Inscribed epigram was a tool for the ancient Greeks to respond to personal and civic crisis. Epigrams mark relief from financial ruin or illness, success after competitive struggle; they commemorate those fallen in battle and, more generally, memorialize the dead. Callimachus’ epigrams exploit this generic feature for literary effect. They present contrasting forms of response to crisis, from emotional urgency and distress to playful aloofness, disinterest and inaccessibility. There is a dramatic quality to these epigrams. Conflicting voices and perspectives establish scenarios which resist neat resolution. Author and reader are implicated in the miniature drama of Callimachean epigram. The erotic cycle thematizes emotional urgency; the sepulchral epigrams present a bleak view of death and loss. As in Greek tragedy, crisis in these epigrams is tied up with the absolute—the inexorability of erotic desire, divine will and death. The act of reading, interpretation and authentication is also undercut in a series of epigrams on pseudepigrapha. Like the inscribed models he inherits, Callimachus’ epigrams are not mere thought-exercises, nor do they recommend a smirking withdrawal from the world; instead, the epigrams depict a range of engaged and embodied responses to moments of crisis.
|Title of host publication
|Crisis and Resilience in Hellenistic Poetry
|Accepted/In press - 2022