Visualizing the impossible: the wandering landscape in the Delos Hymn of Callimachus
L’Hymne à Délos de Callimaque présente l’une des descriptions les plus étonnantes de l’Antiquité d’un paysage personnifié. Cet article s’attache à deux aspects de la représentation pour ainsi dire surréaliste de Callimaque. Premièrement, j’étudie de manière assez détaillée les conventions et les concepts de la poésie antérieure que Callimaque utilise et détourne pour créer sa propre image d’un paysage mouvant et animé. Je m’intéresse en particulier aux personnifications des éléments géographiques et aux expressions métaphoriques ou métonymiques que l’on trouve dans la poésie archaïque. Deuxièmement, je me demande si nous pouvons restituer l’effet que le renversement de telles conventions a pu avoir sur le lectorat ancien de Callimaque. Cela nécessite que je prenne en considération les théories qui concernent la visualisation (energeia) et la plausibilité (pithanotès) développées dans les anciens traités poétiques et rhétoriques, qui étaient connues ou qui se sont développées dans l’environnement lettré de Callimaque, au Musée d’Alexandrie au IIIème siècle avant J.-C. Afin de mieux comprendre les problèmes posés par l’Hymne à Délos, j’évoque aussi quelques appréciations critiques modernes du poème.
Mots clés :Callimaque, Hymne à Délos, enargeia, surréalisme, personnification, métaphore, plausibilité, theorie littéraire, paysage, espace
Keywords :Callimachus, Delos Hymn, enargeia, Surrealism, personnification, metaphor, plausibility, literary theory, landscape space
Parole Chiave :Callimaco, Inno a Delo, enargeia, surrealismo, personificazione, metafora, plausibilità, teoria letteraria, paesaggio, spazio
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Notes de l’auteur
I am grateful to the members of the Amsterdamse Hellenistenclub, as well as to the members of the young classical discussion club for their remarks on this paper. Needless to say, all remaining mistakes are my own.
- 1 “Über das Spielerische bei Kallimachos”, in B. Snell, Die Entdeckung des Geistes: Studien zur (...)
1Callimachus has often been characterized as a “playful” poet: he plays with traditions, and with the expectations of his readers. This is the trait B. Snell focuses on in his influential essay Über das Spielerische bei Kallimachos.1
Kallimachos steigert das Spielerische seines Dichtens gern dadurch, dass er den Naiven spielt. (…) Die alten Mythen, die er nicht mehr für wahr halt (…) erzählt er, als ob er sie kindlich ernst nähme; das ist eine der eigentümlichsten Formen seines Witzes. (p. 249)
- 2 As is generally recognized, the Hymn thus provides an aetiology for the name of the isl (...)
- 3 On the panegyric side of this Hymn, see in particular P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99. Cl (...)
- 4 See on this Hymn especially E. Cahen, Les hymnes de Callimaque, Paris, 1930; P. Bing, C (...)
2To illustrate Callimachus’ simulated naivety, B. Snell cites the example of Callimachus’ fourth Hymn (to Delos), which tells of the birth of Apollo on the island Delos. Besides the amusing image of the island Delos freely floating over the seas as the fancy takes her, trailing seaweeds in her wake (35-50),2 and a highly remarkable prophecy by the unborn Apollo about the future birth site of King Ptolemy Philadelphus (160-195),3 this unusual poem contains a striking passage in which the landscape becomes an energetic actor in the plot (70-150). Terrified by the threats of a jealous Hera, mountains, rivers and whole regions take to their heels and flee the expectant mother Leto, who is in search for a haven to bring Apollo into the world.4 Finally wandering Leto meets the swimming isle of Delos, and both can come to rest: Delos becomes immobile, and Apollo is born. It is this poem which I wish to discuss here, and in particular the passage in which the landscape flees as Leto approaches.
- 5 For convenience’s sake I speak of Callimachus’ “reader”, although we cannot know for certain (...)
3I wish to address two aspects of Callimachus’ representation of the landscape in this poem. First, I will look in some detail at conventions and concepts from earlier poetry that Callimachus uses and abuses to create his peculiar picture, in particular personifications of the landscape and metaphorical or metonymical expressions. Secondly I will ask whether we can reconstruct the effect that overturning these conventions may have had on Callimachus’ ancient readers.5 This entails looking at theories concerning visualization (ἐνάργεια) and plausibility (πιθανότης) from ancient literary and rhetorical treatises known to or originating in the learned environment of Callimachus, the Alexandrian Museum of the third century BC.
- 6 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 13.
4The basis for Callimachus’ surprising representation of the landscape is already created in lines 1-6:6
Τὴν ἱερήν, ὦ θυμέ, τίνα χρόνον †ηποτ† ἀείσεις
Δῆλον Ἀπόλλωνος κουροτρόφον; ἦ μὲν ἅπασαι
Κυκλάδες, αἳ νήσων ἱερώταται εἰν ἁλὶ κεῖνται,
εὔυμνοι·Δῆλος δ’ ἐθέλει τὰ πρῶτα φέρεσθαι
ἐκ Μουσέων, ὅτι Φοῖβον ἀοιδάων μεδέοντα
λοῦσέ τε καὶ σπείρωσε καὶ ὡς θεὸν ᾔνεσε πρώτη
- 7 Translations are my own, unless otherwise specified.
My heart, when will you sing of sacred Delos, Apollo’s nurse? Of course, all the Cyclades that lie as the most sacred of islands in the sea deserve to be hymned. But Delos desires to receive the first prize from the Muses, because she washed and swathed Apollo, the patron of singers, and first praised him as a god.7
- 8 Cf. e.g. Ithaca in Od. 9.27, Hellas in Eur. Tro. 566.
- 9 This is the task attributed to anthropomorphic goddesses in one of the poem’s archaic model t (...)
5Here Delos is initially called Ἀπόλλωνος κουροτρόφον (Apollo’s nurse). In first instance, this rather standard epithet for regions or islands can easily be interpreted metaphorically,8 especially in combination with the mention of the Cyclades as islands in line 3. However, lines 5 and 6 where it is told how Delos “washed and swathed Phoebus”, are pretty hard to interpret metaphorically.9 With hindsight this modifies the interpretation of line 2, and finishes by causing confusion: is Delos and island or a nymph? Or is she perhaps both, and how this double identity to be imagined?
6To get a clear focus on this and similar problems which the Delos Hymn presents, I will now survey some critical appraisals of the poem.
- 10 In this paper I focus in particular on Callimachus’ representation, not on the (pos (...)
- 11 An exception is W. H. Mineur, Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, op. cit. Although he says that th (...)
7The Delos Hymn – in particular its representation of the wandering landscape (70-150) – has been the subject of ongoing scholarly comment.10 Mostly, modern critics feel uneasy about the episode, recognizing that the scene Callimachus presents his readers with is not only impossible, but also impossible to visualize.11 How does this work? We will look in some detail at the following illustrative verses, where the expectant mother Leto approaches several places, but the landscape is afraid to receive her, fearing Hera’s punishment:
φεῦγε μὲν Ἀρκαδίη, φεῦγεν δ’ ὄρος ἱερὸν Αὔγης
Παρθένιον, φεῦγεν δ’ ὁ γέρων μετόπισθε Φενειός,
φεῦγε δ’ ὅλη Πελοπηῒς ὅση παρακέκλιται Ἰσθμῷ,
ἔμπλην Αἰγιαλοῦ γε καὶ Ἄργεος· οὐ γὰρ ἐκείνας
ἀτραπιτοὺς ἐπάτησεν, ἐπεὶ λάχεν Ἴναχον Ἥρη.
φεῦγε καὶ Ἀονίη τὸν ἕνα δρόμον, αἱ δ’ ἐφέποντο
Δίρκη τε Στροφίη τε μελαμψήφιδος ἔχουσαι
Ἰσμηνοῦ χέρα πατρός, ὁ δ’ εἵπετο πολλὸν ὄπισθεν
Ἀσωπὸς βαρύγουνος, ἐπεὶ πεπάλακτο κεραυνῷ.
- 12 See E. Cahen, Les hymnes de Callimaque, op. cit., and P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, (...)
Arcadia fled, and the holy mountain of Auge, Parthenion, and old Pheneius fled behind, and the whole Pelopeïs bordering on Isthmus fled, except for Aegialus and Argos. They were no paths for Leto’s feet, Inachos being Hera’s territory. And Aonia too fled the same way, and Dirce and Strophia followed her, holding the hands of their swarthy-pebbled father, Ismenus, and way behind followed Asopus, heavy-kneed since he had been blackened12 by lightning. (Hymn to Delos 70-8)
- 13 See e.g. W. Abraham, A Linguistic Approach to Metaphor, Lisse, 1975, p. 28; S. Levi (...)
- 14 Or again (going one step back), that in this construction of the verb φεύγω, Arcadia is met (...)
8As we can see, the problem with visualization is mainly due to the passage’s deliberate ambivalence: we cannot definitively decide how to picture the fleeing localities. This complex effect slowly builds up. Initially Callimachus uses the predicate φεῦγε with the inanimate subjects Arcadia, Mt Parthenion, the river Pheneius, and the region Pelopeïs (except Aegialus and Argos). Semantically speaking, this violates the so-called selection restrictions of the verb φεύγω, which requires an animate subject that is able to move.13 Because this leads to a normally speaking semantically incompatible combination or deviant sentence, a reader, recognizing that he is dealing with the language of poetry, will necessarily modify his expectations in some way to make sense of it. Perhaps initially he will believe that Arcadia is meant metonymically, i.e. as standing for “the inhabitants of Arcadia”, who may of course flee. But then the appearance of Mt Parthenion and the river Pheneius (who cannot in the same way stand for inhabitants) will make clear that this is not the right interpretation. Two other possibilities for interpretation open up. First, he may posit that the verb φεύγω is used in another sense, e.g. that an infinitive of a verb like “to welcome, to receive” was to follow, and that we are therefore dealing with some kind of (relatively unobtrusive) personification, pathetic fallacy or metaphor.14 But no such infinitive follows. Another possible interpretation is that the reader imagines the geographical locales as fully anthropomorphic personifications, i.e. as animate, human and able to move. He may now think of examples from Hellenistic art, where rivers were generally portrayed as bearded men holding cornucopiae with streaming water, and springs as nymphs with reeds in their hair and the like.
9Eventually even this way of interpreting the passages does not hold, for if we look at the descriptions of the rivers Ismenus and Asopus, it is in fact far from clear whether we are to imagine them as anthropomorphic creatures or as real rivers. The images and verbs used to describe their actions constantly, and as I argue, deliberately, contradict each other on this point. Thus Ismenus is “swarthy-pebbled” (76), which evokes his river-like qualities, but in the same phrase he also has hands, which his daughters, the springs Dirce and Strophia, may hold while the trio flees the approach of Leto. The fact in itself that these springs are called Ismenus’ daughters and hold hands with their father might on one level perhaps be understood as a metaphor: as springs they could be (or be fed by) branches – to use the English metaphor – of the river, and thus metaphorically be envisaged as his children, holding his hands. Yet, on another level, surely the passage has to be interpreted quite literally, since, as noted, Dirce and Strophia are apparently able to get up and run away together with their father.
10It may moreover be noted that the episode of the fleeing localities not only presents us with the difficulty of deciding between visualizing geographical landmarks or anthropomorphic creatures. It also conjures up the strange and disconcerting question what happens if mountains and rivers simply walk away: what is left in their place, bare mother Earth, or rather the gaping void (Greek χάος, cf. LSJ 4)? Is the entire map simply rearranged? How can the poet map her journey if geography has collectively taken to its heels?
- 15 U. v. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Hellenistische Dichtung in der Zeit des Kallimachos. 2. Vol. (...)
11Such problems are what U. von Wilamowitz was referring to when he judged that the representation of the landscape in the Delos Hymn leads to “Vorstellungen, die man sich nicht ausdenken soll”15; perhaps it would have been even more correct if he had used the verb “kann”, for as I shall argue, it would seem that Callimachus is really defying his reader’s ability to imagine what he is describing, all the while tantalizingly inviting him nevertheless to try. In a similar vein, T. B. L. Webster, who seems rather bored with this hymn in general (“the longest and perhaps the least interesting”) comments:
- 16 T. B. L. Webster, Hellenistic Poetry and Art, London, 1964, p. 112. The point T. B. L. Webs (...)
There seems to be a contradiction between this conception of islands that run away [in 159] and the other conception of Delos as the wandering island among fixed islands (190 ff.). Presumably Kallimachos would answer that the island nymph is not bound to her island, as when the islands dance around Delos, but the juxtaposition of the conceptions is unfortunate and perhaps argues a lack of visual imagination of the poet. (italics mine)16
- 17 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 12.
- 18 A. W. Bulloch, “The Future of a Hellenistic Illusion. Some observations on Callimachus and (...)
- 19 In this context, it may be noted that the episode of the fleeing localities not only presen (...)
12More recently P. Bing, who credits Callimachus with some more poetic ability, says that “Callimachus toys with the reader’s phantasy [sic], leaving him delightfully uncertain… in this way he creates a sense of utter chaos”17; while A. W. Bulloch calls the episode “the product of a very bizarre and one might say frenzied imagination”. 18 All these appraisals have in common their recognition that the poet has, deliberately or otherwise, created something that readers have difficulty visualizing.19
- 20 F. Williams, “Callimachus and the Supranormal”, op. cit., p. 117-225.
- 21 G. Zanker, Realism in Alexandrian Poetry, Kent, 1987, p. 3, n. 6.
- 22 Op. cit., p. 224. M. Depew, “Delian Hymns and Callimachean Allusion”, op. cit., p. 166, als (...)
- 23 F. Williams, “Callimachus and the Supranormal”, op. cit., p. 225, citing H. Osborne (...)
- 24 A. W. Bulloch, “The Future of a Hellenistic Illusion…”, op. cit., p. 218, stresses the (...)
13Taking up the idea of visualization in a more specific direction, F. Williams20 uses the poem to undermine G. Zanker’s influential thesis that in general Hellenistic poetry “takes care to remain faithful to our experience of nature or reality and avoids offending our sense of what is credible”.21 G. Zanker subsumes this striving of the Hellenistic poets under the header of “(pictorial) realism”, a term which he takes from the visual arts. As anyone can see, remaining faithful to our experience of nature is indeed far from anything Callimachus is doing in the Delos Hymn. F. Williams’ conclusion therefore is that Callimachus aims not at realism, but rather “if we must appropriate technical terms from the visual arts”, at Surrealism.22 The definition F. Williams provides of Surrealism makes this proposal somewhat problematic: “[Surrealism seeks] to explore the frontiers of experience and to broaden the logical and matter-of-fact view of reality by fusing it with the instinctual, subconscious and dream experience in order to achieve an absolute or ‘super’ reality”.23 This emphasis on the Freudian instinctual, subconscious and irrational does no justice to the erudite, philologically inspired games with poetical convention that Callimachus is playing, as I will argue.24 Moreover, I do not think that Callimachus is trying to achieve an absolute or super reality, but rather trying to show up the contradictions inherent in earlier poetic representations of animated landscapes.
- 25 Interestingly, this idea of the use of metaphors as a way to reach insight in reality is co (...)
14Despite this, it is interesting to note that there is in fact a linguistic current in Surrealism akin in procedure if not perhaps in aims to Callimachus’ poetic practice here. Surrealism was not a movement in the visual arts only but also, quite emphatically, a literary one. André Breton, in his Manifeste du Surréalisme (Paris, 1930 ), focuses on the central importance of language, and in particular metaphor, for this artistic movement. The Surrealists wished “to convince themselves that [they] had got [their] hands on the ‘prime matter’ of language” (A. Breton, op. cit., p. 299). For A. Breton, language shapes the way humans experience reality. If one therefore experiments with language, transforming and deregulating it (a process he calls l’alchimie du verbe, to be reached e.g. through the practice of écriture automatique), one may arrive at new insights in, or even change, reality.25 As I. Hedges shows in an analysis of Breton’s automatic writing, and of the surrealists’ favorite game ‘l’un dans l’autre’ (describing an object in terms of analogies that the other players had to decode), metaphor, as a process, plays an important role in the language experiments of Surrealism:
- 26 I. Hedges, “Surrealist Metaphor: Frame Theory and Componential Analysis”, Poetics Today 4 ( (...)
A metaphor calls upon the constructive mental activity of the reader who must try to make sense out of word combinations which he or she knows to be semantically incompatible. If there are sufficient contextual cues, the reader will be able to grasp the knowledge conveyed by the metaphor, otherwise, he or she will be left with the impression of linguistic nonsense.26
15The aim of surrealism, then, is to construct, and induce readers to construct, new (perceptions of) reality by offering them semantically incompatible phrases, which they will try to construe the way one usually construes metaphors in everyday or poetic language. Lacking a manifesto, we can only guess at Callimachus’ aims. It seems however that Callimachus too deliberately sets up incompatible semantic combinations, taunting his reader to make sense of them – but then he makes all his attempts to fit the information into a coherent whole flounder. This points towards a meditation on the relation between language and reality: there simply is no consistent way to combine the data that Callimachus’ sentences convey. In our reality, Ismenus cannot be a swarthy-pebbled river and an anxiously fleeing man at the same time; nor Delos a caring nymph and a barren island. This causes something of short-circuit in the mind, and the reader is left perplexed and, as we have seen, in some cases rather irritated.
- 27 M. Haslam, “Callimachus’ Hymns”, p. 114, in M. A. Harder, R. F. Regtuit, G. C. Wakker (ed.) (...)
- 28 W. H. Mineur, Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, op. cit., p. 107.
16Returning to the substance of the Delos Hymn, Callimachus’ representation of the landscape has amongst others been defined as the result of a “metaphor extravagantly reified”,27 and a “consistent personification”28. In my view both qualifications are not entirely correct, although both are clearly not widely off the mark either. First, let me explain why I think M. Haslam’s claim is mistaken. A metaphor, in the current explanation of this trope, is an analogy between two objects or ideas, conveyed by the use of one word instead of another. Thus, the phrase “the mountain walks” may normally be construed as meaning “it is as if the mountain walks”, for instance, because it is shaking in an earthquake. This means that the meaning of the verb “to walk” is as it were modified according to context, to fit the inanimate subject “the mountain”. Of course it is also possible that the process works the other way around, e.g. “the mountain” might refer to a huge person; in this case the noun is given the quality “animate” to fit the verb “to walk”.
17It is hard to see how we can reify a similar statement as it involves no abstractions; the correct phrase would presumably be “take literally”. However, is this really what is going on in the Delos Hymn? That depends on how we interpret the backgrounds of Callimachus’ creation; if we believe that he is only taking metaphors about the landscape literally, we might agree with M. Haslam. But Callimachus’ images are more complex; the separate concept of personification, as I have already hinted and will explore in detail below, also plays an important role in their making.
- 29 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 104, recognizes this and li (...)
- 30 For the seminal discussion of metaphor in antiquity, see Aristotle, Poet. 1457b-145 (...)
18Nevertheless, it is true that Callimachus indeed does play on some conventional metaphors regarding landscape, and through his use of them invites his readers to take them literally.29 He is able to do this because several terms originally indicating body parts were, in ancient Greek usage as in English today, also applicable to geographical features (“the brow of a hill”, “the foot of the mountain” etc.). 30 This is what Callimachus plays on to create ambivalent expressions like 48-49 νήσοιο διάβροχον ὕδατι μαστόν / Παρθενίης (the well-watered breast of the Maiden Island). He combines the notion of a female bosom as metaphor for a jutting cliff with the associations called forth by the obsolete name for Samos, Parthenia. Thus, this particular use of metaphor is linked in a creative way to the archaic Greek belief that localities, seas, mountains, rivers and cities had their indigenous demons, nymphs or gods or, which is perhaps not entirely the same thing, that they could be “personified”.’
- 31 On personification in Greek thought see e.g. T. B. L. Webster, “Personification as (...)
19This last matter, personnification, is a complex issue.31 I will here limit myself to the area of personifications of the landscape (personifications of abstractions, like Virtue, Peace or Death are of course also frequent). Personification of the landscape in itself might be said to fall into two separate areas, both of which are potentially important here:
- 32 J. Whitman, Allegory: The Dynamics of an Ancient and Mediaeval Technique, Cambridge Mass., (...)
One refers to the practice of giving an actual personality to an abstraction. This practice has its origins in animism and ancient religion, and is called “personification” by modern theorists of religion and anthropology. The other meaning of “personification” (…) is the historical sense of prosopopoeia. This refers to the practice of giving a consciously fictional personality to an abstraction, “impersonating” it. This rhetorical practice requires a separation between the literary pretense of a personality, and the actual state of affairs.32
20In Callimachus’ case one might initially waver between taking the personifications as fictional or actual (i.e. one may doubt whether to take Delos literally as an anthropomorphic “nurse” of Apollo, or merely figuratively speaking, because the island is safe). Indeed, it would seem that Callimachus is deliberately blurring the boundary between the two, with all the inherent paradoxes.
- 33 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 13, notes “[Callimachus pla (...)
21This is partly due to the fact that even in the field of actual religious personification, the state of beliefs among the Greeks is far from clear. We may for instance ask, with regard to river- and mountain gods, or spring nymphs: are all the geographical items they are related to inhabited by deities, or are they one-to-one identifiable with them?33 That is to say: can a river god leave his river, or will any movement of the god, as in Callimachus’ tongue-in-cheek representation, result in a moving of the river as a whole, including water, banks and pebbles?
- 34 To cite only a few of the best known examples: Il. 20.4-9 (rivers and springs come (...)
- 35 On the question whether this text was considered to be one or two hymns in the Hell (...)
- 36 M. Depew, “Delian Hymns and Callimachean Allusion”, op. cit., p. 155-182, discusses (...)
22Greek poetry is populated with a large number of such speaking and feeling, or even singing and dancing mountains and rivers.34 In many cases it is quite unclear what situation is envisaged: a divine being who is strictly speaking at one with the physical shape of the river, mountain or spring, or a demon in human form who “inhabits” the object, but who may also appear as a sort of emanation of this shape, and leave his or her geo-physical shape. Among these, the passages that clearly influenced Callimachus’ portrayal of Leto’s ordeal stem from a number of archaic poems close to his own thematic concerns. They are the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (especially the first or Delian part)35 from which he adapts the journey of Leto in search of a birthplace for Apollo, and Pindar’s Hymn to Zeus (fr. 33c and d Snell-Maehler) and Paean 7b, from which he takes inspiration for his description of the genesis of the island Delos.36
23The Pindaric passages seem to have furnished Callimachus with the idea that Delos had at one time not been firmly rooted to the bottom of the sea. Like Callimachus (36-38), but unlike the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, Pindar tells the myth that the nymph Asteria, seeking to avoid the attentions of Zeus, jumped from the sky and turned into a rocky island, afloat in the seas, later to be fastened to the bottom of the sea and known as Delos (Paean 7b 42-48). In the fragments of the hymn, Pindar relates how she was first prey to the winds, but later became fastened to the bottom of the sea by four adamantine pillars. In Callimachus, she grows roots (54 ποδῶν ἐνεθήκαο ῥίζας) and/or gets a golden basis (260 θεμείλια).
24The Homeric Hymn, on the other hand, provided Callimachus with the image of the localities fearing the approach of Leto, and with the idea of a personified island. With another iunctura callida (as ingenious as his connection of geographical personifications and body part metaphors indicating geographical locales) he combines these two elements from Apollo’s birth myth into a single worldview. In a world where islands swim, one may go one better, and make the normally stable locations flee.
25We will have a closer look at the Homeric Hymn, since here we will be able to identify more clearly where Callimachus’ elaborate play with the ambivalences inherent in a personified landscape originated. In this archaic poem, the personification of Delos comes as something of a surprise. Explaining his choice to sing of Delos, the poet says:
πάντῃ γάρ τοι, Φοῖβε, νομὸς βεβλήαται ᾠδῆς,
ἠμὲν ἀν’ ἤπειρον πορτιτρόφον ἠδ’ ἀνὰ νήσους.
πᾶσαι δὲ σκοπιαί τοι ἅδον καὶ πρώονες ἄκροι
ὑψηλῶν ὀρέων ποταμοί θ’ ἅλα δὲ προρέοντες,
ἀκταί τ’ εἰς ἅλα κεκλιμέναι λιμένες τε θαλάσσης.
ἦ ὥς σε πρῶτον Λητὼ τέκε χάρμα βροτοῖσι,
κλινθεῖσα πρὸς Κύνθου ὄρος κραναῇ ἐνὶ νήσῳ
Δήλῳ ἐν ἀμφιρύτῃ; (20-27)
- 37 All translations from the Homeric Hymn to Apollo are by W. R. Halliday and E. E. Si (...)
For everywhere, O Phoebus, the whole range of song is fallen to you, both over the mainland that rears heifers and over the isles. All mountain-peaks and high headlands of lofty hills and rivers flowing out to the deep and beaches sloping seawards and havens of the sea are your delight. Shall I sing how at the first Leto bare you to be the joy of men, as she rested against Mount Cynthus in that rocky isle, in sea-girt Delos?37
- 38 Only πορτιτρόφον (21) could, if pressed, perhaps qualify as personifying. But this (...)
26The passage contains hardly a hint of personification; the landscape is represented as a “normal”, i.e. inanimate, landscape.38 Contrary to how things are in the singer’s present, however (“all mountain-peaks (…) are your delight”), time was when all localities, far from being “Apollo’s delight”, were less than enthusiastic about the event of his birth. In the 15 lines that follow (30-45), the poet sums up all regions that Leto roamed “to see if any land would be willing to make a dwelling for her son” (46: εἴ τίς οἱ γαιέων υἱεῖ θέλοι οἰκία θέσθαι). However, her request is greeted everywhere with fear, not of Hera’s jealousy, but because Apollo is reputedly to become an aggressive and haughty god (47-49):
αἱ δὲ μάλ’ ἐτρόμεον καὶ ἐδείδισαν, οὐδέ τις ἔτλη
Φοῖβον δέξασθαι καὶ πιοτέρη περ ἐοῦσα
πρίν γ’ ὅτε δή ῥ’ ἐπὶ Δήλου ἐβήσετο πότνια Λητώ
But they greatly trembled and feared, and none, not even the richest of them, dared receive Phoebus, until queenly Leto set foot on Delos…
- 39 The adjective πιοτέρη, comparative of πίων, often refers to the riches of cities, houses, t (...)
27Even at this point personification is not really explicit; as in the Callimachean poem, we might still assume that the fearfully refusing cities, mountains and islands metonymically stand for their inhabitants, especially in the case of the “rich” cities and islands. Nevertheless, the phrase “they greatly trembled and feared… and none dared receive Phoebus” rather than being explained as metonymy, already goes some way toward a more radical personification of the localities, if we consider the presence of – in all likelihood uninhabited – localities like mountains. Still, the direct context would seem to oppose this interpretation: the fact that Leto is said to “set foot on Delos” (ἐπὶ Δήλου ἐβήσετο), initially leads one to visualize Delos primarily as an island rather than an animate creature.39
- 40 Callimachus’ version departs from the Homeric Hymn on several points. In the first (...)
28And yet, precisely at this point personification sets in: Leto starts to address the Island – qua island, i.e. as a possible “abode” (51: ἕδος) for her son, and with reference to distinctly island-like characteristics, like her poor soil (55, 60). And indeed, Delos responds as an island (although one with a heart, spirit, 70, and head, 74), expressing her fear, not of Hera’s punishment, but of Apollo’s scorn (70-78): 40
τῷ ῥ’ αἰνῶς δείδοικα κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμὸν
μὴ ὁπότ’ ἂν τὸ πρῶτον ἴδῃ φάος ἠελίοιο
νῆσον ἀτιμήσας, ἐπεὶ ἦ κραναήπεδός εἰμι,
ποσσὶ καταστρέψας ὤσῃ ἁλὸς ἐν πελάγεσσιν.
ἔνθ’ ἐμὲ μὲν μέγα κῦμα κατὰ κρατὸς ἅλις αἰεὶ
κλύσσει, ὁ δ’ ἄλλην γαῖαν ἀφίξεται ἥ κεν ἅδῃ οἱ
τεύξασθαι νηόν τε καὶ ἄλσεα δενδρήεντα·
πουλύποδες δ’ ἐν ἐμοὶ θαλάμας φῶκαί τε μέλαιναι
οἰκία ποιήσονται ἀκηδέα χήτεϊ λαῶν·
Therefore I greatly fear in heart and spirit that as soon as he sees the light of the sun, he will scorn this Island – for truly I have but a hard, rocky soil – and overturn me and thrust me down with his feet in the depths of the sea; then will the great ocean wash deep above my head for ever, and he will go to another land such as will please him, there to make his temple and wooded groves. So many-footed creatures of the sea will make their lairs in me and black seals their dwellings undisturbed, because I lack people.
- 41 Cf. M. Clarke, “Gods and Mountains in Greek Myth and Poetry”, in A. B. Lloyd (ed.), What is (...)
29Some modern critics claim that the unease the modern reader feels at this paradox of a solid or inanimate object being made to feel, talk and act like a human was simply not felt by the ancient author of the Homeric Hymns. M. Clarke claims: “the seeming absurdity [of radical personification of the landscape] is an illusion; it results solely from the fact that the cultural background of modern readers discourages them from thinking about landscape in the intended way. ” M. Clarke’s solution is to point to the fact that in early eastern religions (e.g. of the Hittites), mountains were conceived of as anthropomorphic gods, but with conical hats representing their tops, and mantles representing their lower slopes etc. (his focus is on mountains, but we may perhaps assume that mutatis mutandis this would also apply to islands, rivers and the like). 41 I must admit I do not see how this completely eliminates the problem, for there remains a gap that is difficult to bridge between the divine, anthropomorphic creature and its inanimate, material shape. Can both connotations be present and active at the same time? Is it a question of “seeing double”, of metaphor or allegory?
- 42 Cf. P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc. He notes that Callimachus’ (...)
30However we may wish to answer this question, reading the Delos Hymn, it seems undeniable that Callimachus, like his modern commentators, was fully aware of the potentially disconcerting effects of personification of geographical items. The poem at one point even quite explicitly suggests that these ambivalences in the poetical tradition were noticed by him.42 I refer to 79-85, where Callimachus describes the fear of the nymph Melia when she notices Mount Helicon shaking its wooded crown and thus imperiling her coeval oak. This confusing scene leads the poet to ask the Muses what the precise relation between such a nymph and her tree is.
ἡ δ’ ὑποδινηθεῖσα χοροῦ ἀπεπαύσατο νύμφη
αὐτόχθων Μελίη καὶ ὑπόχλοον ἔσχε παρειήν
ἥλικος ἀσθμαίνουσα περὶ δρυός, ὡς ἴδε χαίτην
σειομένην Ἑλικῶνος. ἐμαὶ θεαὶ εἴπατε Μοῦσαι,
ἦ ῥ’ ἐτεὸν ἐγένοντο τότε δρύες ἡνίκα Νύμφαι;
Νύμφαι μὲν χαίρουσιν, ὅτε δρύας ὄμβρος ἀέξει,
Νύμφαι δ’ αὖ κλαίουσιν, ὅτε δρυσὶ μηκέτι φύλλα.
- 43 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc., claims this word is used to d (...)
- 44 The translation is uncertain. See W. H. Mineur, Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, op. cit(...)
And the autochthonous43 Nymph Melia, feeling the earth reel under her feet, stopped her dance44 and her cheek took on a greenish pallor out of fear for her coeval oak when she saw Helicon shake his mane. Tell me, Muses, my goddesses, is it true that oaks came into being at the same time as Nymphs? Nymphs rejoice when rain makes the oaks grow, but Nymphs wail when there are no more leaves on the oaks. (79-85)
- 45 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc. The phrase is found thus in sc (...)
- 46 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc., notes that the word i (...)
31By explicitly calling Melia’s tree δρῦς, Callimachus plays on the etymology of the term hamadryad, raising the question whether these nymphs truly live ἅμα ταῖς δρῦσι.45 Another joke seems implied as well: why is Melia (whose name suggests that she is connected with the ash tree) here linked with an oak? Is it to question the connection between nymphs and trees in general? The passage suggests a surprisingly complex image: Helicon is depicted as shaking its hairs (χαίτην), which implies that it is or has a (human) head.46 Yet, at the same time the tree is part of the coiffure of the mountain, and, apparently at some level to be identified with the nymph. So is the mountain’s hair, the tree, in fact the nymph? Is the description of the nymph being hurled out of the dance really a description of the tree being deracinated? The problem cannot easily be solved.
- 47 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc. To begin with, the occasions a (...)
- 48 For other Hellenistic Muse invocations in the middle of poems and their specific me (...)
32As P. Bing notes, to confirm that Callimachus’ depiction is in fact meant to raise questions, the passage alludes to the proem of Hesiod’s Theogony through verbal and other echoes, more in particular of the famous verses about the Muses’ ability to tell truths or truth-like falsehoods as they choose (Theog. 27-28).47 Similarly, Callimachus here evokes the question how poetry describes the relation of nymphs and their trees and hence, by analogy, of gods and their locations. This address to the Muses comes not at the beginning of a poem or passage but right in the middle of an episode, at a point when disorder could hardly become greater, as rivers and regions chaotically flee, and the reader becomes more and more troubled by the impossible scenes he is invited to imagine. This position underlines the lines’ special significance for the interpretation of the fleeing landscape in the preceding passage.48 But what exactly is this significance? Lines 84-85 too are unclear in more than one way.
- 49 U. v. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Hellenistische Dichtung in der Zeit des Kallimachos. 2. Vol. (...)
- 50 Cf. P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 145. In particular the nymph-ri (...)
- 51 For some meditations on the relation Muse-poet, see E. Spentzou, D. Fowler (ed.), C (...)
- 52 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 147.
33In the first place: who pronounces them? Do the Muses respond? Or is it the poet, arguing his case? Or alternatively, is he resuming after a brief pause, having waited (in vain or successfully) for an answer from the goddesses?49 Secondly, what is the message the lines contain? They really do not answer the question in any direct way. Assuming that the couplet does indeed represent the Muses’ reply, we might infer that poetic tradition (which the Muses here, as elsewhere in Hellenistic poetry seem to represent) had no straight answer to the question. 50 On a meta-poetic level, this may even raise the related question of the exact quality of the relation of Muse and poet, or poetry. If the Muse refers to poetical tradition, does this imply that she is (this) poetry too? Or is she rather “in” the poet (cf. ἐνθουσιασμός)? If so, can and does the poet himself answer the questions he asks of the Muses?51 The question and its answer thus evoke a host of other questions, mostly without answers. But this much is clear: by means of their parallel syntax the lines do suggest that there exists “an intimate bond” between the trees and the nymphs.52
- 53 Since this was the main model text of the hymn, we may perhaps think in particular of the H (...)
34All of this has broader consequences for the interpretation of Callimachus’ ambivalent representation of the localities in the rest of the Hymn. This ambivalence is noted, questioned, and underlined, but ultimately remains a non liquet. This may be interpreted as Callimachus’ way of obliquely commenting upon what he perceived as a vexed point when it came to the exegesis of certain issues of personification in archaic poetry.53
35We saw that modern commentators more often than not react with unease to the strange scenes that Callimachus conjures up. They consistently point to the difficulty we have in visualizing the situation. Indeed, an irreconcilable tension is deliberately created between two reality levels in the text: on one level, localities behave as localities, and on another level, localities behave as personified entities. What scholars have failed to ask is how this almost unanimous modern unease would compare to the reaction of Callimachus’ contemporary audience. In other words, to what issues in Hellenistic reception of poetical texts (if any) can we connect the problematic personifications in the Delos Hymn? Some methodological problems cling to the posing of such questions. Hardly any instances of Hellenistic literary theorizing from the age of Callimachus directly survive. What we do have are earlier and later treatises, scholia, testimonia and the like. These may give us some idea of the discussions Callimachus’ readers may have been reminded of when reading the Delos Hymn. In the following I will focus in particular on theoretical discussions of visualization (ἐνάργεια) and plausibility (πιθανότης) in poetry, as these are the issues that catch the eye in the analysis of Callimachus’ poem. I will address both these points, beginning with the debate on plausibility and truth, because of its more general and complex nature.
- 54 See e.g. B 11, B 14, B 15, 16. Xenophanes attacked these poets’ representation of t (...)
- 55 In this context, it is important to note that the Library of Alexandria was basically a per (...)
36This debate, as the Hesiodic Muses would appear to suggest (Theog. 27-28), has forever been present in Greek poetics. Especially the representation of the gods and the miraculous formed the focus of attention. We may think of the scathing remarks of Xenophanes, one of the earliest known critics of Homer’s and Hesiod’s gods.54 In our context the starting point may be sought in Aristotle’s Poetics, where the issue of unlikely or untrue events in poetry turns up near the end. 55
- 56 He cites as example the pursuit of Hector by Achilles, while all the other Greeks s (...)
- 57 That this idea was influential throughout antiquity, appears for instance from the (...)
37Interesting in the context of the present discussion is Aristotle’s commonsensical remark that “epic is more tolerant of the prime source of surprise (τὸ θαυμαστόν), the illogical (ἄλογον) [than tragedy], because one is not looking at the person doing the action” (1460a11-12).56 Later, Aristotle remarks that if such illogical or strange things (ἄλογα / τὸ ἄτοπον) should occur at all (in epic), it is best if they pass by unnoticed through the mastery of the poet (Poet. 1460b1-2).57 He then continues to give a scheme of the problems that may arise in the criticism of poetry and their solutions. This begins from a threefold definition of the objects of mimesis (literary representation): 1) οἷα ἦν ἢ ἔστιν, contemporary or historical reality; 2) οἷά φασιν καὶ δοκεῖ, what people say and think, i.e. commonly accepted (traditional) ideas, even though they are frequently mistaken; 3) οἷα εἶναι δεῖ, an idealized reality (Poet. 1460b9-11). Given these three possibilities, Aristotle provides two points on which one may criticize the mimesis wrought in poetry. The first is on the ground that a poem represents things which are internally inconsistent, or impossible (ἀδύνατα), the second that it represents things that are simply unreal or untrue (οὐκ ἀληθῆ).
- 58 Here Aristotle again cites the example of the pursuit of Hector.
38The two criticisms in turn evoke two possible lines of defense. To the charge of representing ἀδύνατα, one might reply by pointing to the τέλος (aim) of poetry in general (i.e. the effecting through pity and fear the catharsis of those emotions) and say that if the representation reaches this aim, it must be considered good poetry. The ἀδύνατα may indeed even achieve an effect that is ἐκπληκτικώτερον (more amazing, thrilling) than would otherwise have been possible.58 So in the hands of an able poet, ἀδύνατα, instead of being unnoticeable, may become an effective tool to manipulate the emotions of the audience. To the other charge, that of representing what is simply untrue (οὐκ ἀληθῆ), one might defend a poet by pointing to the fact that he is apparently representing objects from the second and third categories, i.e. he is repeating traditional lore (as is the case, Aristotle explicitly states, with stories about the gods), or he is idealizing.
- 59 While we know for instance that Callimachus’ contemporary Zenodotus of Ephesus, who was dir (...)
39Do Aristotle’s ideas find any echo in Hellenistic scholarship? Regrettably, the first generation of Hellenistic scholars on Homer and other archaic poets has left very little direct record when it comes to interprétation.59 We do know however that in Eratosthenes’ time (a younger contemporary of Callimachus) the debate of how much truth may be expected from a poetical text was still going on. Τhis issue indeed, is what Callimachus himself too plays upon in another of his hymns, H. 1.60, δηναιοὶ δ’ οὐ πάμπαν ληθέες ἦσαν ἀοιδο (The poets of yore were not altogether truthful), which indicates that he was certainly interested in such questions.
- 60 This is similar to ( but much more extreme than) the pre-Aristotelian way the sophi (...)
- 61 Cf. scholion D Il. 5.385: “Aristarchus thinks that we should take what the poet says in a m (...)
40Eratosthenes held rather extreme opinions, in particular on the way to judge certain evident inconsistencies and untruths in Homer. He claimed that the poet should not be reprehended for such untruths, since his aim had not been instruction (διδασκαλία) but pleasure (ψυχαγωγία, Strabo 1.1.10).60 This opened the way towards the idea of poetic license (ποιητικὴ ἐξουσία / ἄδεια). This concept is in nuce already present in Aristotle’s observation that precisely ἀδύνατα might achieve an effect of ἔκπληξις. An appeal to poetic license thus became the perfect way of defending against literal-minded pedantry anything in poetry that was unlikely, untrue or inconsistent, provided it successfully served the aim of pleasure or amazement of the audience (cf. e.g. Polybius 34, 4, 104). We know that in particular the famous Homer-critic Aristarchus (215-143 BC) took poetic license as a kind of panacea when it came to defending the poet against complaints about unlikely or inconsistent passages.61
- 62 We might moreover wonder why Apollo, if he is able to prevent his mother from going to Cos, (...)
41Can this be applied to the poetry of Callimachus? Dealing with the gods, the Delos Hymn would qualitate qua have fallen under the category in which things that went beyond actual reality (οὐκ ἀληθῆ) were allowed, or even expected from poets. In the first place however, Callimachus clearly stretches the limits of what was proper in such accounts of the gods. A prophecy by Apollo would be acceptable, but a prophecy by a fetal Apollo is already a different case.62 But not only does he do this; he actually causes deliberate inconsistencies (ἀδύνατα) in his poem. This would not resort comfortably under the standard explanation of poetic license, as it is not unnoticeable (as I have argued, Callimachus attracts attention to the ambivalences, lines 79-85), even if the text is diegetic rather than dramatic. The ἀδύνατα are not a source of ἔκπληξις in the traditional sense either, since they do not leave the reader awestricken, or full of pity, and believing the image, as is the case for instance with the famous passage in the Iliad where Zeus with his great hand pushes Hector into battle. On the contrary, the inconsistencies jolt the reader out of his suspense of disbelief in the fiction, through the failure to lead up to a single consistent image.
- 63 Cf. R. Nünlist, The Ancient Critic at Work, op. cit., p. 194-198; N. Otto, Enargeia. Unters (...)
42This brings us to the other issue: the ability to visualize scenes from poetry. In ancient critical texts, the ability to present a convincing and vivid scene in a text is named ἐνάργεια (lat. evidentia). There are all sorts of ways to achieve ἐνάργεια, but the two main ways involve 1) naming a great amount of convincing detail (to achieve what R. Barthes has called l’effet de réel) or 2) bringing the narrative close to the reader (by using deictic forms and present tenses, for instance).63 If a poet succeeds in doing this, he successfully makes his reader into a spectator of the scene he has created in language; the reader will visualize the φαντασία of the poet.
43This is exactly where Callimachus goes counter to convention: he aims, as I have argued, precisely at breaking the illusion of the narrative and pointing at the gap between the language of his poem, and the possibility to translate these descriptions into consistent visual images. It is precisely where he details his narrative, as in the description of Delos swimming across the seas, trailing seaweeds in her wake, and landing on all kinds of different shores of the Mediterranean, that he challenges his readers to fill in the picture correctly: is this a nymph swimming or an island floating?
44I have argued that Callimachus is aware of the cognitive paradoxes that (poetical) language may create, and in the Delos Hymn, he turns them into a meta-poetical commentary on the status of poetry. His focus is the relation of language to image and of poetry to the actual world, its fictional status which comes to light especially in poetical devices like metaphor and personification. Callimachus relishes deconstructing these tropes and conventions and thus creating a layered textual world that comments on its own textuality. Although originally meant to enhance the textual world’s illusion of reality, in Callimachus the result of such procedures is the opposite: they ironically undermine the illusion, and emphasize the text’s artificiality. Thus, Callimachus’ poetry is meta-poetical in the truest sense of the word, and perhaps more philosophical than he usually gets credit for.
45Earlier on, I already pointed out the similarity (in some respects) of Callimachus’ method to that of Surrealist writers and poets. However, unlike the poets of surrealism, Callimachus aims not at creating a super-reality; quite the opposite. He rather seems to ask how it is possible that one can describe things in a text that cannot be visualized and have no counterpart in reality. In this sense, it seems his poetic aims perhaps have more in common with the questions the writers of post-modernist fiction raise:
- 64 M. L. Ryan, “Possible Worlds in Recent Literary Theory”, p. 548, Style 26 (4), 1992, (...)
Post-modernism asks (…): “What is a world? What kind of worlds are there, how are they constituted and how do they differ? (...) What is the mode of existence of a text and what is the mode of existence of the world (or worlds) it projects?” (Ryan, 1995: 548)64
46The post-modernist aims as paraphrased in this quotation fit Callimachus surprisingly well. Among others, this may be because, like post-modern authors, Callimachus forms his fictional world not primarily as a convincing μίμησις of reality, but rather as a world that reveals its status as a text, by commenting on other μίμησεις of reality and their conventions. Applied to the Delos Hymn, Callimachus is playfully questioning the “mode of existence of the world his own text projects” through exaggeration of the presumably unintended paradoxical ambivalences of personification he encountered in the fictional world of an earlier text, the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. The result, if I may repeat, is that an irreconcilable tension is deliberately created between two reality levels in the text: on one level, localities behave as localities, and on another level, localities behave as personified entities. This alerts the reader to the artificial way in which Leto’s story is told: the story really exists only as a text; it evokes no consistent visual image of something that could exist in the actual world. Here ἐνάργεια goes awry, metaphor becomes literal and personification reveals itself to be a muddled concept.
47It seems reasonable to assume that this stance of Callimachus was influenced by his position of scholar-poet in the Alexandrian Library, where the primacy of the text must have been overwhelming. Callimachus presumably realized he knew most of what he knew about the world through texts, fictional or otherwise, and this must have made him ponder the ways in which texts try to evoke, capture and manipulate reality.
1 “Über das Spielerische bei Kallimachos”, in B. Snell, Die Entdeckung des Geistes: Studien zur Entstehung des europäischen Denkens bei den Griechen, Göttingen, 1946, 4. neubearb. Aufl. 1975, p. 244-256.
2 As is generally recognized, the Hymn thus provides an aetiology for the name of the island Delos, since before her being rooted to the earth at Apollo’s birth, her wandering existence made her ἄδηλος for seafarers, cf. 52-54.
3 On the panegyric side of this Hymn, see in particular P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99. Classical Studies, Michigan, 1981, later partially adapted in P. Bing, The Well-Read Muse, Göttingen, 1988.
4 See on this Hymn especially E. Cahen, Les hymnes de Callimaque, Paris, 1930; P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit. ; P. Bing, The Well-read Muse, op. cit., p. 41-44; 91-143; W. H. Mineur, Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, Leiden, 1984; F. Williams, “Callimachus and the Supranormal”, in M. A. Harder, R. F. Regtuit, G. C. Wakker (ed.), Callimachus, Groningen, 1993, p. 217-225; M. Depew, “Delian Hymns and Callimachean Allusion”, HSCP, 1997, p. 155-182; J. Nishimura-Jensen, “Unstable Geographies: The Moving Landscape in Apollonius’ Argonautica and Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos”, TAPA 130, 2000, p. 287-317.
5 For convenience’s sake I speak of Callimachus’ “reader”, although we cannot know for certain whether this text was primarily intended to be read. For a bibliography listing the possible original occasions for the composition of the Hymn, see M. Depew, “Delian Hymns and Callimachean Allusion”, op. cit., p. 156, n. 3.
6 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 13.
7 Translations are my own, unless otherwise specified.
8 Cf. e.g. Ithaca in Od. 9.27, Hellas in Eur. Tro. 566.
9 This is the task attributed to anthropomorphic goddesses in one of the poem’s archaic model texts, the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (120-121).
10 In this paper I focus in particular on Callimachus’ representation, not on the (possible) underlying symbolism of the passage. For the attractive idea that the wandering landscape symbolizes the pre-Apolline and hence pre-Ptolemaic world as unstable and chaotic, see P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 14 and 21; J. Nishimura-Jensen, “Unstable Geographies…”, op. cit., p. 287-317.
11 An exception is W. H. Mineur, Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, op. cit. Although he says that the passage contains “surprising details”, he nevertheless speaks of “the consistent personification in the whole passage” (p. 107), and apparently sees no problems.
12 See E. Cahen, Les hymnes de Callimaque, op. cit., and P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc. for this unexpected verb. Apparently it was believed that one could still draw coals from Asopus, which had been hit by Zeus when he went after Sisyphus who had raped his daughter (cf. Schol. Ap. Rh. 1.117, Apollod. iii 12.6, Stat. Theb. vii 325-7).
13 See e.g. W. Abraham, A Linguistic Approach to Metaphor, Lisse, 1975, p. 28; S. Levin, The Semantics of Metaphor, Baltimore and London, 1977, p. 18-20.
14 Or again (going one step back), that in this construction of the verb φεύγω, Arcadia is metonymically used of its inhabitants.
15 U. v. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Hellenistische Dichtung in der Zeit des Kallimachos. 2. Vol., Berlin, 1924, p. 66.
16 T. B. L. Webster, Hellenistic Poetry and Art, London, 1964, p. 112. The point T. B. L. Webster makes about the contradiction is in itself valid, but it seems to me that this contradiction is purposeful on the part of Callimachus, and meant to invite the reader to think about (the limits of) personification, as I will argue below. I do not think Callimachus would simply answer that the island nymph is not bound to her island. In fact, this is really the issue Callimachus addresses in v. 79-85, see below.
17 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 12.
18 A. W. Bulloch, “The Future of a Hellenistic Illusion. Some observations on Callimachus and religion”, MH 41, 1984, p. 218.
19 In this context, it may be noted that the episode of the fleeing localities not only presents us with the difficulty of deciding between visualizing geographical landmarks or anthropomorphic creatures. It also conjures up the strange and disconcerting question what happens if mountains and rivers simply walk away: what is left in their place, bare mother Earth, or rather the gaping void (Greek χάος, cf. LSJ 4)? In any case, how does Leto know where to turn to? Is the entire map simply rearranged? Is there anywhere to turn to at all? How can the poet map her journey if geography has collectively taken to its heels?
20 F. Williams, “Callimachus and the Supranormal”, op. cit., p. 117-225.
21 G. Zanker, Realism in Alexandrian Poetry, Kent, 1987, p. 3, n. 6.
22 Op. cit., p. 224. M. Depew, “Delian Hymns and Callimachean Allusion”, op. cit., p. 166, also speaks of the passage’s “surreal quality”.
23 F. Williams, “Callimachus and the Supranormal”, op. cit., p. 225, citing H. Osborne (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Art, Oxford, 1970, p. 1115-1116.
24 A. W. Bulloch, “The Future of a Hellenistic Illusion…”, op. cit., p. 218, stresses the irrationality of the episode and states in general that Callimachus hymns are “very strange indeed (…) the state of mind they betray (…) seems very disturbed, even fractured (…) febrile wit (…) more than a touch of madness in the laughter here.” He attributes this stance to Callimachus’ (rational, we may presume) scrutiny and ultimate rejection of traditional religious values that were no longer feasible in his day and age (“facing the contradictions which orthodox religion often tries to ignore”, p. 230).
25 Interestingly, this idea of the use of metaphors as a way to reach insight in reality is corroborated not only by modern linguists, but was already noted by Aristotle, Rhet. 1411b 25-35.
26 I. Hedges, “Surrealist Metaphor: Frame Theory and Componential Analysis”, Poetics Today 4 (2), 1983, p. 275-295.
27 M. Haslam, “Callimachus’ Hymns”, p. 114, in M. A. Harder, R. F. Regtuit, G. C. Wakker (ed.), Callimachus, op. cit., p. 111-126.
28 W. H. Mineur, Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, op. cit., p. 107.
29 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 104, recognizes this and lists a great number of body parts that serve as metaphors for geographical locations in ancient Greek usage.
30 For the seminal discussion of metaphor in antiquity, see Aristotle, Poet. 1457b-1458a. It may be of particular importance that Aristotle regards metaphors as an effective way to create riddles and say impossible things. (Poet. 1458a): αἰνίγματός τε γὰρ ἰδέα αὕτη ἐστί, τὸ λέγοντα ὑπάρχοντα ἀδύνατα συνάψαι·κατὰ μὲν οὖν τὴν τῶν <ἄλλων> ὀνομάτων σύνθεσιν οὐχ οἷόν τε τοῦτο ποιῆσαι, κατὰ δὲ τὴν μεταφορῶν ἐνδέχεται.
31 On personification in Greek thought see e.g. T. B. L. Webster, “Personification as a Mode of Greek Thought”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 17, 1954, p. 10-21; H. A. Shapiro, Personifications in Greek Art. The Representation of Abstract Concepts 600-400 B.C., Zurich, 1993; E. Stafford, J. Herrin, Personification in the Greek World: From Antiquity to Byzantium, London, 2005. For personification in general, see J. J. Paxson, The Poetics of Personification, Cambridge and New York, 1994. On “nature deities”, under which many personifications in the geographical realm resort, see W. Burkert, Greek Religion - Archaic and Classical, Oxford, 1985, p. 174-176. Exponents of ancient philosophical (mainly Stoic) allegorical poetic exegesis claimed that all anthropomorphic (in particular Homeric and Hesiodic) gods were ultimately the result of personifications of perceptible forces of nature and/or their effects (thus Athena is equated with thought etc.).
32 J. Whitman, Allegory: The Dynamics of an Ancient and Mediaeval Technique, Cambridge Mass., 1987, p. 270-272.
33 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 13, notes “[Callimachus plays] with the tradition that all places have their eponymous gods, from whom they are virtually indistinguishable. He mischievously presses this to its humorous extreme, thereby showing that it is problematical.”
34 To cite only a few of the best known examples: Il. 20.4-9 (rivers and springs come to Zeus’ summons); Od. 11.238-247 (the river Enipeus is loved by Tyro); Corinna fr. 654.23-34 Page (a singing match between Mt Helicon and Cithaeron); Eur. Bacch. 726-727 (Mt Cithaeron dances).
35 On the question whether this text was considered to be one or two hymns in the Hellenistic period, see A. M. Miller, From Delos to Delphi: a Literary Study of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, Leiden, 1986. Callimachus can in any case be seen to have alluded specifically to the Pythian part in his first Hymn to Apollo, and to the Delian part in his fourth Hymn.
36 M. Depew, “Delian Hymns and Callimachean Allusion”, op. cit., p. 155-182, discusses the way Callimachus interweaves references to these subtexts and plays them out against each other in the Hymn.
37 All translations from the Homeric Hymn to Apollo are by W. R. Halliday and E. E. Sikes, in T. W. Allen, W. R. Halliday, E. E. Sikes, The Homeric Hymns, Oxford, 1936.
38 Only πορτιτρόφον (21) could, if pressed, perhaps qualify as personifying. But this adjective does not trigger associations with radical personification such as we shall presently encounter when the island Delos starts speaking.
39 The adjective πιοτέρη, comparative of πίων, often refers to the riches of cities, houses, temples and their collective inhabitants or to soil (as here resp. in 52 and 60, cf. LSJs.v. ii), but may on occasion also refer to individual men (Ar. Ra. 1092; Ar. Pl. 560; Pl. Resp. 422b).
40 Callimachus’ version departs from the Homeric Hymn on several points. In the first place, Callimachus’ locations are not afraid of Apollo himself, but rather of Hera’s jealousy (an item which does feature in Pindar’s treatment of the myth); in the second place, Callimachus’ Delos offers herself as birthplace of her own free will, after Leto has searched her out on the (appropriately prophetic) advice of her unborn child.
41 Cf. M. Clarke, “Gods and Mountains in Greek Myth and Poetry”, in A. B. Lloyd (ed.), What is a God?, London, 1997, p. 65-80, in particular 67.
42 Cf. P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc. He notes that Callimachus’ authorship of the (lost) treatises “On Nymphs”, “On European Rivers”, “On rivers in the inhabited world” (cf. Sudas.v. Kallimachos) suggests he would have given such matters some thought.
43 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc., claims this word is used to differentiate this (Theban) Melia from the Bithyian Melia in A.R. 2.1-4, and Alex. Aet. 6.1-3; however, “sprung from the land itself” (LSJ) probably better conveys the ambiguous relation of the tree-nymph with the earth. She too has, like her tree, “sprung from the earth”, yet is apparently also “dancing” (79). The fact that in the same line her cheeks turn the appropriate (for a tree-nymph) color ὑπόχλοον is a similar joke.
44 The translation is uncertain. See W. H. Mineur, Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, op. cit., ad loc.
45 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc. The phrase is found thus in schol. A.R. 2.479.
46 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc., notes that the word is not found metaphorically before the Hellenistic period. He does not however comment upon the complexity of the implied image.
47 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., ad loc. To begin with, the occasions are similar: the scene or topic in both cases is Mt Helicon, in both cases the Muses are present or requested to teach the poet the truth about a “theogonical” issue (83: ἦ ῥ’ ἐτεὸν (…) ἐγένοντο; cf. ἐτύμοισιν Th. 27). The rather rare imperative εἴπατε (82) is found twice in Muse invocations in Hesiod (Th. 108, 115). Structurally, the “reply” of the Muses (84-5) also resembles the phrasing of the Muses (Th. 27-28).
48 For other Hellenistic Muse invocations in the middle of poems and their specific meta-poetical interpretations, see e.g. A.R. 3.1-4 with R. Hunter’s remarks (R. Hunter, Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica.Book 3, Cambridge, 1989, ad loc.)
49 U. v. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Hellenistische Dichtung in der Zeit des Kallimachos. 2. Vol., op. cit., p. 67, attributes the lines to the Muses; R. Pfeiffer, Callimachus, vol. 2, Hymni et epigrammata, p. 21, appears to do so too, placing the lines in quotation marks; W. H. Mineur, Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, op. cit., p. 117, follows them. P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 145-146, discusses the possibility that, as in Callimachus H. 1.7-8, the lines are a gnome, introduced to support the question, but leans toward attributing the couplet to the Muses, although he admits non liquet. Others have proposed a self-reply of the poet (E. Cahen, Les hymnes de Callimaque, op. cit., p. 395) or a quotation from another poem (G. Coppola, Cirene e il nuovo Callimaco, Bologna, 1935, p. 140).
50 Cf. P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 145. In particular the nymph-riddle seems to refer to (scholarly inquiry into) the contradictory traditions about such tree-nymphs, especially the question whether they were coeval with their trees. Some texts claim they are e.g.HH Aphr. 257-72; Pindar fr. 165; schol. D Il. Z 21; schol. A.R. 2.477. Plut. de def. orac. 415c-d discusses the contrast between Pindar fr. 165 and Hes. fr. 304 M-W, which claims that nymphs outlive their trees.
51 For some meditations on the relation Muse-poet, see E. Spentzou, D. Fowler (ed.), Cultivating the Muse: Struggles for Power and Inspiration in Classical Literature, Cambridge, 2002.
52 P. Bing, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos, 1-99, op. cit., p. 147.
53 Since this was the main model text of the hymn, we may perhaps think in particular of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. See T. Führer and R. Hunter, “Imaginary Gods? Poetic Theology in the Hymns of Callimachus”, in L. Lehnus et al. (ed.), Callimaque, Vandoeuvres and Geneva, 2001, p. 143-188, esp. 144, on the question whether the Homeric Hymns were studied by the Alexandrian philologists: although there is no compelling evidence for serious philological exegesis, their obvious importance as a model texts for Callimachus and Theocritus would point to intensive scrutiny by these poets.
54 See e.g. B 11, B 14, B 15, 16. Xenophanes attacked these poets’ representation of the divine on moral grounds (they behave like the worst of humans) but also because of their naive anthropomorphic representation (they look like men; if cattle, lions or horses would have gods, they would look like cattle, lions or horses). For a useful overview of the Greek tradition of criticism of poetical representation of the gods, see D. C. Feeney, The Gods in Epic: Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition, Oxford, 1991, p. 5-56; with an emphasis on literary criticism R. Meijering, Literary and Rhetorical Theories in Greek Scholia, Groningen, 1987; R. Nünlist, The Ancient Critic at Work. Terms and Concepts of Literary Criticism in Greek Scholia, Cambridge, 2009, p. 267-281.
55 In this context, it is important to note that the Library of Alexandria was basically a peripatetic foundation. It is generally assumed that the Aristotelian tradition of scholarship was continued in the Alexandrian Library. Cf. R. Pfeiffer, History of Ancient Scholarship, Oxford, 1968, p.87-233; see also P. M. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria, Volume 1 (text), 2 (notes), 3 (indexes), Oxford, 1972, vol. 1, p. 305-479. The mediaeval scholia are generally held to preserve in excerpted form fragments of lost original Alexandrian commentaries, although their history is confused and controversial. They contain both pre- and post-Hellenistic material, along with the real Hellenistic ideas. For our purposes it is especially the “exegetical” bT scholia which are important. Diog. Laert. (5.27-28) claims that the Poetics (like the other esoteric works) had disappeared from the public eye for two centuries after 331, yet the problems discussed in the section that interests us here (ch. 25) find close parallels in, or are indeed drawn from the (now lost, but in the third century presumably known) exoteric Homerica Problemata.
56 He cites as example the pursuit of Hector by Achilles, while all the other Greeks stand idly by. In reality this could not have happened thus.
57 That this idea was influential throughout antiquity, appears for instance from the comment of a scholiast on bT 21 (Il.) 296a, who remarks upon the fact that the Trojan plain is flooded up to Achilles’ shoulders. This is unlikely, he says, since it would mean that the other warriors too would risk drowning.
58 Here Aristotle again cites the example of the pursuit of Hector.
59 While we know for instance that Callimachus’ contemporary Zenodotus of Ephesus, who was director of the Alexandrian Library directly before Apollonius Rhodius, made an emended edition (diorthosis) of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, purged from mistakes or later insertions (which he indicated with the critical sign of his invention, the obelos), it remains a matter of scholarly controversy what this edition contained or looked like. It seems to have concentrated on the athethesis of (spurious) repeated or otherwise dubious lines and the annotation of variae lectiones, rather than discussion of the truth or likelihood of passages. Although we can point out several passages where Callimachus follows Zenodotus’ diorthosis, it is unknown what he thought in general of the principles underlying Zenodotus’ textual criticism. Cf. A. Rengakos, Der Homertext und die hellenistischen Dichter, Hermes Einzelschriften 64, Stuttgart, 1993, p. 49-87.
60 This is similar to ( but much more extreme than) the pre-Aristotelian way the sophists saw poetry as aiming to make an audience believe things that were untrue (cf. Dialexeis 3, 10; cf. Gorgias 82 B23=Plu. Glor. Ath. 5.348, cf. Aud. Poet. 15d, Isocr. Euag. 9-10). In general however, the trend was to see poetry as also aiming at education.q
61 Cf. scholion D Il. 5.385: “Aristarchus thinks that we should take what the poet says in a more mythical (μυθῶδες) sense, according to poetic license, not going to needless trouble over anything external to what the poet says.”
62 We might moreover wonder why Apollo, if he is able to prevent his mother from going to Cos, was not able to steer her to Delos earlier on, before the whole tiresome journey across the fleeing regions was undertaken.
63 Cf. R. Nünlist, The Ancient Critic at Work, op. cit., p. 194-198; N. Otto, Enargeia. Untersuchung zur Charakteristik akexandrinischer Dichtung, Stuttgart, 2008.
64 M. L. Ryan, “Possible Worlds in Recent Literary Theory”, p. 548, Style 26 (4), 1992, p. 528-553.Haut de page
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Jacqueline Klooster, « Visualizing the impossible: the wandering landscape in the Delos Hymn of Callimachus », Aitia [En ligne], 2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 11 juillet 2012, consulté le 14 octobre 2015. URL : http://aitia.revues.org/420 ; DOI : 10.4000/aitia.420Haut de page
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