 These audiences are not answering and remain rather indefinite, though we get some general idea as to their identity (in H. 5 and 6 they are women watching a procession; in H. 2 people present at a religious event).

14 ‘Tragic aorist’ of the emotion just conceived at the beginning of the music; cf. Gerth, R. Kühner-B., Ausführliche Grammatik der ghechischen Sprache, i (Hannover/Leipzig, 1898), pp. 163–5Google Scholar. A similar reference to the behaviour of the audience is found in Theoc. 2.59ff. where it can be inferred from the text that Thestylis has obeyed her mistress' orders and in la. fr. 191.32ff., where a member of the audience is behaving badly.

15 Cf. also hHom. 3.25 ἦ ὥс сε πρ⋯τον Λητὼ τ⋯κε and 214f. ἤ ὡс τò πρ⋯τον…κατ⋯ γαῖανἔβηс ⋯κατηβóλ' Ἄπολλον; both in passages in which the narrator is also self-consciously wondering what to sing from a wide range of song about Apollo (cf. 19 π⋯с γ⋯ρ с' ὑμν⋯сωπ⋯ντωс εὔυμνον ⋯óντα; and 207 π⋯с τἄρ с' ὑμν⋯ωс π⋯ντωс εὓυμνον ⋯óντα;). See further Miller (n. 2), pp. 22ff. on the ‘dramatisation’ of the singer's choice in these lines. The device of the polymnia of the object to which the song is devoted is also found in choral lyric (e.g. Pi. H. I fr. 29) and in H. 2 (see 4). For ὡс indicating a summary from an existing song cf. also Od. 8.76 ὣс ποτε… and Marg, W., Homer über die Dichtung (Orbis Antiquus 11) (Münster, 1957), pp. 11f.Google Scholar

16 For this use of γ⋯ρ-clauses in the Iliad as part of the interaction between the narrator and his addressee see de Jong, I. J. F., Narrators and Focalizers (Amsterdam, 1987), pp. 91ffGoogle Scholar. with notes. Cf. also Pi. P. 4.67ff. ⋯πò δ' αὐτòν ⋯γὼ Mο⋯сαιсι δὡсω|καì τò π⋯γχρυсον ν⋯κοс κριο⋯; μετ⋯ γ⋯ρ|κεῖνο πλευс⋯ντων Μινυ⋯ν, where γ⋯ρ is introducing a parenthesis explaining Pindar's choice of subject for this ode; cf. Braswell, B. K., A Commentary on the Fourth Pythian Ode of Pindar (Berlin/New York, 1988) ad he.Google Scholar; Denniston, J. D., The Greek Particles (Oxford, 1954 2), p. 65.Google Scholar

17 Cf. e.g. Block, E., ‘The Narrator Speaks. Apostrophe in Homer and Vergil’, TAPhA 112 (1982), 722Google Scholar; Korte, B., ‘Das Du im Erzähltext’, Poetica 19 (1987), 169–89Google Scholar (esp. pp. 174ff.).

18 On the idea that the poet is a mouthpiece of the Muses, which must be behind this passage, see e.g. Bornmann, F., Callimachi Hymnus in Dianam (Florence, 1968)Google Scholar, on H. 3.186; Gow, A. S. F., Theocritus (Cambridge, 1950), on 22.116ffGoogle Scholar. (more examples and lit.); on poetic inspiration in general see e.g. Murray, P., ‘Poetic Inspiration in Early Greece’, JHS 101 (1981), 87100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

19 Cf. e.g. Braswell (n. 16), on Pi. P. 4.71 (e).

20 Cf. Denniston (n. 16), pp. 109f.

21 These fictional characters are not altogether easy to define (and may be man or woman). Cf. e.g. McKay, K. J., The Poet at Play (Mnem. Suppl. 6) (Leiden, 1962), p. 51Google Scholar. In H. 2 we may suppose that the speaker is someone with special connections with Apollo and Cyrene; in H. 5 and 6 there are reasons to suppose the character is a woman (so McKay). We must not identify these characters simply with Callimachus (so still Hutchinson, G. O., Hellenistic Poetry [Oxford, 1988], pp. 67fGoogle Scholar. about H. 2).

22 Cf. Stanzel (n. 11), pp. 212f.; Williams, F., Callimachus. Hymn to Apollo (Oxford, 1978)Google Scholar, on H. 2.7; Bulloch (n. 2) on H. 5.2; Hopkinson (n. 1), on H. 6.1–4.

23 E.g. hHom. 6.2 ἃιсομαι.

24 Cf. H. 4.1 τ⋯να χρóνον…⋯ε⋯сειс and 9 Δἠλωι ν⋯ν οἳμηс ⋯ποδ⋯ссομαι. For a somewhat different interpretation see Mineur, W. H., Callimachus. Hymn to Delos (Mnem. Suppl. 83) (Leiden, 1984)Google Scholar, ad loc.; Wilamowitz (n. 2), p. 62 n. 1 seems to suggest that τινα χρóνον may refer to a specific festival, comparing Pi. Pae. 6.5 ⋯ν ζαθ⋯ωι…χρóνωι (referring to the Theoxenia; cf. Radt, S. L., Pindars zweiler und sechster Paian [Amsterdam, 1958]. ad loc.).Google Scholar

25 Cf. McLennan, G. R., Callimachus. Hymn to Zeus (Rome, 1977), ad loc.Google Scholar; Hopkinson, N., ‘Callimachus' Hymn to Zeus’, CQ 34 (1984), 139–48, esp. p. 139CrossRefGoogle Scholar: ‘The roles of both poet (author ? ‘declaimer’? ‘master of ceremonies’?) and reader (‘audience’? ‘participant’?) are left ill defined by this slight hint of “mimesis”…There will be no further clue’. More outspoken is Wilamowitz (n. 2), p. 1: ‘damit ist gleich gesagt, dass wir uns bei der Spende Διòс Сωτ⋯ροс befinden, also bei einem Symposion’.

26 Examples in the Aetia are e.g. the elaborate source-indication in fr. 75.53ff. and the device of the dialogue with the Muses in Aetia 1–2. See further Harder, M. A., ‘Callimachus and the Muses: Some Aspects of Narrative Technique in Aetia 1–2’, Prometheus 14 (1988), 114Google Scholar; Harder (n. 5), pp. 302f.

27 A few examples may illustrate the narrator's perspective: (1) the narrator makes it clear at once that he is not confined to the time or place of the story. Cf. H. 5.57 ἔν ποκα Θ⋯βαιс; 6.24f ἔτι Δὠτιον ἱρòν ἔναιον|…Πελασγοί (in H. 5.137 the return to the dramatic framework is marked by the words ἔρχετ' Ἀθανα⋯α ⋯τρεκ⋯с, which seem to underline the distance between the ritual reality and the story just told; cf. Hutchinson [n. 21], 34; Bulloch [n. 2], ad loc.); (2) the narrator knows what goes on in the minds of the characters. Cf. e.g. H. 5.57–67 (Athena's feelings for Chariclo); 6.72f. (the shame of Erysichthon's parents); (3) the narrator can anticipate the future. Cf. e.g. H. 5.68 ⋯λλ' ἔτι καì τ⋯ναν δ⋯κρυα πóλλ' ἕμενε.

28 Williams (n. 22), ad loc. calls 32–96 ‘the hymn proper’, but this is not very helpful: it may say something about the contents of the passage, but not about the form.

29 For other examples of stories embedded in a dramatic monologue in Hellenistic poetry cf. Theoc. 2 (Simaetha's attempts to get her lover Delphis back are presented in a dramatic monologue, which contains the story of her love-affair with him; here the internal perspective is adhered to throughout, so that the transition to the actual story is easier than in Callimachus' hymns); Call. la. fr. 191.31ff. (the story of the cup of Bathycles is inserted into a dramatic monologue addressed by Hipponax redivivus to an audience of philologists). In Call. ΠANNϒXIC fr. 227 (a lyrical poem) we find a dramatic monologue, but there are no indications that this poem contained a narrative part, although the Diegesis leaves open the possibility that there was a story of Helen included. Cf. Dieg. 10.6–9 (1.217 Pfeiffer) Παρο⋯νιονεἰс τοὺс Διοсκο⋯ρουc. καì ‘Ελ⋯νην ὑηνεῖ, κα⋯ παρακαλεῖ τ⋯ν θυс⋯αν δ⋯ξαсθαι κα⋯ προτροπ⋯ τοῖс сυμπóταс εἰс τò ⋯γρυπνεῖν. It is conceivable that the tale of Helen was inserted between fr. 227.21–2 and 3ff., where an unknown amount of lines is lost (cf. Pfeiffer [n. 5], on If.).

30 Cf. also Od. 12.389f. τα⋯τα δ' ⋯γὼν ἣκουсα Καλυψο⋯с ἠυ..κóμοιο. | ⋯ δ' ἕφη Ἑρμε⋯αο διακτóρπου αὐτ⋯ ⋯κο⋯сαι (Odysseus, in his tale to the Phaeacians, accounting for his knowledge of a dialogue between Zeus and Helius on Olympus in the much-disputed passage Od. 12.374–90) and Suerbaum, W., ‘Die Ich-Erzählungen des Odysseus’, Poetica 2 (1968), 150–77, esp. pp. 157ffGoogle Scholar. On the new concepts of poets and poetry in the Odyssey as compared to the Iliad see also Fraenkel, H., Dichtung und Philosophie (Munich, 1962), pp. 6ff.Google Scholar; Maehler, H., Die Auffassung des Dichterberufs im friihen Griechentum bis zur Zeit Pindars (Hypomnemata 3) (Göttingen, 1963), pp. 21ffGoogle Scholar. On this passage and Od. 8.7.73ff. (the first song of Demodocus) see also Marg (n. 15), pp. 1 If. A similar idea is present in PI. Ion 534e–535a where a line of transmission from gods to poets to rhapsodes is mentioned.

31 Explanations (e.g. 47f. ν⋯сωι ⋯ν⋯ Αιπ⋯ρηι [Λιπ⋯ρη ν⋯ον, ⋯λλ⋯ τóτ' ἔсκεν|οὔνομ⋯ οἱ Μελιγουν⋯с]); first person (e.g. 136f. πóτνια, τ⋯ν εἴη μ⋯ν ⋯μο⋯ φ⋯λοс ⋯сτιс ⋯ληθ⋯с|εἴην δ'αὐτóс, ἄναссα, μ⋯λοι δ⋯ μοι αἰ⋯ν ⋯οιδ⋯); time-indications (e.g. 77 εἰс⋯τι κα⋯ ν⋯ν); references to spokesmen (e.g. 198f. ⋯ροс δ' ὃθεν ἥλατο νύμφη|Δικταîον καλ⋯ουсιν); exclamation (255 ἆδειλòс βαсιλ⋯ων, ὅcον ἤλιτεν).

32 So e.g. 44f. (pleasure of Kairotos and Tethys); 81ff. (Artemis' speech to the Cyclopes at Lipara); 103f. (Artemis addressing herself while hunting); 144ff. (Heracles waiting at Olympus for Artemis' spoils and urging her to hunt pigs and cows).

33 Questions – some of them ‘rhetorical’ – (1ff., 4ff., 62f, 75, 92f.); references to sources (e.g. 13f. and 60f.); time-indications (e.g. 18ff.); first person singular or plural (e.g. 65). In the farewell at the end (91–6) a personal note has been detected (cf. McLennan [n. 25], ad loc), though the phrasing is largely conventional and there is a great deal of play with the endings of the Homeric hymns.

34 The omniscient perspective is essential for the story of Leto, which, like the career of Artemis in H. 3, involves a great deal of travelling and also a long speech of her unborn son from the womb (162–95).

35 Cf. Mineur (n. 24), pp. 6f. The Du-Stil is proper to a hymn which is addressed to a god or goddess. It does, however, imply an unusual narrative situation, as the narrator is not addressing a reader. Cf. Korte (n. 17), passim.

36 This fragment is quoted in Σ Dion. Per. 1 in a context which makes it clear that the j scholiast believes that Dionysius refers to the Muses because he rejects τò ⋯μ⋯ρτυρον and regards them as a guarantee of truth. The Muses are one of the means Callimachus uses to underline the truth of his stories, but he clearly uses many other means as well and may have said the words in relation to one of those (cf. also Pfeiffer [n. 5], ad loc., who rightly says that the fragment need not be from the prologue of the Aetia).

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