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Greek Poetry: Callimachus and Asclepiades

Every so often I try to dissect poetry from a tome titled World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time . It does not skimp on the poetry. It does, however, skimp on context. While the editors provide a general introduction to the main divisions and some dates, they provide (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) no info on individual authors and no context for specific works. It’s been my grumble since page 1 and it’s likely I’ll continue to grumble about this until I finish the book. If I finish the book.

Today is a mixed bag of Greek poets. The first one is Callimachus (c. 300-240 BCE). He was of Libyan Greek origin and thought that in modern times such as his, one ought to look beyond the great epics and work on newer untrodden fields. He’s best known for epigrams that were later admired and emulated by Romans such as Ovid, Catullus, and Sextus Propertius. He was also associated with the Library of Alexandria, devising a catalogue called Pinakes (Lists).

The first selection is titled simply “Epigram”:

The demon in the morning,
Unknown. Yesterday, Kharmis
You were in our eyes. Today
We buried you. Yes, Kharmis,
You. Nothing
Your father has ever seen
Has caused him more pain. (p. 127)

The next by the same author:


Tears, and the memory
of all the times we talked the sun down the sky
You, Herakleîtos of Halikarnassos,
once my friend, now vacant dust,
whose poems were nightingales,
beyond the clutch of the unseen god. (p. 128)

But he had time to do more than the passing of friends:


The malignant gnomes who write reviews in Rhodes
are muttering about my poetry again—
tone-deaf ignoramuses out of touch with the Muse— (p. 128)

He doesn’t get any more charitable to the critics are he goes on.

Next up is Asclepiades Samos, an epigrammatist and lyric poet whose surviving works are few and often involve eroticism. He was probably born about 320 BCE and was active about 270 BCE. It’s now believed that some of the work attributed to him is not his.


Here lies Archeanassa
the courtesan from Colophon
whose old and wrinkled body
was still Love’s proud domain.

You lovers who know her youth
in its sweet piercing splendor
and plucked those early blossms—
though what a flame you have passed! (p. 129)

No respect in life, no respect in death.

I think I’ll stop there.


Wikipedia on Callimachus

Wikipedia on Asclepiades of Samos


Last review: "Ex Oblivione" by H. P. Lovecraft

Last Poetry review: Epitaphs by Posidippus , Heraclitus, Leonidas of Tarentum, Tymnes and Theocritus



©2015 Denise Longrie

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MegL wrote on October 11, 2015, 10:17 AM

It just goes to show that people have always had the same feelings. Sorrow at a son's or friend's death and rage at the critics have remained the same for thousands of years.

msiduri wrote on October 11, 2015, 10:43 AM

Yes. Granted, these are in translation, but is it remarkable that so many of these things could have been written last week.

Feisty56 wrote on October 11, 2015, 12:26 PM

I'm pretty certain that at my death it would not be the use of my body for pleasure that I'd want as my epitaph.

msiduri wrote on October 11, 2015, 1:10 PM

Um, yeah. It does seem crude at the very least.