In April, 2019 I defended my dissertation, Callimachus and Callimacheanism in the Poetry of Gregory of Nazianzus, in the Greek and Latin department at Catholic University of America. In this work I use Gregory’s reception of Callimachus of Alexandria as a way to probe the aesthetic aims that undergirded Gregory’s poetic project. You may find the abstract and the entire dissertation as a PDF below.
In this study, I analyze the poetics of Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 330–390 AD), who was one of the first Christian poets writing in Greek to leave an extensive corpus of poetry (about 17,000 lines). Gregory work is striking not only for its breadth but also for its wide variety of themes and metrical schemes. As my focal point, I have chosen Gregory’s reception and adaptation of the poetry and poetics of Callimachus of Cyrene (ca. 290–230 BC). Callimachus was the first poet in the western tradition to enunciate an aesthetic and came to typify for subsequent authors an approach to poetry that privileged finely-wrought, compressed, and erudite compositions. I argue that for Gregory, Callimachus’ works are more than simply one more source to exploit for nice turns of phrase; rather, Callimachus pervasively shapes Gregory’s entire approach to poetic composition. This is seen not only in Gregory’s allusions to Callimachean works, which are numerous and occur quite frequently in programmatic contexts, but also in features of Gregory’s work like poikilia (variety) and a strong authorial persona that have their best precedent in Callimachus’ variegated oeuvre.
In chapter one, I survey Callimachus’ reception in the second and third centuries AD. By examining the three most extensive works of hexametric didactic extant from this period (Dionysius’ Periegesis, Oppian’s Halieutica, and ps.-Oppian’s Cynegetica), I argue that Callimachus is a uniquely useful influence for probing how later poets create their poetic personae and enunciate their own aesthetic. Chapters 2–5 treat Gregory’s poetry. I have organized them around four traits that scholars have consistently associated with Callimachean poetry: originality, fineness (leptotēs), erudition, and self-awareness. In chapter two, I show how Gregory adapts the untrodden path motif found in the prologue to Callimachus’ Aetia. I contend that Gregory’s formal experimentation should be regarded as a deliberate embrace of Callimachean polyeideia. Chapter three has as its subject Gregory’s poetic style. I show that for Gregory, Callimachus typifies the concise and technically capable poet, as Gregory consistently advocates for concise speech through allusions to Callimachus’ works. In the fourth chapter, I attend to Gregory’s erudition. His self-proclaimed mastery of both pagan and Christian literature is a foundational aspect of his poetic persona. Though the patent didactic intent in some of Gregory’s verse is at odds with Callimachus’ practice, I argue that when Gregory deploys erudition for polemical and cultural ends he fits neatly within the tradition of Alexandrian didactic. In chapter five, I consider Gregory’s poetic self-awareness. I argue that, following Callimachean precedent, Gregory created sequences of multiple poems thematically linked by ring-compositions and self-allusions. I conclude that Gregory edited his poems much more extensively than has previously been recognized. My work illuminates on the one hand how pervasively Callimachus shapes Gregory’s approach to poetic composition. Yet I have also identified a number of significant ways in which Gregory consciously departs from his Callimachean model.