Kallimachos: The Alexandrian Library and the Origins of Bibliography

By Rudolf Blum. Translated by Hans H. Wellisch. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin, 2011. 282 pp. $35.00 (paper). ISBN 978-0-299-13174-6.

Rudolf Blum’s copiously annotated investigation, originally published in German in 1977 and first issued in hardback translation in 1992, establishes Kallimachos’ “real achievement . . . as a librarian and bibliographer” (3), while arguing persuasively that he was the Alexandrian Library’s second director. Writing for technical services librarians aspiring to excellence as well as for an academic audience in classics and literary studies, Blum demonstrates that Kallimachos was a scholar of the highest caliber who deserved more recognition. Blum likewise shows that Kallimachos was the rightful inventor not only of the library catalog but also of the biobibliography—achievements that cement his permanent significance in library history and the annals of scholarship.

Kallimachos, a prolific poet from Kyrene inclined towards academic pursuits, worked in the Alexandrian Library making lists of the books stockpiled by the king. A collector with a discriminating intellect, Kallimachos thought it important and necessary “above all to find out who had been real authors of many works whose attribution was disputed or questionable, and at least to distinguish the genuine works of an author from the spurious ones” (236). Assisted by seven research assistants, he assembled comprehensive biographical data and precise textual notes. The result—a pioneering effort in literary criticism that is discussed specifically in the introduction and is a theme in the second and sixth chapters—is the Pinakes, or the first library catalog.

In his careful reconstruction of the remarkable catalog, Blum shows how the astute Kallimachos, adhering to methodology driven by analysis and discerning judgment, transformed his inventory of holdings into a “great bibliography of Greek authors . . . that started the line of national biographical dictionaries which continues to this day” (14). The critical bibliography, with its categorization of an author’s works by class or type (drama, poetry, and so on) and extensive cross-referencing, resembled a research guide providing complete and reliable access to holdings in the Alexandrian Library.

For someone as talented as Kallimachos, the vibrant intellectual milieu in the late fourth century B.C. and the beginning of the third century B.C. at the Alexandrian Library—described by Blum in the second chapter—presented an opportunity. The comprehensive collection development policy of the Ptolemies, Egypt’s royal family and sponsors of the library, resulted in acquisition of virtually all existing copies of works by Greek authors. While this provided abundant resources, it also meant the accumulation of titles by authors with the same name, variants by authors other than the originator, works falsely attributed to an author (mainly Homer), and copies diverging considerably from the each other.

Although a group effort, Blum leaves no doubt that the 120 books forming the Pinakes were an innovation by Kallimachos, who was “capable to peruse and utilize large masses of literature, and . . . [who] mastered the techniques of collection and classification of scientific material. . . .” (137). The enterprising Kallimachos, Blum concludes, “must be duly honored as founder of biobiliography and bibliography in general, because he is indeed the true “‘Father’ of bibliography, that important tool of intellectual work” (245).

William F. Meehan III, Valdosta State University