Callimachus Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Callimachus (kuh-LIHM-uh-kuhs) of Cyrene was educated in Athens and traveled to Alexandria, where he worked in the Alexandrian library. He cataloged its works, producing a catalog so detailed that it provides a full literary history of the Hellenic world.

Callimachus wrote prose and criticism, but his poetry had the most influence on later generations of writers. The most famous of his works is Aitiōn (c. 270 b.c.e.; Aetia, 1958), a four-volume elegy retelling a number of Greek legends and myths. The structure of Aetia, a series of short episodes connected by a shared theme, influenced the works of most major Greek and Roman poets, including Vergil, Ovid, and Catullus. Callimachus’s estimated eight hundred works of poetry established learnedness, brevity, wit, and polish as hallmarks of Alexandrian poetry.


Callimachus provided historians with an insight into Hellenic literature with his catalog of the Alexandrian library. His poetry was so influential that only Homer is quoted more frequently by Hellenic grammarians.

Further Reading:

Blum, Rudolph. Kallimachos: The Alexandrian Library and the Origins of Bibliography. Translated by Hans H. Wellisch. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. In his study of the Alexandrian Library, Blum argues that Callimachus, the second director of the library, was the inventor of two essential scholarly tools: the library catalog and the biobibliographical reference work.

Calame, Claude. “Legendary Narratives and Poetic Procedure in Callimachus’s ‘Hymn to Apollo.’” In Hellenistica Gronigana: Proceedings of the Gröningen Workshops on Hellenistic Poetry, edited by Annette Harder. Gröningen, Germany: Egbert Forster, 1993. An examination of how Callimachus weaves both Greek and Roman mythology and the classical poetic tradition into his verse.

Callimachus. Aetia, Iambi, Lyric Poems, Hecale, Minor Epic and Elegiac Poems, and Other Fragments. Translated by C. A. Trypanis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard...

(The entire section is 871 words.)