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Seeing Double

Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria

Susan A. Stephens
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 311
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  • Book Info
    Seeing Double
    Book Description:

    When, in the third century B.C.E., the Ptolemies became rulers in Egypt, they found themselves not only kings of a Greek population but also pharaohs for the Egyptian people. Offering a new and expanded understanding of Alexandrian poetry, Susan Stephens argues that poets such as Callimachus, Theocritus, and Apollonius proved instrumental in bridging the distance between the two distinct and at times diametrically opposed cultures under Ptolemaic rule. Her work successfully positions Alexandrian poetry as part of the dynamic in which Greek and Egyptian worlds were bound to interact socially, politically, and imaginatively. The Alexandrian poets were image-makers for the Ptolemaic court,Seeing Doublesuggests; their poems were political in the broadest sense, serving neither to support nor to subvert the status quo, but to open up a space in which social and political values could be imaginatively re-created, examined, and critiqued.Seeing Doubledepicts Alexandrian poetry in its proper context-within the writing of foundation stories and within the imaginative redefinition of Egypt as "Two Lands"-no longer the lands of Upper and Lower Egypt, but of a shared Greek and Egyptian culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92738-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    On returning from Egypt in 1799 Napoleon introduced a sweeping heraldic reform: he replaced the enduring symbol of the old monarchy, the fleur-de-lis, with the device of a bee. The bee was ubiquitous in its use by the royal house, appearing on the coronation robes, state furniture, and occasionally even on Napoleon’s coat of arms. But Napoleon’s reason for making this change was by no means obvious, even to his contemporaries. The explanation of his choice lies outside of a symbolic repertory familiar from French culture or traditional western iconography. Napoleon borrowed his new royal insignia from Egypt. For over...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Conceptualizing Egypt
    (pp. 20-73)

    Greek immigration to Ptolemaic Egypt entailed not only physical relocation to a foreign landscape, but encounter with a culture produced by alien habits of mind. However, immigration was preceded by a process of domestication of this alien world that had begun at least as early as the sixth century b.c.e.,¹ with Greek writers alternately demonizing or romanticizing Egypt and its cultural institutions, inventorying, and finally appropriating them. Therefore, before turning to a consideration of what the poets of Alexandria could have known about purely Egyptian systems of thought in the third century b.c.e., we need to take cognizance not only...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Callimachean Theogonies
    (pp. 74-121)

    Callimachus wrote for and about the Ptolemies on more than one occasion, yet our modern anti-imperial bias diminishes our ability to appreciate the dynamics of this poetry. Either we reject it as sycophantic or rescue it by reading it as subversive or not really about its chosen subject—the Ptolemies or the gods—but fundamentally about poetry. The extreme view is that Callimachus is a poet who is engaged in “art for art’s sake” and who has retreated into formalism and a preoccupation with style over substance either as a reaction against the necessity of writing for an uncongenial imperial...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Theocritean Regencies
    (pp. 122-170)

    For the most part Theocritus’s poetry exists in a timeless and apolitical setting, the exact physical location of which is not identifiable. The cultivated simplicity of style, vivid ecphrases, and dialogue combine to make him more immediately accessible to a modern reader than either Callimachus or Apollonius, with the result that his poetry has also received a more favorable critical reception. But Theocritus also produced court poetry that has been less favorably received by his critics and is usually judged to be of inferior poetic value.¹ He wrote two poems addressed to living monarchs, Hiero of Syracuse (Idyll16) and...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 4 Apollonian Cosmologies
    (pp. 171-237)

    In choosing to write epic Apollonius distanced himself from Callimachus’s and Theocritus’s poetry about the court so successfully that R. Hunter could write in 1993: “Very little attention has … been paid to the Ptolemaic context of Apollonius’ epic, to the question of why the Head of the Library should write onthissubject rather than any other.”¹ The question has been ignored because the Homeric epic, unlike theAeneid, is constructed as a closed generic form that resists connection with the present; rather, its action is located in a remote past of national beginnings and first times. The genre...

  12. CHAPTER 5 The Two Lands
    (pp. 238-258)

    Throughout its recorded history, Egyptians conceptualized their country as dual, as “the Two Lands”: Upper Egypt, or the valley of the Nile proper from Memphis to the first cataract in the south, and Lower Egypt, the fertile alluvial plain of the Delta in the north. The historical beginning of Egypt was imagined as a specific event: the “Unification of the Two Lands.” Pharaonic titulature emphasized the role of the king as unifier;¹ and the two regions came to have a separate set of iconographies—crowns, plants, animals, divinities. This dichotomy was so central that throughout the course of Egyptian history...

  13. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 259-268)
  14. Index of Passages Cited
    (pp. 269-276)
  15. Index
    (pp. 277-292)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-296)