Friday, January 29, 2016


Susan A. Stephens, Callimachus: The Hymns. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 324. ISBN 9780199783045. $27.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Robin J. Greene, Providence College (

Version at BMCR home site


The long line of high-quality scholarship on Callimachean poetry continues with Susan Stephen's new edition of the poet's Hymns. Although the body of literature devoted to Callimachus has expanded considerably in the past few decades, the last English commentaries for any of the hymns were released in the 1980s. While the excellent editions of D'Alessio (2007 [1996], in Italian) and Asper (2004, in German) contain text and notes for all six hymns, no such edition for Anglophone readers has been produced. Thus an updated, inclusive English edition—especially one responsive to the needs of advanced students as well as more experienced readers—has long been a desideratum. Stephens' edition admirably meets these needs. Not only does she succeed in her stated goal of providing "readers with a convenient and accessible edition of all six of Callimachus' hymns in one volume, accompanied by notes sufficient for ease of reading (vii)," but Stephens also integrates the best of modern scholarship with her own insights to provide a rich and up-to-date guide to the hymns.

The 43-page general introduction is thorough and informative as Stephens systematically considers the hymns' language, meters, relationships with each other, connections to hymnic and other literary traditions, cultural and political contexts, and transmission. Contemporary scholarly concerns are addressed throughout. For example, Stephens appends her overview of Callimachus' poetic effects (which nicely summarizes his concern for sound and image) with an introduction to Callimachean polyphony and his play with narrative voice. Similarly, recent critical interest in the hymns' links to actual cult and cult performance are reflected in her careful remarks on their deliberately complex mimetic postures as the poet "blur[s] the distinction between a one-time real performance event and a carefully contrived fiction" (12). Judicious evaluations of issues for which firm conclusions remain elusive are particular highlights. Stephens' section on the hymns as a carefully-arranged collection enumerates their shared thematic elements and complementary structures and features. Many of these elements have been identified by others,1 but she observes several new connections both here and throughout the volume. Although she reserves judgment on the identity of the editor, the possibility that the collection was authorially arranged is addressed occasionally in the commentaries (e.g. on τρίλλιστε, hDem 138, where the fall of evening may serve as a "fitting closure" for the collection). The dates of most of the hymns are also perennial issues. Stephens assesses the evidence and competing theories for the date of each hymn to provide an incisive account of certainties, probabilities, and possibilities; indeed, she is often at her best when sorting through what is known so as to address the ambiguous and inconclusive.

Although there is much of interest to experts in the introduction, one of its greatest virtues is Stephens' consistent attention to the needs of non-experts. Terms that may be unfamiliar are explained (e.g. Du-Stil, Er-Stil, epiklesis, "mimetic"), as are the various types of Greek hymns, their performance contexts, and key formal attributes. The sections on meters (including a useful comparison of Homeric and Callimachean hexameters) and dialects (complete with charts of epic-Ionic and Doric forms) offer readable and "user-friendly" guides to Callimachus' practices. Stephens' review of the manuscript tradition and papyri is similarly instructive and engaging. The discussion of the hymns' dates, the most demanding portion of the introduction, is preceded by a handy set of biographies of relevant Ptolemies, and begins with an overview of the advantages and disadvantages to using the various types of available evidence. Although this edition is not exclusively directed towards students, Stephens' lucid explanations and thoughtful additions ensure that it is accessible to a wide readership.

A compact individual introduction precedes the Greek text of each hymn, after which follow Stephens' English translation and commentary. Each introduction begins with an overview that describes the hymn's structure, narrative, and central themes, and also supplies perspective on the hymn's essential nature. Thus, for example, the overview of hDem concludes with a discussion of the Erysichthon narrative as a "boundary transgression" that also "provides a potent criticism of aristocratic excess in a form calculated to amuse as well as instruct" (264). In the remaining three sections of the individual introductions Stephens outlines each hymn's links to the deity and his or her cults, its critical sources and intertexts, and its connections to the Ptolemies. Her summaries of the hymns' sources and intertexts cover quite a bit of familiar territory and also suggest some new prospects; of particular note is her examination of the Homeric, hymnic, lyric, and tragic depictions of Artemis that inform Callimachus' own representation of the goddess in hArt. The sections on relevant cults (local and Panhellenic) and major Ptolemaic elements contextualize each hymn and briefly analyze Callimachus' evocations of significant contemporary practices, institutions, and individuals. Stephens separates these sections, but her treatment of the hymns' links to specific cults in the Hellenistic period affirms that an absolute dividing line between popular cult and imperial concerns cannot always be drawn.

Stephens' Greek text is nearly identical to Pfeiffer's. As she notes (46), the primary difference is that she includes more Doric forms in hAth and hDem than Pfeiffer (though fewer than Hopkinson and Bulloch propose). She is especially alert to possible intertexts signaled by Callimachus' use of dialect forms; at times these guide her readings (e.g. νιν, hZeus 4, following Cuypers; σοῦσθε, hAth 4; μοῦνος, hAth 75).

The commentaries are short in comparison to those produced for individual hymns in the 1970s and 1980s. At 53 pages, Stephens' commentary for hDelos is the longest; hZeus the shortest at 14 pages. In the preface Stephens observes that limitations of space have resulted in her presentation of "linguistic, metrical, historical, geographic and cultic material" that "necessarily lack[s] the wealth of scholarly detail" provided by the earlier editions (vii). Much of the commentaries' brevity is achieved through Stephens' acknowledged reliance upon her predecessors. Extended discussion of particular interpretations and matters ranging from manuscript readings to ancillary literary comparanda are typically absent when the matter in question has been well discussed in a previous Anglophone edition or study. So, for example, Stephens' comment on an emendation to hAth 83: "ἑστάκη (=Attic ἑστήκει): this unaugmented Doric pluperfect is not found elsewhere in literary texts; it is Buttmann's correction of a problematic ms. reading and universally accepted. See Bulloch ad loc." Bulloch's long note reviews the issue, the arguments for the solution, and similar forms in other texts and inscriptions. While such information certainly is of value to a researcher, Stephens, as part of her necessary "scholarly triage," elects not to reproduce it. Accordingly, this edition complements but does not fully displace earlier commentaries.

Although scholars may miss long meditations on minutiae and comprehensive evaluations of past scholarship, Stephens' commentaries nonetheless offer an abundance of information and analysis that rewards careful reading. Throughout she provides studied, though often crisp, remarks on the sorts of elements one would expect of a commentary on Callimachus' hymns: Homeric hapax legomena, Callimachean coinages, links to Homeric Hymns, certain and possible intertexts, mythic references, problematic terms, metrics, and occasional notes on grammar and syntax. Naturally, readers will take issue with individual notes. In general, however, Stephens' comments are marked by her sensitivity to the spirit of Callimachean poetics and careful approach to the available evidence. Considerations of space prevent detailed review. Instead, I highlight a handful of the ways in which Stephens' commentaries are distinct from or update earlier editions.

Unsurprisingly, given her past work,2 Stephens supplements her introductory discussions of relevant political and cultural elements with more specific considerations throughout. In addition to passages that have evident political associations (e.g. hZeus 85-88), a number of more understated connections are observed. For example, ἐπιδαίσιον (hZeus 59) may allude to co-regency (following the Suda s.v.) and may also refer to the Macedonian month Daisios. Possible references to recent history are assiduously noted. So Stephens suggests that κλήρους/κλᾶρον (hDelos 281, hAth 142) may "evoke the large-scale settlement of veterans on kleroi in the Fayum under Ptolemy II," while ζωστῆρες (hAp 85) may point to the fortification of the Athenian sanctuary of Zoster during the Chremonidean war.

Issues of Callimachean geography and 'geopoetics' are often addressed as Stephens evaluates the hymns' itineraries and references to various locations especially—but not exclusively—as they relate to Ptolemaic concerns. Several interesting notes suggest that Callimachus plays on a location in terms of both its historical and traditional or literary relevance (e.g. the Lipari islands, hArt 47-48; the Apidaneans, hZeus 14). Elsewhere the functional poetic importance of geographic elements is stressed, as at hDelos 19-22, where the four islands that follow Delos in the chorus "act as a geographical bracket encompassing the whole Greek world." In light of Callimachus' frequent references to geography, the maps included at the beginning of the volume are welcome additions. Stephens underscores Callimachus' relationship with genres that received less attention in past commentaries. In the individual introductions, she regularly considers lyric precedents (most notably Pindar's First Hymn, a likely model for hDelos). This attention is matched in the commentaries with frequent notices of lyric vocabulary and possible intertexts. Prose is also well represented, particularly Plato, and her comments on evocations of Plato complement the readings she and Acosta-Hughes have recently advanced.3 A fine example of this is her note on ἀειδόντεσσι (hArt 1). Stephens makes the compelling suggestion that Callimachus is alluding to Plato's "misreading" of ἀειδόντεσσι for Homer's ἀκουόντεσσι

(Od.1.351-52) in his attack on musical innovation at Rep. 424b9-10. As Stephens interprets it, Callimachus' allusion signals "his intention at the opening of the poem to offer a hymn that is an innovation on Homer, an ἀοιδή that is truly νεωτάτη."

The commentaries propose some interesting solutions to old issues. For example, the metrical abnormality and unconventional separation of ἐμεῖο and εἵνεκα in Leto's response to Peneius (hDelos 151-52) has occasioned different readings and suggested emendations. Rather than emend, Stephens points to a possible intertext with Od. 11.438 (a reference to Helen as the destruction of many men that features the same separation of εἵνεκα and its object) and suggests that "Leto by turning away from Peneius shuns the role of Helen in bringing destruction upon others." Elsewhere Stephens' appreciation for the poet's playfulness informs her approach to suspect lines. Thus she muses that the metrical anomalies in hDem 91, a line that describes the melting of snow and wax, may be intentional: the line itself seems to melt.

While the list of works cited is not exhaustive, it is robust and offers an up-to-date collection of relevant scholarship; a number of works published as recently as the end of 2014 appear. Indices of subjects, select Greek words, and passages discussed round out the volume.

My criticisms are few, confined to specific points made in the commentaries, and do not detract from the sum value of this edition. At times the brevity of the notes did leave me wanting more detailed discussion or more generous bibliography for an issue, but Stephens' objective was for the edition to be functional, not comprehensive, and in this she was certainly successful. The volume was meticulously proofread, but a few minor bibliographic errors occur.4

In short, Stephens has produced a deeply learned and highly useful work that should be warmly welcomed by scholars and students alike.


1.   E.g. N. Hopkinson. Callimachus: The Hymn to Demeter (Cambridge 1984) 13-17.
2.   E.g. Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria (Berkeley and Los Angeles 2003).
3.   B. Acosta-Hughes and S. Stephens. Callimachus in Context (Cambridge 2012) esp. 23-83.
4.   A handful of critical editions are cited in the commentaries in abbreviated form but their full bibliographic information is not provided elsewhere: Wehrli's Clearchus of Soli (p. 97); Headlam's Herodas (p. 132); Livrea's Argonautica 4 (pp. 261, 279); and Olsen and Sens' Matro of Pitane (p. 276). A reference to Dobias-Lalou (p. 277) incorrectly gives her book's publication year as 2005, not 2000. The correct date appears in the works cited.

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