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Title: Pinakes  
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Subject: Library of Alexandria, Callimachus, Library catalog, Ancient Greek literature, Pinax
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"Pinakes" may be plural of pinax, a votive tablet that served as a votive object deposited in a sanctuary or burial chamber.

The Pinakes (Ancient Greek: Πίνακες "tables", plural of πίναξ) was a bibliographic work composed by Callimachus (310/305–240 BC) that is popularly considered to be the first library catalog; its contents were based upon the holdings of the Library of Alexandria during Callimachus' tenure there during the third century BCE.[1]


The Library of Alexandria had been founded by Ptolemy I Soter about 306 BCE. The first recorded librarian was Zenodotus of Ephesus. During Zenodotus' tenure, Callimachus, who was never the head librarian, compiled the Pinakes, thus becoming the first bibliographer and the scholar who organized the library by authors and subjects about 245 BCE.[2][3]

Apollonius of Rhodes was the successor to Zenodotus. Eratosthenes of Cyrene succeeded Apollonius in 235 BCE and compiled his tetagmenos epi teis megaleis bibliothekeis, the "scheme of the great bookshelves." In 195 BCE Aristophanes of Byzantium was the librarian and updated the Pinakes,[4] although it is also possible that his work was not a supplement of Callimachus' Pinakes themselves, but an independent polemic against, or commentary upon, their contents.[5]


The library collection at the Library of Alexandria contained nearly 500,000 rolls, which were grouped together by subject matter and stored in bins.[6] Each bin carried a label with painted tablets hung above the stored papyri. Pinakes was named after these tablets and are a set of books or rolls of index lists. The bins gave bibliographical information for every roll.[7] A typical entry started with a title. It also provided the author's name, birthplace, his father's name, any teachers he trained under, and his educational background. It contained a brief biography of the author and a list of the author's publications. The entry had the first line of the work, a summary of its contents, the name of the author, and information about the origin of the roll.[8]

Callimachus' system divided works into six genres and five sections of prose. These were rhetoric, law, epic, tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry, history, medicine, mathematics, natural science and miscellanies. Each category was alphabetized by author.

Callimachus composed two other works that were referred as pinakes and were probably somewhat similar in format to the Pinakes (of which they "may or may not be subsections"[9]), but were concerned with individual topics. These are listed by the Suda as: A Chronological Pinax and Description of Didaskaloi from the Beginning and Pinax of the Vocabulary and Treatises of Democritus.[10]

Later bibliographic pinakes

The term pinax was used for bibliographic catalogs beyond Callimachus. For example, Ptolemy-el-Garib's catalog of Aristotle's writings comes to us with the title Pinax (catalog) of Aristotle's writings.[11]


The Pinakes proved indispensable to librarians for centuries. They became a model to use all over the Mediterranean. Their later influence can be traced to medieval times, even to the Arabic counterpart of the tenth century: Ibn al-Nadim's Al-Fihrist ("Index"). Variations on this system were used in libraries until the late 1800s when Melvil Dewey developed the Dewey Decimal Classification in 1876, which is still in use today.[8]



  • "Alexandria: Library of Dreams", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 46 (2002) 348–62.
  • Krevans, N. "Callimachus and the Pedestrian Muse", in: A. Harder et al. (eds.) Callimachus II, Hellenistic Groningana 6 (Groningen, 2002) 173–84.
  • West, M.L. "The Sayings of Democritus", Classical Review (1969) 142.
  • Witty, F.J. "The Pinakes of Callimachus", Library Quarterly 28:1/4 (1958), 132–36.
  • Witty, F.J. "The Other Pinakes and Reference Works of Callimachus", Library Quarterly 43:3 (1973), 237–44.

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