Lawrence Gums

This topic contains 4 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  nsatkovich 3 years, 1 month ago.

Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)
  • Author
  • #533


    This forum is dedicated to your writing on your prospective paper/abstract/bibliography.



    I would like, for my research, to explore the competition between poets within the Ptolemaic kingdom. Researching specifically how it was those poets separated themselves from either A) One another, or B) traditional norms, in order to gain favor with the king. I would like to use their own writing to analyze differences within their literature, specifically, where they differentiated themselves. I’ll narrow my research down to two authors, maybe Callimachus and Theocritus, however, I could focus on different authors as well.

    Both Callimachus and Theocritus wrote against the tradition of epic in how their work was exceptionally shorter, more to the point, and without filler. Working to utilize the Greek language to its greatest potential these authors found the epic tradition to be unnecessary. But how exactly were they different? How did they utilize those differences to assert themselves as the better poet?

    I’ve been all over the place on what to write about, and haven’t been totally convinced of any topic to date, but I feel like this may be an interesting place to start, so suggestions are very much appreciated along with patience.



    χαῖρε, Lawrence!

    Here’s the citation for the article I mentioned last evening. We read it last summer at the Sunoikisis seminar. Prof. De Smidt should have access to those materials, or I can send you a pdf over e-mail. Just contact me at

    A. Petrovic, “Epigrammatic Contests, Poeti Vaganti, and Local History” in Rutherford and Hunter (eds.). Wandering Poets in Ancient Greek Culture: Travel, Locality and Pan-Hellenism, 2009, pp. 195–218.





    Lawrence, as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about poetic competition at Alexandria, I like the direction of your paper topic. A few quick suggestions and a few questions that I hope can help you to narrow down this topic and develop an argument about these poets which you can defend in your paper.

    First, some background. Here are a few things you could read, or at least skim, if possible to frame your ideas about these poets:
    – Since you have mentioned specifically the poets’ relationship to the king and kingdom, I think that Susan Stephen’s 2003 “Seeing Double” ( would be extremely helpful for context. The first chapter gives an overview of 3rd-cent. Egypt and the political environment in which the poets worked and the book has chapters on both of the poets you mention (and one on Apollonius).
    – You may find chapters/articles on the “quarrel” between Callimachus and Apollonius helpful for thinking not just about how these poets competed among themselves, but also how they positioned themselves differently against, as you say, the epic tradition. The most accessible account, I think, would be chapter 1 of Mary DeForest’s 1994 “Apollonius’ Argonautica: A Callimachean Epic” (, but you may also find Lefkowitz’s 1980 article on the quarrel helpful as well (

    These should get you started, but I want to encourage you to put your own ideas forward about these poets and their works first. You have good instincts so far about how these poets are deviating from tradition, carving out their own artistic space, and working in political environment that is much different from their predecessors. Follow these instincts. And so a few questions to help you do so…

    – Are there specific poems by Callimachus or Theocritus that you found particularly interesting? Where, say, the deviation from epic was in your opinion especially pronounced, or figures of authority (like the king) seemed to play an important role? Consider narrowing your down to one or two poems that you already feel some connection to.
    – Do you sense a recurring theme or pattern in the poems that brought ideas of big vs. small, or king vs. poet, or poet vs. poet to your attention in the first place? Words that keep turning up in the passages that interest you? People or kinds of people? Related ideas (e.g. colors, body parts, emotions, religious language, that sort of thing)?
    – Is there anything in Stephens or Lefkowitz (or anything else you’ve read *about* these works) that does not match your experience with what you’ve read for this class? This is a perfect opportunity for developing an arguable thesis for your paper: e.g., Prof. X says A, B, and C, but in my reading of Callimachus I have noticed X, Y, and Z (and here are the passages that prove it). This can be a great strategy for leading with your ideas and setting them against a conversation that scholars are already having about your topic.

    You’re on the right track with an interesting topic—let’s see what we can do now to narrow it down and focus it on something you feel strongly about and want to argue for when it comes to these poems and poets.

    I hope that you find this helpful, and please feel free to follow up with me, either here or by email pjb311[at]nyu[dot]com. Best, PJB



    Lawrence, I wanted to check in and see if the books/articles/etc. I recommended have been helpful and to see how your work in coming along. Feel free to follow up here or by email pjb311[at]nyu[dot]com. Best, PJB

Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Skip to toolbar