The idea that a writer’s works form the record of a clearly defined career is a familiar but relatively understudied aspect of ancient literary history. In Greek literature, relevant motifs appear already in Homer (in the Iliad, Achilles’ self-referential singing of klea andron (9.189) in combination with Telemachus’s defense of Phemius’s novel, post-Iliadic theme in the Odyssey (1.345–352), and Hesiod (initiated by the Muses at Theogony 22–34 and at Works and Days 650–662 previously victorious—with Theogony?—in a singing contest at the funeral games of Amphidamas). But thinkers of the archaic and classical periods generally considered a poet’s work in a single genre as an expression of his immanent character, and not as the result of a career choice. Beginning with Thucydides and Xenophon, however, retired military men and politicians establish a normative career pattern in the genre of history. But in the Hellenistic period, as poets cultivate expertise in many genres (polyeideia), the career motif begins to come in to view.
The Batrachomyomachia (BM), the “Battle of Frogs and Mice,” is a mock epic poem of slightly more than 300 dactylic hexameter verses, broadly imitating the language and style of Homer. The poem was widely read as a school text in the Byzantine period. As transmitted in the manuscripts, it contains a number of interpolated verses, and the generally problematic character of the textual tradition complicates the assessment of a number of passages. The work has been variously dated, but it is more likely to be the work of the late Hellenistic period than of the early Classical age, since it contains what appear to be allusions to Moschus’s Europa and Callimachus’s Aetia, and its language shows the influence of Latin. References to the poem in the preface to the Silvae of Statius (1 pr.) and in an epigram of Martial (14.183) provide a terminus ante quem in the last decades of the 1st century ce.
Callimachus was a Greek poet and scholar who flourished in the first half of the 3rd century bce in Alexandria, wrote in the context of its Library and Museum, and had close connections to the Ptolemaic court. Apart from six hymns and around sixty epigrams, Callimachus’s texts, both poetry and prose, have survived only in fragments. Chief among his fragmentary works are the Aetia, Iambi, and Hecale: the many papyrus fragments and quotations from these poems give evidence of their lasting impact and popularity in antiquity. Callimachus’s work is highly allusive, refined, learned, and experimental, but also attuned to its political and cultural context and engaged in a poetological discourse with predecessors and colleagues. In his poetry, Callimachus absorbs much of the earlier Greek literary tradition, and his experiments and innovations, while highly original, also reflect trends suggested by the generations preceding him. He in turn exercised great influence on later Roman and Greek poetry, particularly on the poets of Augustan Rome.
Greek discussion of unified organic form, as both a biological principle and a literary virtue, has been very influential in Western criticism. What survives before late antiquity of that Greek tradition as applied to literature is, however, relatively sparse; crucial above all are the Homeric poems and ancient discussion of them, together with some passages of Plato and Aristotle. The fact that the bulk of later surviving criticism derives from rhetorical teaching, heavily indebted to the Isocratean tradition, means that much greater prominence is given to the closely related ideas of variety (poikilia) and the avoidance of monotony over the course of a long work, and to the arrangement and ordering (taxis) of narrative than to “unity”; there is no standard term for “unity” in Greek criticism.Homer announces the subject of the Iliad as the wrath of Achilles, which wrought terrible destruction upon the Greeks, but, however dominant the story of the wrath and its consequences, the scope of the poem is clearly not limited to that subject. Reflection upon the Iliad stands at the beginning and the heart of ancient discussion of unity, and it is the Iliad that shows why “unity” and “variety” are entirely compatible in ancient criticism.
The influence of Hellenistic Greek poetry on Roman poetry can hardly be overestimated. Latin poetry is from its beginnings based on scholarly appreciation of the literary production of the Greeks, and it was from the perspective of the literary and scholarly activity of the Hellenistic period that the Romans viewed Greek literature as a whole. The fragmentary nature of early Latin poetry means that the first stages of the *reception of Hellenistic poetry at Rome remain obscure. It is possible that *Livius Andronicus employed the work of Hellenistic commentators on Homer in translating the Odyssey and that *Naevius and *Accius knew and imitated the Argonautica of Apollonius. The Annales of *Ennius provides better evidence. When he proclaims his originality, presents himself as dicti studiosus (“a student of language”) proud of his stylistic superiority over his predecessors, and describes his poetic initiation, he has in mind *Callimachus(3)'s Aetia, although the exact nature and extent of his debt remain unclear.
The collection of verse fables by Babrius, a Greek poet about whose life nothing is known, survives, albeit not in its entirety, in a manuscript which only came to light at the beginning of the 19th century. The focus of scholarship accordingly lay after its discovery, and for some 200 years, largely on textual history and criticism. Modern analytical approaches have revealed that Babrius is a skilled and fascinating narrator, one who attaches more importance to the plot of his fables than to the moral of each tale. Indeed, the composition and disposition of his two-book work—written in choliambics, the fables are set out in loosely alphabetical order but connected by a web of intratextual allusions, all in combination with obvious intertextual references to classical Greek literature—places the poet firmly in the Hellenistic tradition of self-reflexive poetry.Babrius’s fables date roughly from the end of the 2nd or the beginning of the 3rd century ce and, around the year 400, were drawn on by the Roman poet Avianus for his own collection of fables.
Iambic poetry refers to a loosely delineated genre of Greek poetry typically, but not exclusively, composed in the iambic metre. Iamboi tended to be comedic in tone and episodic in narrative structure, freely amalgamating elevated and low diction (including liberal use of obscenity) for parodic, humorous effect. Iambic poets were most celebrated in antiquity as poets of satire who attacked and mocked various adversaries in first-person narratives. The iamboi of Archilochus (7th century bce) and Hipponax (6th century bce), which survive only as fragments, became emblematic of such aggressive comic mockery, although other literary elements can be detected in both poets as well, including parody, picaresque narratives, and fable. Some Hellenistic Greek poets—most notably Callimachus in his Iamboi and Herodas in his Mimiamboi (a dramatized form of iambos)— composed iamboi that were influenced in particular by Hipponax’s iambic style.“Iambic” metre got its name from iambos (.