Hellenistic poetry at Rome

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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. When, however, Ennius in his Annals proclaims his originality, presents himself as a student of language proud of his stylistic superiority over his predecessors, and describes his poetic initiation, he has in mind Callimachus' 2 Aetia.

For Catullus and a few like‐minded contemporaries (Cicero's ‘new poets’ or ‘neoterics’), the ideal of Hellenistic elegance and style was represented by Callimachus. They cultivate a studied elegance in vocabulary, word order, metre, and narrative form with the aim of bringing Callimachean refinement to Latin poetry. Epic and drama give way to polymetric experiments in lyric and iambic poetry, to epigram and narrative elegy, and to the epyllion. After the neoterics came the Augustans. Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid all owe much to Hellenistic models and the Callimachean aesthetic. But there is more to Hellenistic poetry at Rome than Callimachus. Philitas, Theocritus, Aratus, Apollonius (1) Rhodius, and the epigrammatists collected in the Garland of Meleager were all read and imitated.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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