Saturday, January 13, 2007

Callimachus on Quality vs. Quantity

At the very end of his Hymn to Apollo, Callimachus (perhaps slightly self-conscious about the length of his poems compared to those of Homer?) offers a nice metaphor about the quality and quantity of poetry. Talking with Apollo, Φθόνος, or Envy, says:
οὐκ ἄγαμαι τὸν ἀοιδὸν ὃς οὐδ᾽ ὅσα πόντος ἀείδει

[I do not admire the singer who does not sing as great as the sea.]

There is perhaps a bit of wordplay here, as ἄγαμαι can also mean to envy. Apollo gives him a swift kick, and replies (108-112):
Ἀσσυρίου ποταμοῖο μέγας ῥόος, ἀλλὰ τὰ πολλά
λύματα γῆς καὶ πολλὸν ἐφ᾽ ὕδατι συρφετὸν ἕλκει.
Δηοῖ δ᾽ οὐκ ἀπὸ παντὸς ὕδωρ φορέουσι μέλισσαι,
ἀλλ᾽ ἥτις καθαρή τε καὶ ἀχράαντος ἀνέρπει
πίδακος ἐξ ἱερῆς ὀλίγη λιβὰς ἄκρον ἄωτον.

[The flow of the Assyrian river is great, but it drags much filth of the earth and much waste in addition to water. Bees, however, do not carry water to Demeter from just anywhere, but that which seeps up clean and undefiled from a sacred spring, a small trickle, best and choicest.]

The word μέλισσαι, bees, had two associations which are relevant here: It could be used of poets, such as μέλιττα Μούσης at line 974 of the Ecclesiazusae by Aristophanes (where μέλιττα is the Attic form of μέλισσα); and it was also used of the priestesses of Delphi, or Cybele, or Artemis, as well as those of Demeter (see Pindar P.4.60, and for Demeter, the scholiast to that line, LSJ).

This passage from Callimachus brought to my mind the bee in the Hittite myth of Telipinu. And I was interested to see that he uses the name Δηώ, which is a nickname for Demeter used in the Hymn to Demeter and the dramatists, but not in Homer or Hesiod.


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