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Propertius' Book 4 Notes

Classics Notes > Latin Literature of the 1st Century AD Notes

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Discuss the importance of Callimachus for Propertius Book Four In the frst poem of book four Callimachus declares himself to be the new Roman Callimachus; he rejects the epic style of poetry of men like Ennius and instead seems to commit himself to following the Callimachean style of poetry. "Bacchus, give me leaves of your ivy, that Umbria may swell with pride ay my books, Umbria the home of Rome's Callimachus (4.1.60)." This is a bold claim but one which he broadly follows throughout the majority of the fourth book, imitatng in partcular his aetological material (a new feature for Propertus' in book four) and his wity and ironic style. For these reasons the importance of Callimachus for Propertus book four becomes clear; it was his style he wished to emulate and surpass in Latn elegaics. Propertus' rejecton of epic material in favour of aetological descriptons, "I shall sing of rites and deites and ancient names of places: this is the goal to which my foaming steed must press" (4.1.70), closes resembles a declaraton which Callimachus himself makes in the prologue to his Aeta; these lines are, therefore, one of the most obvious allusions to his Greek predecessor in the entrety of book four. Callimachus says that people who are ignorant of his poetry grumble that it is not a long epic poem consistng of thousands of lines on kings and heroes but he prefers a very diferent approach. He says that Apollo once told him, "Poet, feed the victm to be as fat as possible, but, my friend, keep the Muse slender. This too I bed 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" (Aeta 1.25f). He wants to avoid the long, convoluted works of epic poetry and write smaller, more precise poems on topics which are not usually writen upon and to meet the demands of his own prologue he choose to write aetological descriptons. Propertus emulates both Callimachus' practse of setng out his poetc creed and the partcular nature of the style of poetry he choose to write. He backs up these claims in the very frst poem with a short aetological descripton of the city of Rome; something which is very reminiscent of Callimachus but also the Aeneid of Virgil which has an extensive tour of the future site of Rome and a foreshadowing of all the great locatons and monuments. In that case Aeneas visited the site while it was stll forest and grazing land but, obviously since he is writng from the perspectve of a much later tme, Propertus reverses this and invites the stranger to image what Rome looked like while Rome was stll a series of grassy hills and catle stll grazed on the Palatne. He also begins explaining the origins of certain rituals in the city, something he will do at much greater length in later poems, "No one then felt the need of foreign gods, when the tense crowd thrilled at the ritual of their fathers and bonfres of straw celebrated with the annual festval of Pales, just as now purifcaton is renewed with the docking of a horse" (4.1.20). His use of very rustc vocabulary and imagery, with emphasis on farming and husbandry in these lines, while describing what Rome used to be like puts a partcularly Roman twist on this example of Callimachean aetology; it was not enough for Propertus simply to emulate his predecessor

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