The new metropolis of Alexandria was divided into five sectors, labelled by the first five letters of the alphabet.1 This organisational device, standard since the fifth century,2 prompts a tale of the city's foundation from the author of the Alexander Romance, usually known as Pseudo-Callisthenes: ‘When Alexander had laid the foundation for most of the city, he marked out the space and marked it with five letters, ΑΒΓΔΕ. The alpha for “Alexander” (Alexandros), the beta for “king” (basileus), the gamma for “descendant” (genos), and the delta for “of Zeus” (Dios), the epsilon for “founded” (ektisen) the inimitable city.’3 Pseudo-Callisthenes reads the map of the city as an acronym of its own foundation: the letters by which the inimitable city is marked out are revealed by the tale-teller to be not an ordering device of signs arbitrarily applied to civic space, but a significant, ostensive mimesis of the past, an historical record. Now, Hellenistic poetry again and again rehearses such a gesture of archaeological uncovering of a sedimented world of meaning. The epic voyage of Apollonius' Argonauts travels round the boundaries of the known world, discovering and exploring archaeological, historical, mythological, etymological, psychological data, in its search for the golden fleece. Callimachus' Aetia interweaves in a discontinuous narrative a collection of aetiological stories — recovering the origins of rites, words, objects. Both poets conjoin a strong sense of the inherited and controlling models of the past with an ironic and manipulative distancing from an Aristotelian criterion of to eikos (the probable, likely, natural, paradigmatic), as the physical world and human actions in it are dissected, 214fragmented, refracted by the Hellenistic poets' strategies of representation. In Hellenistic literary culture, there is, in short, a distinctive way of looking at things.