Callimachus, Aetia Prologue: Second century AD

In addition to texts of the Lesbian poets Sappho and Alcaeus, Oxyrhynchus significantly increased the number of texts of the new poets of the Hellenistic age who ushered in a new way of writing. Foremost was Callimachus with his elegiac poem Aetia, on foundations of cities and families and origins of myths. The papyrus copy shows the opening of the poem’s first book, containing a riposte to his critics and an account of his boyhood investiture of poetic skill by Apollo (at lines 21-3):

‘And when I first put a writing tablet on my knees, Lycian Apollo said to me: “Poet, make your sacrifice as fat as you can but, my good fellow, nourish a delicate Muse”.’

The line beginnings of 21-22 can be filled in from quotations of these two lines in ancient authors; in v. 24 threpsai ‘nourish’ was supplied by R. Pfeiffer (Grenfell and Hunt had restored dounai ‘give’). Above Telkhinai (‘bad-spirited back-biters’) in the opening line, a later annotator has written a one-word comment: [b]askhanoi (‘of the evil eye’).

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. XVII no. 2079 fr. 1

Scribes and Scholars