The Well-Read Muse
Present and Past in Callimachus and the Hellenistic Poets
By Peter Bing
Tradition and originality, the interplay of present and past, are a concern of poets in any age. Peter Bing's seminal monograph, The Well-Read Muse: Present and Past in Callimachus and the Hellenistic Poets, chases this idea through the thickets of Hellenistic poetry and particularly among the lines of Callimachus' Hymn to Delos.
In this carefully argued and stimulating study, the author investigates the era in which the written work - the book - superseded the assumption of oral composition and performance. In this and in other respects, as this study demonstrates, Hellenistic poets saw themselves as now being part of a new world, remote from the great genres and achievements of the earlier literary tradition. That sense of distance from the past gave authors freedom to experiment. At the same time, it incited them to view their poetic heritage as something deserving intense scholarly study. The author examines one fundamental result of this attitude, the Hellenistic tendency toward learned allusion, and what this meant to a period pursuing a different literary approach.
The Well-Read Muse concludes with an analysis of Callimachus' Hymn to Delos as a paradigmatic instance of the play between present and past, tradition and originality that typified the age. Here the author sheds important light on the poet's choice not to make Apollo his theme, as his models had, but to focus rather on the diminutive, slender island, through which the god of song was born.
Accompanied by a new Introduction by the author and corrections to the text and notes, as well as by an extensive bibliography and indices of passages and subjects discussed, The Well-Read Muse provides an important understanding of this turning point in Greek poetical development. There was no escaping the new world of which these poets were a part: Peter Bing's impressive work examines the ways in which poets confronted this new reality.
Preface to the 2008 Edition
Chapter 1 - Poetic Inspiration and the Poet's Self Image in Hellenistic Greece
Chapter 2 - Rupture and Revival. The Poet's Link to the Literary Past
Chapter 3 - Callimachus' Hymn to Delos
Chapter 4 - Conclusion
Structural Diagram of the Hymn to Delos
Peter Bing is Professor of Classics at Emory University, and Chair of his department. He is well known for his work on Hellenistic poetry, his translations of Greek and Roman erotic poetry, and also of books on Greek religion. He has been a fellow of the Center for Hellenic Studies, the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung at the University of Tubingen, Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge, and holder of the Tytus Fellowship at the University of Cincinnati.