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Callimachus: "Aetia"

- Against The Telchines

Callimachus was one of the most famous Greek poets of the 3rd century B.C. He was a champion of the short, polished poem as opposed to long epics, and the start of his "Aetia", translated here, is his reply to those who preferred lengthy poems.

Callimachus chose to call his opponents Telchines, mythical characters who are described by Strabo (14.2.7) as "maligners" and "sorcerers". Ovid (Met_7'365) says bluntly, "the Telchines were inhabitants of Ialysus, whose eyes defiled everything they looked on, till Jupiter in his loathing drowned them in the waters of his brother Neptune."

This passage has been preserved on a fragment of papyrus with many gaps, but much of the meaning can be restored with the help of scholia, which supply some of the names of his poetical opponents. One name is surprisingly missing: despite the tradition recorded by the Suda, of a bitter dispute between Callimachus and the epic poet Apollonius of Rhodes, scholars have concluded that Apollonius was not mentioned here in the scholia. The translation of the poem is by C.A.Trypanis (1958); the translation of the scholia is partly based on F.Nisetich (2001).


{I know that} the Telchines, who are ignorant and no friends of the Muse, grumble at my poetry, because I did not accomplish one continuous poem of many thousands of lines on . . . kings or . . . heroes, but like a child I roll forth a short tale, though the decades of my years are not few. And I {say} this to the Telchines ... race, who know how to waste away your heart . . . of few lines, but bountiful Demeter by far outweighs the long . . . and of the two poems the small-scale . . . and not the Large Woman taught that Mimnermus is a delightful poet . . . let the crane, delighting in the blood of the Pygmies, {fly far} from Egypt to the land of the Thracians and let the Massagetae shoot their arrows from a great distance at {the Medes}; but poems are sweeter for being short. Begone, you baneful race of Jealousy! hereafter judge poetry by {the canons} of art, and not by the Persian chain, nor look to me for a song loudly resounding. It is not mine to thunder; that belongs to Zeus. For, when I first placed a tablet on my knees, Lycian Apollo said to me : ". . . poet, feed the victim to be as fat as possible but, my friend, keep the Muse slender. This too I bid you; tread a path which carriages do not trample; do not drive your chariot upon the common tracks of others, nor along a wide road, but on unworn paths, though your course be more narrow. For we sing among those who love the shrill voice of the cicada and not the noise of the . . . asses." Let others bray just like the long-eared brute, but let me be the dainty, the winged one. Oh, yes indeed! That I may sing living on dew-drops, free sustenance from the divine air; that I may then shed old age, which weighs upon me like the three-cornered island [Sicily] upon deadly Enceladus. But never mind! For if the Muses have not looked askance at one in his childhood, they do not cast him from their friendship when he is grey.

[Scholia Florentina] Telchines . . . grumble at my poetry:- . . . the two Dionysii . . . and Asclepiades the [son of] Sicelides and Poseidippus the . . . {and} ...yrippus the rhetorician and Ana{. .}bius and Praxiphanes of Mitylene, who criticised the slenderness of his poems and that {he did} not . . . length . . .

{of few lines}:- and he cites in comparison those poems of Mimnermus the Colophonian and Philetas the Coan, which are of a few lines only, saying that they are better than their works in many lines . . .


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