1. Date and Life
Apollonius Rhodius was a true citizen of the Mediterranean world which came into existence after the conquests of Alexander. The meagre evidence about his life tells that he was born in either Alexandria or Naucratis and that he had some association with Rhodes. Naucratis (the ‘city that has power over ships’ or ‘rules by means of ships’) conducted a considerable amount of trade with Rhodes. Many amphora handles stamped with the Rhodian mark have been found there, showing that the commercial and naval links between the cities were very close. Even if the story of Apollonius’ self-imposed exile on the island after a failed first recitation of the poem is attributed to the imagination of the ancient biographers, a scenario of a peripatetic, academic and poet travelling between Egypt and Rhodes in search of employment and, possibly, inspiration seems a plausible alternative. The distance of 325 miles could be covered in three and a half days, while the 275 mile leg from Athens to Rhodes took four. This, together with the fact that sailing was apparently possible throughout the year between Egypt and Rhodes, means that Apollonius could easily have made a career as a freelance scholar, travelling between two important centres of the enlarged Greek world.
One tentatively established point in Apollonius’ career is his appointment as Librarian of the Museum of Alexandria in the period 270–45 BC. This possibly places him in the reigns of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Ptolemy III Euergetes, the time of the First and Second Syrian Wars which confirmed the Ptolemaic kingdom’s position as the foremost naval power in the eastern Mediterranean, with Rhodes a close second. Thus, for him to write an epic based on a myth about Greek naval prowess and the eternal desire to explore seems a very natural thing to do, especially when we consider the environment of the Ptolemaic court in it was created: a society which owed its existence to the eternal Greek urge to explore, conquer and colonise, while, at the same time maintaining its cultural traditions.
2. Apollonius’ poetry
Although Apollonius would have written and spoken the Koine in his everyday life, his Argonautica is written in a literary language, which imitates that of the Iliad and the Odyssey, together with the influences of lyric poetry and Attic tragedy. The Hellenistic poets rejected the uniformity that the Koine imposed and turned to the dialects and genres of early Greek literature in search of linguistic variety. They seemed to be proud to continue the diglossia that has always been a part of the Greek language.
‘Longinus’ called him faultless, though not quite achieving the standard of 'sublimity’ set by Homer. Virgil was a great admirer and thoughtful critic. Moreover, judging from the papyri, there were plenty of manuscripts of the Argonautica circulating in Egypt well into the Roman period, showing that Apollonius was popular as well as highly esteemed. There are a number of reasons why this might be so for an ancient (and modern) audience. The poem functions on many different levels: set in the form of a exciting quest, it contains a range of characters whose actions and personal traits are susceptible to varying and different interpretation. It is also the work of a creative artist who was both textual scholar and interpretator of his own language and literary, determined to carry on a tradition in an innovatory way which constantly challenges his readers’ critical faculties. The following sections attempt to analyse the features which make the Argonautica such a ‘chimera-like’ epic poem.
Reading the Argonautica in the original Greek has been likened to ‘watching a penguin take to water.’ The feeling that the verses of the Argonautica move more rapidly compared with those of Homer, often propelled by a frequent use of enjambment is supported by statistical analysis and indeed the increased dactylic nature of Hellenistic verse has frequently been noted. This must be due to a desire to maintain the pace and liveliness of a narrative for a literate and literary audience able to scan the text as it wished, combined with a wish to add to and vary the effect of any direct speech.
4 dactyls + 1 spondee 45.6% 41.7%
3 dactyls + 2 spondees 27% 30.6%
5 dactyls 22% 18.9%
2 dactyls + 3 spondees 4.6% 8.1%
1 dactyl + 4 spondees 0.1% 0.6%
‘Necessary’ enjambment 49.1% 27.6%
‘unperiodic’ enjambment 16.0% 25.7%
The speed of the narration can sometimes be varied and slowed down by the introduction of certain weighty metrical word shapes particularly favoured by Apollonius. O’Neill (1942) showed, for example, that in a thousand word sample he used 104 shaped as an adonean (¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ X) and 63 that followed the pattern ˘ ¯ ¯ ¯ ˘. These shapes occur in lines such as: Αἰσονίδης Χείρωνος ἐφημοσύνῃσι πιθήσας / δέξατο, Πιερίῃ Βιστωνίδι κοιρανέοντα (1. 33–4) which near the start of the catalogue, summarise and mark as significant the inclusion of one of the more important Argonauts. Line 33 (ἐφημοσύνῃσι) has an example of the metrical shape ̆ ̄ ̆ ̆ ̄ ̆, more common in Apollonius than Homer, contained in a versus tetracolos. According to (Bassett, 1919) 213, this latter feature occurs 200 times in the poem (once per twenty-nine lines, compared with 431 in Homer (once every 65 lines). In the text covered by this commentary there are approximately twenty examples. Apollonius seems to adopt the pattern for a number of reasons, depending on the context; for example, 4.4 ὠκείαις ἄψορροι ἀναθρώσκοντες ἀοιδαῖς marks the moment when the doors of Aietes palace swing magically open and Medea is free to escape, while 4.140, 141, and 144 add to the richness of the simile in which Apollonius compares the serpent’s coils to swirling smoke. The fact that a versus tetracolos must contain at least one polysyllabic word seems designed to increase the sensory pleasure of a listener or silent reader.
One feature that strikes every reader of Homer is the recurrence of formulaic phrases, most commonly noun and epithet combinations of various types. Apollonius, as a developer of Homeric diction and style approaches this problem in a creative way; although the Argonautica is set in the time before the Trojan War, on the two occasions that Achilles is mentioned he is named using epithets from the Iliad (1.558 Πηλεΐδην Ἀχιλῆα; cf. Il. 23.542 and frequently elsewhere, 4.868 Ἀχιλῆος ἀγαυοῦ’ cf. Il. 17.557). These must be deliberate pre-echoes marking the fact that Apollonius is exploring a new poetic landscape. When the object described is of wider frequency in the poem, the results display an equal degree of subtlety and variation. The object of the mission is the ‘golden fleece’. Within the somewhat limited possibilities that the epic diction offers him, Apollonius does not repeat himself when mentioning it by name. We find κῶας, eight times and δέρος, seven times but χρύσειον, eleven times and χρύσεον, four times but also with hyperbaton, always separating the noun from the adjective in combinations with κῶας and three times, when the word used is δέρος.
One of the most frequent uses of the formulaic system in Homer is to attach attributes or characteristics to main figures in the narrative. Apollonius, only alludes to this system. For instance, he has no variation for Jason, apart from Aisonides, his use of the characteristic ἀμήχανος being tailored to particular contexts. He does imitate it on occasion, but usually to make a subtle point. For example at 4.1643 Εὐρώπῃ Κρονίδης νήσου πόρεν ἔμμεναι οὖρον, where the story is that ‘the son of Kronos’ made Talos the warder of Crete, he makes a clever point by juxtaposing Εὐρώπῃ and Κρονίδης. ‘Europa’ bears a close resemblance to εὐρύοπᾰ, ‘with a resounding voice’ which is frequently used of Zeus In Homer (see LSJ s.v. and cf. ll. 15.152 εὗρον δ’ εὐρύοπα Κρονίδην ἀνὰ Γαργάρῳ ἄκρῳ). An examination of the noun-epithet pairing in the first 50 lines of Book 4, shows that, while Apollonius gives the appearance of formularity, his combinations are often original and selected from a wide range of sources: only δόλον αἰπὺν (Hom. Hym. 4. 66), βαθείης … ξυλόχοιο (Il. 5.554–5), καλὰ παρήια (Od. 19.208) and ἄστεος εὐρυχόροιο (Od. 24.468) show any direct correlation with the language of the Homeric corpus.
This impression of Apollonius as a ‘regenerator’ of the epic tradition is reinforced, still further, by an examination of the morphology of the poem. Certain aspects show him reproducing Homeric features as closely as possible:
• Contracted forms, for example, appear alongside uncontracted¬ – ἄεθλον (1.15) and ἄθλων (1.1304) ἱερόν (1.960) and ἱρόν (4.1691) just as in Homer.
• He widely uses apocope of prepositions and preverbs, e.g. of ἀνά in 1.1061 ἂμ πεδίον Λειμώνιον (cf. Il. 5.96).
• He has old epic forms with initial πτ– (πτόλιν 1.247; πτολίεθρον 1.186) or double –ππ– (ὁππότε 1.42).
• He uses uncontracted endings such as ¬–αο for masculine genitive singular (1.46 Αἰσονίδαο) and –άων for feminine genitive plural (1.27 ἀοιδάων). In Book I he has 131 examples of –οιο (63.3%), 33 of –ου and 42 other cases (see further Janko (1982) 50–4). His use of –οιο is greater than the Iliad’s. He obviously felt –οιο to be a desirable archaic element in his style.
On the other hand, a more detailed analysis discovers some significant differences. There are enough new forms in his poetry for an experienced reader of archaic poetry to perceive a continual undertone of novelty.
• instead of the regular Homeric –οίατο (at 1.369, 1005 only, in the same context) Apollonius uses the more familiar Classical 3rd plural present optative form in –οιντο (only once in Homer, in the suspect line Il.1.344).
• He freely extends the use of the middle voice – without apparent semantic difference – to many verbs that in Homer appeared only in the active,
• and uses the dative case with a greater number of verbs, and more often without prepositions.
• Apollonius often extrapolates from existing Homeric forms creating futures (such as δαμάσσει 3.353) or presents (e.g. ἀμείρω (3.186) on the basis of (sometimes false) analogies derived from other verb stems.
• New noun forms are scattered throughout the poem, such as the word for “child” in Arg.1.276 (πάιν) and for ship 1.1358 (νηῦν) vs. inherited παῖδα and νῆα.
At times the innovations of Apollonius seem intended to make his poetic texture look older, by over-developing formations that he apparently considered archaic:
• Thus, the widespread use of adverbs in –δην (e.g. 2.826 ἀίγδην, 1.1017 ἁρπάγδην); see further Rau (2006) 211–20.
• Putting prepositions after the nouns they modify (postposition) reflects archaic syntax, but Apollonius does this once for every 9 occurrences of a preposition, whereas Homer was more restrained (once out of 13 times).
• Such a longing for archaic ‘feel’ may explain the poet’s indiscriminate deployment of prepositional forms like ἑός that are properly restricted to the 3rd person in older epic usage: Apollonius, liking their antique ring, uses them for all persons (e.g. for 1st person in 3.99: ἀτεμβοίμην ἑοῖ αὐτῇ).
Quality of the verse:
On occasion the word order and syntax may be contrived or contorted but the sound of the poem is full of euphony: Ἰήσων, son of Αἴσων of the Αἰολίδαι and his enemy, Αἰήτης, son of Ἠέλιός, or a land called Αἶα or an island called Αἰαῖα. The Homeric dialect with its genitive in –αο and –οιο and all its extra epsilons, adds more vowel sounds. The feather-shooting birds of Ares are from an island described as ‘Ἐνυαλίοιο’ and Jason is introduced as ‘Αἴσονος υἱὸν Ἰήσονα Κρηθεΐδαο.' The flash of light (αἴγλη) on the cauldron features again as Αἴγλη, a nymph who cares for the Apples of the Hesperides, and in the epiphany of Apollo Αἰγλήτης, ‘The Glinting One’, to whom the Argonauts offer worship. A passage chosen at random from the opening catalogue gives evidence of Apollonius’ verbal music and artistry:
Τῷ δ' ἐπὶ δὴ θείοιο κίεν Δαναοῖο γενέθλη,
Ναύπλιος. ἦ γὰρ ἔην Κλυτονήου Ναυβολίδαο,
Ναύβολος αὖ Λέρνου, Λέρνον γε μὲν ἴδμεν ἐόντα
Προίτου Ναυπλιάδαο, Ποσειδάωνι δὲ κούρη.
πρίν ποτ' Ἀμυμώνη Δαναῒς τέκεν εὐνηθεῖσα
Ναύπλιον, ὃς περὶ πάντας ἐκαίνυτο ναυτιλίῃσιν. (1.133–8)
The artistic repetition, assonance, four-syllable line endings and predominance of open vowel sounds make these lines a pleasure, verging on the sensual, to read aloud.
There are the similar euphonious effects to be found in the simile at 4.167–70:
ὡς δὲ σεληναίην διχομήνιδα παρθένος αἴγλην
ὑψόθεν εἰσανέχουσαν ὑπωροφίου θαλάμοιο
λεπταλέῳ ἑανῷ ὑποΐσχεται, ἐν δέ οἱ ἦτορ
χαίρει δερκομένης καλὸν σέλας – ὧς τότ' Ἰήσων
The passage, however, is much more than a collection of pleasant-sounding combinations of vowels and euphonious effects. After what has gone before, the first line is unexpected and although the second gradually begins to unwrap the meaning of the simile, the final revealed point of comparison with Jason is a startling image. The maiden catches the light on her garment and this triggers many possible allusions in the learned reader’s mind. ἑᾰνός, used of a garment, is not frequent in Homer. Il. 3. 419 βῆ δὲ κατασχομένη ἑανῷ ἀργῆτι φαεινῷ which describes Helen being led, almost as a bride, by Aphrodite to Paris’ bedchamber must be a significant parallel.
The idea that Apollonius’ simile is describing a girl about to marry is reinforced by Pind. I. 8.44-5 ἐν διχομηνίδεσσιν δὲ ἑσπέραις ἐρατὸν / λύοι κεν χαλινὸν ὑφ᾽ ἥρωϊ παρθενίας (where Σ comments ἐν διχομηνιδεσσιν ἑσπέραις · τούτεσιν ἐν ταῖς τῆς πανσελήνον νυξί. κατὰ ταύτας γὰρ ἐποίουν τοὺς γάμους), and Eur. IA 716-17 ἀλλ᾽ εὐτυχοίτην. τίνι δ᾽ ἐν ἡμέρᾳ γαμεῖ; / ὅταν σελήνης εὐτυχὴς ἔλθῃ κύκλος. The girl in the simile is soon to be married and the ‘fine garment’, possibly made of silk and which would catch the light and shimmer, is her wedding dress. One of the simile’s subtle points of comparison must be between the joy experienced by the girl and that of Medea at her prospective marriage to Jason, as well as Jason’s excitement at obtaining the fleece. There is a psychological similarity between this passage and Od. 23.231–9 where the Odyssey culminates in the reunion of Penelope and Odysseus and the couple’s joy is likened to a swimmer’s making it to dry land after a shipwreck. Initially the description seems to be from the point of view of Odysseus. However the surprising end of the simile reveals that it, also, switches its psychological stand-point and shows what Penelope feels: ὣς ἄρα τῇ ἀσπαστὸς ἔην πόσις εἰσοροώσῃ (239).
The simile must also foreshadow another wedding that takes place in Corinth and the end of the Medea story. This double relevance is strengthened by verbal resemblances between Euripides and Apollonius; (cf. χαίρει δερκομένης with Eur. Med. 1165-6 ὑπερχαίρουσα . . . σκοπουμένη. The dress in the simile is λεπταλέος as the dress in the play is λεπτός (Med. 786 = 949, 1188, 1214).
Another passage where Apollonius works with Homeric and known poetic themes in a complex and nuanced way is the opening of Book 4. In Book 3 Medea has been the Colchian Princess compared to Artemis as she drives her deer-drawn chariot to her first meeting with Jason (3.876-80). Here, she is terror-stricken by what her father may do to her and this is emphasised by two similes in which she is likened, first, to a deer fearful of the baying of hounds and then, as she flees from the palace, a captive about to start a life of slavery:
τρέσσεν δ', ἠύτε τις κούφη κεμάς, ἥν τε βαθείης
τάρφεσιν ἐν ξυλόχοιο κυνῶν ἐφόβησεν ὁμοκλή (4.12-3)
The intricate word order of these lines contrasts the ‘nimble fawn’ with the pursuing hounds. They are separated by the ‘thickets of the deep wood’, the artificial nature of the word order stressing the terrifying nature of the situation (cf. Homer’s simpler Il. 5.555 βαθείης τάρφεσιν ὕλης). The word that Apollonius uses for deer is rare and subject to different interpretations by Alexandrian scholars. The meaning that Apollonius attaches to it, here, is made clear by κούφη. The choiceness of the vocabulary underlines the tenderness of the animal. Although the comparison of young women to deer had a number of precedents; fear is the important factor here. Medea’s flight is like that of a warrior in battle (cf. Il. 22.1 πεφυζότες ἠύτε νεβροί, of the Trojans; see further commentary ad loc.) and that fear is underlined by the fact that she has been made afraid by the ‘shouts of human hounds’. ὁμοκλή is the word for a threat uttered by a man and is not used in connection with an animal before Apollonius. These are the hounds of vengeance: Aietes and his men, on Medea’s trail. This change in status, from Princess to fugitive, is developed further at 4.36-40.
οἵη δ' ἀφνειοῖο διειρυσθεῖσα δόμοιο
ληιάς, ἥν τε νέον πάτρης ἀπενόσφισεν αἶσα,
οὐδέ νύ πω μογεροῖο πεπείρηται καμάτοιο,
ἀλλ' ἔτ' ἀηθέσσουσα δύης καὶ δούλια ἔργα
εἶσιν ἀτυζομενη χαλεπὰς ὑπὸ χεῖρας ἀνάσσης ·
τοίη ἄρ' ἱμερόεσσα δόμων ἐξέσσυτο κούρη
The text of the first line is uncertain (see commentary ad loc.). The basic meaning must be that a girl from a rich house, captured in war, is about to begin a life of slavery under the hands of a harsh mistress, with some reference, also, to the perils and hardships that Medea will go through in the company of the Argonauts. However, since the presiding deities of both Books 3 and 4 are Erato and Eros (cf. the invocations 3.1, 4.1 and 4.445–9), the χαλεπὴ ἄνασσα of line 39 could also be Aphrodite and the meaning of the simile as a whole that love has the power to ruin an innocent girl’s life and condemn her to an uncertain future. A typical Homeric motif (woman as slave-captive) is, as often in Apollonius, transferred to an erotic context. This possibility also occurred to Asclepiades at A.P. 12.50.1-2 = 880-1 HE πῖν’, Ἀσκληπιάδη. τί τὰ δάκρυα ταῦτα; τί πάσχεις; / οὐ σὲ μόνον χαλεπὴ Κύπρις ἐληίσατο; see further Sens (2011) ad loc.; cf. also Anacr. fr. 346 5-6 PMG δεσμ[ῶν / χαλεπῶν δι’ Ἀφροδίτη, Archil. fr. 193.1-2 West δύστηνος ἔγκειμαι πόθῳ, ἄψυχος, χαλεπῇσι θεῶν ὀδύνῃσιν ἕκητι. The motif is that of servitium amoris, later much developed by the Roman elegists. The simile also makes other allusions. The use of ληιάς brings to mind the claim made by the Medea of Euripides that she has been ἐκ γῆς βαρβάρου λελῃσμένη (Med. 256) and indeed the idea of marriage as forced exile has further parallels. Therefore, this examination of the qualities of Apollonius’ verse shows him to be both fully aware of its potential musicality and also able to produce a depth of meaning that operates on many levels.
Jason must be an interesting character. So much has been written about him. Yet he was a disappointment to the greatest editor of Apollonius’ text. This was not an isolated critical response. Any examination of the poet’s style and content must answer the question of whether this was a fair verdict. The action of the Argonautica takes place before the Trojan War. The greatest hero of all, Achilles, is only a babe-in-arms and is brought to spectate as the Argo is launched:
σὺν καί οἱ παράκοιτις ἐπωλένιον φορέουσα
Πηλεΐδην Ἀχιλῆα, φίλῳ δειδίσκετο πατρί. (1.557-8)
The scene is a charming one but has a serious narrative purpose. It makes it clear that, although Achilles is given his full Homeric patronymic, we are not in the world of Homer and that the values of heroes who wish to excel at all costs do not necessarily apply. When, however, Jason makes his first public appearance in the poem, he certainly seems to be of heroic, if not god-like stature:
̂Ἠ, καὶ ὁ μὲν προτέρωσε δόμων ἐξῶρτο νέεσθαι.
οἷος δ' ἐκ νηοῖο θυώδεος εἶσιν Ἀπόλλων (1.306-7)
His personal beauty and magnificent appearance are critical features in his characterisation and are remarked on at crucial moments throughout the narrative. For example, when he goes to meet Queen Hypsipyle he is described as ‘arming’ himself with a purple cloak, comparable in splendour to anything worn by a Hellenistic prince and at the same time, he is likened to Hesperos, the evening star (1.774-81), in an erotic simile that emphasises his appeal to young, inexperienced women. Similarly, as he approaches Medea for the first time, he is compared to the morning star (3.957), though here Apollonius hints that his personal beauty contains a threat:
ὧς ἄρα τῇ καλὸς μὲν ἐπήλυθεν εἰσοράασθαι
Αἰσονίδης, κάματον δὲ δυσίμερον ὦρσε φαανθείς. (3.960–1)
Jason is personally attractive, but a destructive force in terms of human relationships. This emphasis on his god-like qualities reaches its climax, just before his contest with the Earthborn men, when he is likened to both Apollo and Ares:
καὶ ξίφος ἀμφ' ὤμοις, γυμνὸς δέμας, ἄλλα μὲν Ἄρει
εἴκελος, ἄλλα δέ που χρυσαόρῳ Ἀπόλλωνι. (3.1282–3)
However, this state is achieved only with the aid of Medea’s magic ointment. Indeed throughout the poem, a range of implicit and explicit criticisms constantly diminishes Jason’s outward façade, as warrior and leader. In Book 1, he only gains the leadership of the group because Heracles turns it down and is later bitingly critical of Jason’s amatory exploits on Lemnos (1.861–78). In Book 2, his part in the general mêlée that begins between the Argonauts and Bebryces, after their King Amycus has been put out of action by Polydeuces, amounts to less than a whole line: σὺν δέ σφιν ἀρήιος ὤρνυτ' Ἰήσων (2.122). The nature of Jason’s leadership is certainly at issue here, because the half line is repeated from the election of the leader in book 1 (349) where the epithet is a remarkable element. This is reinforced by the ‘anonymous’ speech at 2.144–53 in which the Argonauts are reminded of how much they are missing the presence of Heracles. .
In Book 3 Jason’s success is entirely due to Medea’s intervention and, in fact, the poet notes (3.1232–4) that only the absent Heracles would have been capable of equal combat with Aietes. In Book 4, at the climax of his mission, Jason is portrayed as a fearful bystander (4.149 εἵπετο δ' Αἰσονίδης πεφοβημένος), or relying on fellow Argonauts. 4.1331-44 where he abdicates responsiblity for leadership and the safe return of the expedition is typical. Throughout the poem, he is subject to fits of ἀμηχανία when presented with difficult decisions or crises. 1.460–1, where Jason is brooding on the enormity of the task confronting him is typical:
ἔνθ' αὖτ' Αἰσονίδης μὲν ἀμήχανος εἰν ἑοῖ αὐτῷ
πορφύρεσκεν ἕκαστα κατηφιόωντι ἐοικώς
This does make him a problematic leader. The word (largely un-Homeric) contrasts sharply with δῖος, θεοειδής, θεοείκελος and the like. Leaders are usually selected because they are exceptional or lucky; cf. the use of felix in Latin. Sulla felix was ἐπαφρόδιτος (Plu. Sull. 34) because he was lucky at the game of war (Venus being the highest throw at dice).
This pattern continues throughout the poem. At 3.1197, during his secret and magical preparations for the contest, he is likened to an κλωπήιος ἠύτε τις φώρ, ‘a thief in the night’ and even his period of being transformed into an heroic fighter is very short (130 lines) compared with the amount that has been devoted to his love affair with Medea.
However, the climax of Jason’s ‘heroicism’ must be the scene in which, with her agreement, he murders Medea’s brother Apsyrtus. In this supremely unheroic scene the word ἥρως occurs three times (4.471 Apsyrtos, 477 Jason, 485 the Argonauts). The connotations of the word are in direct contrast with the description of an unharmed man, slaughtered like a sacrificial animal in the precinct of a goddess.
That Apollonius is intent on creating a hero of very mixed virtues there can be no doubt. Jason is no Achilles or Alexander and certainly has failings when compared with such traditional heroic types as Heracles, the patron of the Ptolemies. There is evidence for similar treatments in the other Alexandrian poets. Prompted, no doubt, by the portrayal of heroic characters that he found in the plays of Euripides, Theocritus seems to be implicitly rejecting the violent hero in Id. 15.136–9 when he says to Adonis:
῞Ερπεις ὦ φίλ᾽ ῎Αδωνι καὶ ἐνθάδε κεἰς ᾿Αχέροντα
ἡμιθέων, ὡς φαντί, μονώτατος. οὔτ᾽ ᾿Αγαμέμνων
τοῦτ᾽ ἔπαθ᾽, οὔτ᾽ Αἴας ὁ μέγας βαρυμάνιος ἥρως,
οὔθ᾽ ῞Εκτωρ . . .
In the panegyric, Id.16, he stresses that, although Hiero is equipped, ready for war, προτέροις ἴσος ἡρώεσσι (16.80), peace will come about through the victories that he achieves:
ἄστεά τε προτέροισι πάλιν ναίοιτο πολίταις,
δυσμενέων ὅσα χεῖρες ἐλωβήσαντο κατάκρας (16.88–9)
In Id. 24, Theocritus describes an episode from the childhood of Heracles and in Id. 13 he is an idealised lover, who deliberately leaves the Argonautic expedition expedition, later to rejoin it in Colchis. Apollonius’ plot alteration in his version of this story – Jason is accused of abandoning Heracles (1.1289-1295) – must be deliberate in order to show his leadership in a bad light.
It is, however, in Id. 22 that we find the behaviour of a pair of heroes, the Dioskouroi, implicitly criticised. There are two episodes. The first deals with the boxing match between Polydeuces and Amycus, the King of the Bebryces. This is another incident which is also treated by Apollonius (2.1–97). Theocritus seems to dwell upon the savagery with which Polydeuces treats his adversary, describing it with the realism typical of battle scenes in the Iliad (cf. Id. 22.95–130 with Il. 16.307–350) and then, comically deflates the entire episode: as the blows rain down on Amycus, he physically collapses in on himself, because of excessive perspiration. After a long description that emphasises the brutality of the fight, Theocritus seems to be satirising the hero who spares the defeated foe.
In the second episode, Castor’s role as traditional hero is also portrayed with unexpected features. The Dioskouroi have seized the daughters of Leukippus who were already betrothed to the sons of Aphareus. Compared with the treatment of this episode in Pindar, Theocritus seems to modify details in order to show the brothers in an immoral light, making them cousins of the Apharidae (170 and 200) and the Leukippidae, the cause of the quarrel. He tells how the Dioskouroi used deceit and force to abduct them. The Apharidae are presented sympathetically. Lynceus is polite and addresses his two opponents as δαιμόνιοι (145), φίλοι ἄνδρες (154) and φίλοι (165). He attempts to resolve their differences through discussion first but χάρις δ᾽ οὐχ ἕσπετο μύθοις (168). In the fight that follows between Castor and Lynceus, the latter is much disadvantaged when he loses not only his sword but his fingers (196–7). He turns in flight and is killed without a weapon. ‘Thus, no light thing it is to war with the sons of Tyndareus’ (212). Theocritus seems to be reflecting on the true nature of divine action and questioning the basis of the heroic code.
Callimachus, also, attempted to show traditional heroes in a new way. Theseus, as portrayed in his Hecale, seems to be of unblemished character. No mention is made of his perfidious nature, exemplified by his desertion of Ariadne (Od. 11.321-5, Cypria 31.38-9 EGF, 3.997–9, 4. 433¬–4, Catull. 64 and see further (Knox, 1995) 234), his rape of Helen (Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 13.4 (557a)), or the Amazon Antiope’s betrayal of Themiscyra for his sake ([Apollod.] Bibl. 4.1.16). Callimachus’ version, perhaps, reflects the character who became an Athenian national hero in the sixth century. This Theseus is a young hero, presented in a favourable light at the beginning of his career, who in no way suffers from self-doubt and is in complete contrast to the Jason of Apollonius.
Is it possible to decide which of the three poets first began to experiment with the portrayal of the hero? Their chronology has been much disputed. Much of the discussion has hinged on using perceived niceties of style to establish priority between the end of Book 1 (Hylas) and the beginning of Book 2 of the Argonautica (Amycus), Theocritus’ Id. 13 (Hylas) and Id. 22 (Amycus), and Callimachus’ Aitia and the Hymn to Apollo. However, external evidence establishes Theocritus before Callimachus and Apollonius. He is said to have been active under the first two Ptolemies, with Callimachus and Apollonius usually placed during the reigns of the second and third. It has recently been pointed out that in the scholia on Apollonius, there are forty-five references to Callimachus, in which the former always seems to be regarded as the borrower, although the interaction between the two is generally agreed to have been of a complex nature. If it is accepted that Apollonius is the latest of the three poets, and recent work has attempted to show that the final version of the Argonautica is to be dated to 238 B.C. , one might argue that Apollonius, finding a range of heroic characters in the work of his predecessors and, as a natural development on what had gone before, decided in a longer work to adopt an explicit anti-heroic stance and to bring before us a character full of human failings. He takes the final step in an intellectual and poetical debate in which both Theocritus and Callimachus had shown some degree of equivocation.
Apollonius’ self-doubting main protagonist would fit well into the background of the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes. It was a time of great military activity at the Ptolemaic court. Shortly after taking the throne, Ptolemy was called to the support of his sister (Berenice Syra) in Syria and fought the Third Syrian (or Laodicean) War. This is, also, a period dominated by powerful women such as Berenice II, the eventual wife of Ptolemy Euergetes, who, first of all, married Demetrius the Fair, one of the sons of Demetrius Poliorcetes, and then had him murdered, when he began a love affair with her mother. While it would be wrong to over-historicise the Argonautica, it is tempting to view the characters of Jason (~ Demetrius) and Medea (~ Berenice; see below) against such a political background. The creation of a vainglorious military leader, susceptible to inner anxiety is a possibility that Virgil found very attractive, when portraying his own Aeneas.
In the same way, Medea’s character epitomises the many-sided nature of the Argonautica. As she goes off to meet Jason in Book 3, Apollonius’ description reminds us of Nausicaa going to meet Odysseus for the first time. She shares with Helen of Sparta in the Odyssey an expertise in drugs and the role of a woman who has welcomed a foreigner into her native land and becomes romantically attached to him. Later this emphasis will change and, in confrontation with Jason, she will stress the sacrifices she has made for him, using the words of the Homeric Andromache. Contemporary parallels also suggest themselves, when one remembers the dominant character of Ptolemy Euergetes’ queen, Berenice II, who, apart from sharing Medea’s murderous traits, is also credited with the same piercing regal eyesight. Another side of her character is that of high-priestess of Hecate. Add to this the influence exerted by Euripides’ Medea on Apollonius’s creation of her younger self and we have the makings of a potent and possibly inconsistent portrayal.
How does this mixture develop as Book 4 opens? The poet asks his presiding deity for added inspiration and he does it in a very traditional way:
αὐτὴ νῦν κάματόν γε, θεά, καὶ δήνεα κούρης
Κολχίδος ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, Διὸς τέκος. (1-2)
When he says ‘Goddess’ he may be alluding to the first line of the Iliad and when he switches to calling her ‘Muse’ to the first line of the Odyssey. However, as soon as he has created this solemn poetic atmosphere he changes the tone completely:
ἦ γὰρ ἔμοιγε ἀμφασίῃ νόος ἔνδον ἑλίσσεται ὁρμαίνοντι,
ἠὲ μιν ἄτης πῆμα δυσίμερου, ἦ τόγ' ἐνίσπω
φύζαν ἀεικελίην, ᾗ κάλλιπεν ἔθνεα Κόλχων (4.2–5)
Using a standard Homeric description of critical decision-making, combined with the language used by Greek lyric poets seeking inspiration, he confesses to difficulties in approaching his theme. The old ways of invoking the Muse are insufficient when treating a non-heroic theme, the psychological study of the state of mind and a very highly-strung woman.
Medea has lost her status as royal princess and is a frightened girl who has been ‘found out’. Apollonius uses a number of literary devices to emphasise this and intensify the threatening atmosphere. Aietes schemes throughout the night and is described in language similar to that which Homer uses of Odysseus plotting his revenge against the suitors. Medea is pictured as a young fawn being hunted down by dogs, presumably the hounds of vengeance set on her trail by her father. The language of the fawn simile would remind Apollonius’ readers of scenes from the Iliad when warriors are being hunted down and have been penned into a tight corner. Similarly when her eyes fill with fire and her ears roar, she is, at once, a heroine of Greek tragedy, contemplating suicide and also one of the Greek heroes at Troy, such as Ajax, about to go into battle. Many commentators have argued that Apollonius’ allusive methods produce an inconsistent characterisation. However, homicidal sorceresses who are also impressionable virgins, even if they take some believing, make for an interesting read. The picture which Apollonius presents is consistent with the Euripidean Medea who, according to a legend mentioned by Apollonius (4.814–5), will in the after-life become the bride of a fierce kindred spirit, Achilles. The development of her character may be traced throughout Book 4.
After her ‘Achilles’ moment – her eyes have blazed with the fire of battle – her mood changes again and she must flee. The world is that of Euripides’ ‘war’ plays with the Trojan women being dragged away in captivity to Greece. In the play ‘The Trojan Women’ as Cassandra is forcibly taken aboard Agamemnon’s ship she cries out a last farewell to her mother and her native land just as Medea has done (see commentary ad loc.). and then in the simile,‘Like a young girl, recently separated by fate from her homeland’, the many other correspondences between Medea’s situation and that of a slave are emphasised. The rich house is the Palace of Aietes and the captive unused to the harshness of slavery, as well as being Medea could be Andromache in Euripides' play as she says in the prologue:
αὐτὴ δὲ δούλη τῶν ἐλευθερωτάτων
οἴκων νομισθεῖσ᾽ Ἑλλάδ᾽ εἰσαφικόμην (Eur. Andr. 12-3)
Apollonius has created a tragic atmosphere and a fugitive afraid for her life. However there is another side to her. She is a witch and we are reminded about this by a sudden ‘gear-change’ on the part of the poet. The description of the escape by night of a scared young girl changes into an ironic and allusive description of the skills and habits of ‘Thessalian’ witches, concluding with the ‘baroque’ and malicious intervention of the goddess of the Moon. One of the points of this subtle scene must be that, although Medea has been reduced to the level of a slave, she is possessed of powers and characteristics that will enable her to dominate the male group with whom she is throwing in her lot. Her approach to Jason and the other leaders of the Argonauts shows one of the paradoxes of the suppliant state. On the one hand she is weak and defenceless and yet she still constitutes a threatening force. This feature of her powerful personality is reinforced by another literary trick of language when she makes her final offer of enabling Jason to gain the Fleece:
δώσω δὲ χρύσειον ἐγὼ δέρος, εὐνήσασα
φρουρὸν ὄφιν (4.87–8)
The word order here, with the personal pronoun between the two components of this important formula, emphasises the importance of what Medea is about to do (see commentary ad loc.).
Mention of the guardian snake brings us to the climax of this part of the Argonautica in which Medea puts it to sleep by means of a drug. The basic legend is that Jason kills it but Σ says that in describing the dragon as being drugged by Medea, Apollonius is συμφώνως ᾈντιμάχῳ, ‘in agreement with Antimachus’, who retold the Argonautica legend in his elegiac poem Lyde and whose influence on him is well-known. Yet this adaption of the legend is not literary allusion for its own sake. It fits in with Apollonius’ characterisation of Medea. We have seen already that she is often described in language that is used of the heroes of the Iliad. Therefore it should come as no surprise that, at a decisive moment when Jason cannot cope with the traditional heroic role, Medea takes over and from then is the dominant partner in all the decisive passages of action.
In spite of Medea’s physical attraction to Jason, as described in Book 3, the relationship between Jason and her is based on a business deal. It begins to show strain when the pursuing Colchians, led by Medea’s brother Apsyrtus, catch up with the Argonauts and a truce is made with them that might involve her being sent back to her father. Her immediate verbal response (4.355–90) is a vehement address, full of heroic anger. Direct speech is far less common in Apollonius’ poem than in Homer. This helps to highlight the importance of Medea’s words. The tight structure of this speech suits both Medea’s character and purpose. Its polished rhetorical manner vividly highlights her temper and is totally consistent with the picture of her so far.
After Medea is married to Jason in Phaeacia under the kindly auspices of a pre-Odyssean Alcinoos and Arete, she, as it were, drops out of the action. However towards the very end of the poem she shows herself to be capable of action on an heroic scale for one last time.
Talos initially stops the Argonauts from landing on Crete by throwing rocks at them. Medea is the one to take him on and again it is Jason, as in the episode with the dragon, who plays a secondary role (4.149 εἵπετο δ' Αἰσονίδης πεφοβημένος with 4.1661 χειρὸς δέ ἑ χειρὶ μεμαρπὼς / Αἰσονίδης ἐκόμιζε διὰ κληῖδας ἰοῦσαν, ‘the son of Aison took her hand and guided her passage between the benches,’ so that she can carry out the active part of the operation). She casts a withering spell on the giant with the piercing eyesight traditional among her family and Talos catches his ankle against a sharp rock and his ichor flows out.
Who is the real hero of this poem–Jason or Medea? There can be only one answer and typically Apollonius reinforces this point with a subtle allusion. When Hera is giving instructions to Thetis about the safe return of the Argonauts, fully in the traditions of Hellenistic poetry, she uses a piece of recondite mythology and, referring to the infant Achilles, says:
εὖτ' ἂν ἐς Ἠλύσιον πεδίον τεὸς υἱὸς ἵκηται,
ὃν δὴ νῦν Χείρωνος ἐν ἤθεσι Κενταύροιο
νηιάδες κομέουσι τεοῦ λίπτοντα γάλακτος,
χρειώ μιν κούρης πόσιν ἔμμεναι Αἰήταο
Apollonius’ characterisation of Medea in Book 4, far from being inconsistent, shows that Achilles would have been a worthier husband for Medea, the true hero of Book 4. At the same time, it also admits of the possibility that Apollonius, with the powerful women of the Alexandrian court such as Berenice II before his eyes, found connections between their sometimes murderous and domineering behavior and that of his female protagonist.
4. The Ancient Transmission
The story of the Argonautica’s survival, appreciation and exegesis can be traced over more than two thousand years. Placing the dates of its author’s life and the publication of his poem at the start in this continuum is more difficult. There are four pieces of evidence: the list of the heads of the Alexandrian library in P.Oxy. 1241 (second century AD), the article about Apollonius in the Suda and two short biographies attached to the scholia (Vitae). P.Oxy. 1241 has long been considered an important source for the chronology of the heads of the library. However, a recent discussion has cast doubt on its contents and their validity. The papyrus says that Apollonius was διδάσκαλος τοῦ πρώτου βασιλέως, ‘tutor of the first king’. This must be Ptolemy I Soter (304–283 BC). The Suda and the Vitae, on the other hand, associate him with the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246–21 BC), based on which the editors emended the papyrus text to τρίτου βασιλέως. The belief that Apollonius held the posts of both tutor and librarian seems to be based on the lacunose opening of the papyrus that apparently mentions grammatikoi in connection with Ptolemy Philadelphus. The papyrus then says that Eratosthenes (276–195 BC) succeeded Apollonius, without specifically mentioning the post of librarian. Even if the reference is only to the post of Royal Tutor and there is no evidence, apart from the assumptions based on P.Oxy. 1241, that the two posts were dependent on each other, it would place Apollonius’ activity earlier than that indicated by the information given in the Suda and Vitae, who see him as belonging to the generation after Callimachus. Finally, the nature of the papyrus as a whole tells against its worth as credible evidence for Apollonius’ dates, consisting as it does of lists of ancient figures supposedly famous in a particular sphere, the authenticity of which seem dubious and are perhaps meant to satirise contemporary second century scholarly catalogues or compendia. Therefore, it seems preferable to use the information provided by the Suda, supported by the Vitae, to postulate a poetic floruit stretching over the two reigns of Ptolemy Philadelphus and Ptolemy Euergetes, with the final publication of the poem occurring sometime during the reign of the latter. Eratosthenes and Apollonius seem to have been active in Alexandria at roughly the same time, Apollonius being spoken of as his comtemporary (σύγχρονος Ἐρατοσθένους). Although Eratosthenes was specially summoned by Ptolemy Euergetes, we might perhaps envisage Apollonius taking over the role of librarian, from the older man, when his poem was finally published. Indeed, the process of composition may have been a complex one involving interaction with Callimachus’ Aetia. Annette Harder suggests that at some stage the four books of the Aetia were arranged in response to the Argonautica. It may, however, be possible to pinpoint a more particular final publication date. Using the systematic way in which Apollonius marks the passage of time throughout the Argonautica, together with the methods that modern astronomy now provides for the calculation of the position of the constellations in ancient times, Jackie Murray has made a plausible case for dating the poem to 238, a year in which Euergetes, as part of his birthday, instituted celebrations, including the introduction of a new calendar, which seemed to mark the beginning of a new era in his reign.
Almost as soon as the first copies of the poem were made, scholarly comment began: a friend of Apollonius, Chares, wrote about the sources of his poem and began a tradition of expounding the text which continued throughout antiquity. The names of commentators such as Theon of Alexandria (first century BC), Lucillus of Tarrha (mid-first century AD) and Sophocles (second century AD) are mentioned at the end of Book 4 of the mediaeval scholia. There is evidence that ancient texts of the Argonautica were annotated with variant readings, glosses and marginal notes.
Forty-nine Apollonian papyri survive. Most date from between the first and the fourth centuries AD and come from Oxyrhynchus, although some take the evidence for texts of Apollonius up to the end of the seventh or eighth century AD, bridging the gap between antiquity and the early middle ages. Book 1 has the largest number of fragments by a long way, twenty-four, Book 2 has nine, Book 3 ten and Book 4 six. In antiquity, as now, readers who started long works did not always get to the end, or possibly they skipped to, or had copied out, their favourite passages. Among the texts from Book 1, seven are from the episode of the Lemnian Women and five are concerned with some aspect of the Argonauts’ departure. The fragments from Book 2 include one mention of the appearance of the ghost of Sthenelos, two from the description of the battle between the Argonauts and the Bebryces, and one from the meeting with the sons of Phrixos. The surprisingly small number from Book 3 cover Jason’s encounter with the bulls (3), scenes with Medea and Chalciope (2), the opening of the book on Mt. Olympus (2), but only one extract from the meeting between Jason and Medea. The sequence of episodes from Book 4 includes the murder of Apsyrtus (2), the visit to Phaeacia (1), and the speech of Argos (1). Although the numbers concerned are small, patterns are discernible. For example, perhaps the opening scenes of the poem with its emotional encounter between Jason and his mother, Alcimede, attracted an audience brought up on Euripidean tragedy.
The papyri chiefly discussed in this commentary are P.Oxy. 2694 (containing 2.917–53, 4.317–22, 4.416–61, 468–512) and P.Oxy. 2691 (containing 4.348–56, 1128–35). They offer at least one reading that is significantly different from what is found in the mediaeval tradition. There is also P.EES inv. 88/334 (Sackler Library, Oxford), an unpublished collection of fragments which seems to offer such strong support for a conjecture made at 4.464, that it perhaps should no longer be classed as such.
Apollonius soon found imitators as well as copyists. The Sicilian Greek Moschus wrote Europa sometime during the second century BC. He shows a ‘pervasive verbal debt to Homer and Apollonius (sometimes both together), covering both vocabulary and specific, contextualised echoes’. At Rome Lucius Accius (c.170–86 BC), in what remains of his play Medea sive Argonautae, seems to show direct knowledge of 4.303–81. The play probably opens with the arrival of the Argo which terrifies a barbarian shepherd who has never seen a ship before, and then alludes to the plot between Jason and Medea to kill Apsyrtus.
After Accius, the poem continued to be much read and imitated among Latin poets. Only a few years after Catullus wrote poem 64, a Latin translation of the Argonautica was produced by Varro of Atax in Gallia Narbonensis, who seems to have made use of some form of the scholia to Apollonius. This is also true of Virgil whose overall debt to his Greek predecessor is considerable. Nelis (2010) emphasises the size of the ancient libraries that might have been available to him and the use that he would have made of ancient scholarship on both Homer and Apollonius.
Both Propertius and Ovid deal with different aspects of the Argonautic legend. The latter demonstrates a continuing fascination with the character of Medea, constantly adapting and building on the portraits drawn by Euripides and Apollonius. While carrying ‘out radical surgery on the plot as he found it’, he, nonetheless, shows deep knowledge of the Argonautica as he produces his own interpretation. Both Seneca and his nephew Lucan wrote tragedies entitled Medea, with the latter showing direct knowledge of Apollonius in his epic poem Bellum Civile. While Apollonian influences have been perceived on Statius’ Thebaid (c. 92 AD) it is with Valerius Flaccus that we have further evidence of engagement with Apollonius’ text and with scholarship connected with it.
After Statius, the authors who show knowledge of Apollonius are again Greek: Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 130 AD), the two Oppians (AD 177–80 / 212–17), Quintus Smyrnaeus (3rd century AD), Triphiodorus (end of 3rd century AD), Nonnus (5th century) and the author of the Orphic Argonautica (second half of the fifth century). About AD 140 Apollonius of Chalcedon, the Stoic philosopher was on his way to Rome to take up the post of tutor to the future emperor Marcus, accompanied by a large band of pupils. When Demonax, the Cynic, caught sight of him, he remarked: “Here comes Apollonius and his Argonauts,” Bearing in mind, the Stoic’s reputation for acquiring wealth, the joke seems to be comparing his trip to Rome, with Jason’s voyage to gain the Golden Fleece. Lucian’s story seems to suggest that the Argonautica was well-known in this period.
Some of these authors, mentioned above, imitated A. with direct reference to Book 4: Quintus Smyrnaeus alludes to Medea’s flight when describing Oinone’s secret departure during the night. Triphiodorus echoes A. in some thirty passages, while Nonnus’ imitations are of a more varied and subtle nature. The author of the late Orphic Argonautica is heavily indebted to his Alexandrian predecessor.
5. The Medieval Tradition
At some stage, the papyrus rolls of the Argonautica were copied onto codices, written in uncial lettering. Nonnus might have read the Argonautica from a codex, which possibly contained marginal annotations, the precursors of the mediaeval scholia. Excerpts were made by compilers of lexica from both the text and the ancient commentators. The Etymologicum Genuinum quotes approximately 420 lines, together with commentary, and thus provides evidence for the indirect transmission of the Argonautica. One of its descendants, the Etymologicum Magnum, offers at least one textual alternative in the portion of the poem covered by this commentary that shows that the etymologica and lexica might have had access to better texts than the direct tradition.
Although in general the number of texts decreased during late antiquity, with interest in classical learning only reviving in the ninth century, papyri show that the Argonautica was read throughout this period. The survivors of this ‘bottle-neck’ would then have been copied into minuscule to form the beginning of the mediaeval tradition. Pace Fränkel and Vian, who both argue for the existence of an archetype, it is difficult to believe in the existence of only one such manuscript of Apollonius’ poem. The large number of textual variants adds support to the argument that there was more than one uncial text from which copies were made and collations carried out.
There is also the evidence from the survival of the scholia. The subscription at the end of Book 4 says παράκειται τὰ σχόλια ἐκ τῶν Λουκίλλου Ταρραίου καὶ Σοφοκλείου καὶ Θέωνος. The use of the word παράκειται shows that these comments were copied from the original hypomnemata of the three ancient commentators alongside the text. However there is a portion of the text for which scholia do not exist (1.321–400). If they were lost at some stage in the transmission, then the text was lost along with them. The text, however, is present and must have been restored from another manuscript without missing pages, possibly during the early middle ages. These manuscripts were probably uncial codices which survived the next precarious period of Byzantine history until the retaking of the city from the Latin Empire in 1261.
Fränkel uses the argument of a variant shared by all the mediaeval manuscripts to support the hypothesis of an archetype. At 2.1127 the transmitted text, ᾗ ἔνι τειρόμενοι ἅμ’ ἐπὶ χρέος ἐμβεβαῶτες, produces a verbless clause. This was healed by conjecture: πείρομεν οἶδμα κατά (Voss and Köchley), later confirmed by P.Berol. 13413 (1st / 2nd century AD). The scribal error (ΤΕΙΡΟΜΕΝΟΙΑΜ for ΠΕΙΡΟΜΕΝΟΙΔΜΑ) might have come about through transcription from uncial to minuscule script and the fact that it is, to some extent, construable might account for its preservation. While it is true to say that this error must go back to a common source, it could be one of a number of sources used to create the medieval tradition.
The stemmata printed by both Fränkel (OCT p. IX) and Vian ((1974) LXXXV) show a rich textual tradition in descent from the single archetype which they both postulate. Their most significant feature is the division between the two families known as m and w, Vian differing from Fränkel in the way in he traces the the interrelations of the two families and the progeny of the Protocretensis (k). The earliest member of m is Laurentianus gr. 32.9 (AD 960–80), the oldest and possibly the best source, equipped with glosses, variant readings and scholia, which contains, as well as the Argonautica, the seven tragedies, respectively, of Aeschylus and Sophocles. It shows signs of having been copied from an exemplar and then corrected from a second codex. The earliest representative of w is Laurentianus gr. 32.16 which originates from the circle of Maximus Planudes, dated 1280. Some of it may be in his hand. The two families are often at variance, and in many if not most cases the readings of both groups almost certainly go back to antiquity, with an admixture of Byzantine conjectures.
If one were to suggest an alternative stemmatic diagram for the Argonautica (see figure 3 above), it might bear a resemblance to that printed for Euripides’ Hippolytus by Barrett, showing different ‘minuscule archetypes, which acquired their readings, in whole or part, from different uncial ancestors’. During the periods when both the Laurentianus and the Soloranus were written, learned libraries were being transferred into the city. Maximus Planudes says that many books in the library of the Chora monastery were brought from elsewhere: πρὸς τὴν βασιλίδα πόλιν ὁθενδήποτε μετηνέχθησαν αἱ βίβλοι (Epist. 67.69–70 = p. 83 Treu). There is also the story of the library of Nicephoros Moschopoulos, metropolitan of Crete and uncle of the scholar Manuel Moschopoulos whose private library was so large that it needed eleven mules to transport it. He is said to have possessed an Odyssey. It would not be surprising if he also owned an Argonautica.
So, although the suggestion of a more than one archetype may disturb the clarity of the story of the transmission of Apollonius’ poem, it is fully in accordance with the work’s passage from antiquity: one that was volatile and open to poetic and scholarly engagement at all stages.
6. Modern Survival
The Argonautica was printed for the first time in 1496 in Florence by Lorenzo de Alopa (Laurentius Francisci de Alopa). Janus Lascaris, the Greek refugee employed by Lorenzo de’ Medici as his librarian, edited the text and designed the font with which it was printed. The poem had become known again in the West when the humanist scholar Giovanni Aurispa arrived back in Venice from Constantinople in December 1423, bringing him with him 238 Greek codices, among which was the Codex Laurentianus 32.9. Paradoxically, the first editor did not use this but depended mainly on Laurentianus 32.16, with perhaps some reference to the Guelferbytanus (14th century) and the Ambrosianus (beginning of the 14th century).
Other printed editions followed before the first edition with a commentary by Jeremias Hoelzlin in 1641, and that of John Shaw in 1778. Richard François Philippe Brunck, in his own edition, was hard on both of them. He speaks of ‘tenebrae Hoeltzlinianae’ and agrees with another great textual critic of the Argonautica, David Ruhnken, in describing Hoelzlin as ‘tetricus et ineptus Apollonii commentator,’ while his opinion of Shaw, perhaps more justified, is that ‘in arte Graecos poetas edendi Shawium illum ne tironem quidem esse’, adding that ‘de ejus in Apollonium meritis quid censeam in notis abunde declaravi’. Hoelzlin has, however, achieved a measure of vindication, albeit late in the day: at 4.464 he suggests a conjecture that is now the earliest attested reading, thanks to an unpublished papyrus fragment. This conjecture was adopted by Brunck, without acknowledgment. Reading through Hoelzlin’s commentary and translation, one gains the impression of a polymath – he includes Greek, Latin and Hebrew parallels –who is able to discuss the text both philologically and as literature.
Brunck himself was the first critical editor of Apollonius in that, as stated on the title page of his edition, he collated manuscripts and, from that basis, emended the text when he considered it corrupt. However, he perhaps placed excessive trust in the manuscripts at his disposal, was too quick to emend his text and too prone to ‘odium philologicum’ and ‘the pillory and ducking stool as methods of persuasion’. In spite of this Fränkel sums him up well when he says: ‘hercle Graece sciebat’. This is proved by notes that discuss manuscript readings, together with points of syntax and morphology, at the same time quoting apposite parallels.
Augustus Wellauer and Rudolf Merkel placed Apollonian studies on a more secure footing. Wellauer collated thirteen codices and provided an edition (1828) with notes, which took judicial note of the work of his predecessors. Merkel (1852 and 1854), on the other hand, relied specifically on two manuscripts. He realised the value of Codex Laurentianus 32.9 for the text of the Argonautica, maintaining that the text that he printed had to be based on the authority of good manuscripts and not reprinted from the work of previous editors. He was not, however, open to the idea that more recent manuscripts might sometimes provide good readings (‘recentiores non deteriores’). His edition has a modern appearance, methodically equipped with detailed reports of these manuscripts, followed by reports on the ancient testimonia and then conjectures made by him and previous scholars, without separate commentary. This pattern is repeated below the text on every page, noting each idiosyncrasy of his manuscripts, however many times they may be repeated. Fränkel finds him rather pedestrian and calls the prolegomena with which his ‘editio maior’ (1858) is equipped ‘praelonga’, perhaps an over-harsh judgment as they contain the first attempt at a full-scale treatment of important aspects of Apollonius’ poem and Hellenistic poetry in general.
The heirs to Wellauer and Merkel are Fränkel (1961) and Vian (1974–81). Both have produced editions and commentaries. Vian’s text is by his own admission more conservative than that of his immediate predecessor. Both comment on the text much more fully than previous scholars. This attempt to interpret the poem using the resources of literary criticism, allied with the study of relevant aspects of ancient history, art and archaeology in addition to the more traditional philological approach, was taken forward by Enrico Livrea (1973) in the first full length commentary devoted to Book 4 of the Argonautica. While this remains the standard work of reference for that part of the poem, the time since then has seen numerous advances in the understanding of Apollonius’ work.
7. The present commentary
A poem that has survived the vicissitudes of more than two millennia still has secrets to divulge. These will emerge only through close investigation of the text, using all the tools at the commentator’s disposal, be they of whatever discipline. This commentary attempts to integrate discussion of text, language, style, and historical and artistic background as it progresses, and discusses topics of literary appreciation, such as characterisation, as they arise.
In the matter of the choice of parallels, I have attempted not to fall into the trap of parallelomania and create a Fundgrube. Even when a number are quoted, I have tried to ensure that they are pertinent and advance the interpretation and understanding of the text. Although certain late authors frequently allude to Apollonius, these have not been included unless especially relevant.
In the belief that translation is part of the process of commentary and offers the possibility of encapsulating essential issues, all commented text has been translated. This translation is a personal effort that acknowledges a debt to all modern translators.
The main aim of this commentary is not to present a text through a series of extracted lemmata that are in danger of becoming fossilized, but as a continuous narrative equipped with tools for its explication and understanding. The Argonautica is a poem that deserves to be read rather than used as a work of reference.