In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Callimachus of Cyrene

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Texts and Commentaries
  • English Translations
  • Collections of Papers
  • Use of Earlier Greek Poetry
  • Mixing Genres
  • Stylistic Agenda
  • Relations with Contemporary Poets
  • Reflections of Court Life and Egyptian Culture
  • Reception at Rome

Classics Callimachus of Cyrene
Dee L. Clayman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0009


Callimachus of Cyrene was a central figure in the literary and scholarly community that flourished in Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE. His poetry was greatly admired by the best Roman poets, who embraced his stylistic principles, and by ancient grammarians, metricians, and lexicographers, who mined his work for examples of rare forms and usage. Of his prodigious body of work, only six Hymns and sixty-three epigrams have survived intact, though parts of his Aitia, Iambi, and Hecale have been recovered from papyrus fragments and quotations in later authors. The rest, including his scholarship and library catalogue, are known by title, a few fragments, or indirect references in the work of later authors.


The only account of Callimachus’s life to come down from antiquity is found in the Suda, K 227 (formerly called Suidas), a Byzantine encyclopedia from the 10th century, which associates him with Ptolemy (II) Philadelphus (r. 282–246 BCE) and Ptolemy (III) Euergetes (r. 246–221 BCE). He was born to an aristocratic family in Cyrene, a Greek city on the north coast of Africa in modern Libya, and immigrated to Alexandria in his youth. It is said that he was a “young man of the court,” i.e., a young aristocratic invited to keep company with the royal princes, or alternatively, a school teacher in a suburb of Alexandria, before taking his place as a prominent poet and scholar. It was once said that after his arrival in Alexandria he never left it, but this has been called into question by an inscription suggesting that he was in Athens in 247 BCE (Oliver 2002). He wrote for the Ptolemaic court, where he associated himself with Queen Berenike II (the wife of Ptolemy III) and her predecessor, Arsinoe II (wife of Ptolemy II). On his service to Berenike II, see Clayman 2014. Ancient biographers tell of a violent quarrel between Callimachus and the epic poet Apollonius of Rhodes, but modern scholars, including in Lefkowitz 2012, have raised doubts about it. For a discussion of his life in English, see Pfeiffer 1968 (pp. 123–125), and in German, Herter 1973 (pp. 185–187). A complete compilation of all the ancient testimonia for Callimachus is in Pfeiffer 1953 (pp. xcv–cvi).

  • Adler, Ada, ed. 1971–1994. Suidas Lexicon. 5 vols. Stuttgart: Teubner.

    The standard Greek edition (originally published 1928–1938). The Greek text and an evolving English translation are available online.

  • Clayman, Dee L. 2014. Berenice II and the golden age of Ptolemaic Egypt. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A biography of Callimachus’s patron Berenice II, wife of Ptolemy III, highlighting the poet’s role in shaping her public image. It shows how his poetry can be read as historical evidence of her reign.

  • Herter, Hans. 1973. “Kallimachos aus Kyrene 6.” In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Supp. 13, col. 184–266. Edited by Konrad Ziegler, Karl Mittelhaus, Wilhelm Kroll, et al. Munich: Druckenmüller.

    A learned survey in German of Callimachus’s life and works, expanding the original article of 1931. Still useful.

  • Lefkowitz, Mary R. 2012. The lives of the Greek poets. 2d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    An analysis of the ancient biographical tradition as it relates to the Greek poets showing how the biographers found most of their “facts” in the works of the poets themselves. On the alleged quarrel between Callimachus and Apollonius, see pp. 113–125.

  • Oliver, Graham J. 2002. “Callimachus the poet and benefactor of Athens.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 140:6–8.

    Argues that the Callimachus named in an inscription at Athens (Agora xvi 213) honoring contributors to a fund to assist the city and dated in 247 BCE is the poet. If so, it proves that he did, in fact, travel outside of Alexandria and confirms that he was a prominent personage of international reputation at that time.

  • Pfeiffer, Rudolf, ed. 1953. Callimachus. Vol. 2, Hymni et Epigrammata. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Second volume of a two-volume set, the first of which was published in 1949 as Fragmenta. The standard critical text of Callimachus of the second half of the 20th century and, though new papyri have been discovered since its publication, it is still required reading today. The testimonia are collected on pp. xcv–cvi.

  • Pfeiffer, Rudolf. 1968. History of Classical scholarship from the beginnings to the end of the Hellenistic age. Oxford: Clarendon.

    A learned study of Hellenistic scholarship. First published in 1949 and still the best.

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