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The Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius - HTML preview

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INTRODUCTION

By

Much has been written about the chronology of Apollonius Rhodius

Alexandrian literature and the famous Library, founded (fl. 3rd Century B.C.)

by Ptolemy Soter, but the dates of the chief writers are still matters of conjecture. The birth of Apollonius Originally written in Ancient Greek sometime in the Rhodius is placed by scholars at various times between 3rd Century B.C. by the Alexandrian poet Apollonius 296 and 260 B.C., while the year of his death is equally Rhodius (“Apollonius the Rhodian”). Translation by uncertain. In fact, we have very little information on R.C. Seaton, 1912.

the subject. There are two “lives” of Apollonius in the Scholia, both derived from an earlier one which is lost.

From these we learn that he was of Alexandria by birth,* that he lived in the time of the Ptolemies, and was a pupil of Callimachus; that while still a youth he composed and recited in public his “Argonautica”, and that the poem was condemned, in consequence of which he retired to Rhodes; that there he revised his poem, recited it with great applause, and hence called

*Or of Naucratis, according to Aelian and Athenaeus.

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The Argonautica

himself a Rhodian. The second “life” adds: “Some say This is not impossible, it is true, but it is difficult. But that he returned to Alexandria and again recited his the difficulty is taken away if we assume with Ritschl poem with the utmost success, so that he was honoured that Eratosthenes resigned his office some years be-with the libraries of the Museum and was buried with fore his death, which allows us to put the birth of Callimachus.” The last sentence may be interpreted Apollonius at about 280, and would solve other diffi-by the notice of Suidas, who informs us that Apollonius culties. For instance, if the Librarians were buried was a contemporary of Eratosthenes, Euphorion and within the precincts, it would account for the burial of Timarchus, in the time of Ptolemy Euergetes, and that Apollonius next to Callimachus—Eratosthenes being he succeeded Eratosthenes in the headship of the still alive. However that may be, it is rather arbitrary Alexandrian Library. Suidas also informs us elsewhere to take away the “bibliothecariate” of Apollonius, that Aristophanes at the age of sixty-two succeeded which is clearly asserted by Suidas, on account of chro-Apollonius in this office. Many modern scholars deny nological calculations which are themselves uncertain.

the “bibliothecariate” of Apollonius for chronological Moreover, it is more probable that the words follow-reasons, and there is considerable difficulty about it.

ing “some say” in the second “life” are a remnant of The date of Callimachus’ “Hymn to Apollo”, which the original life than a conjectural addition, because closes with some lines (105- 113) that are admittedly the first “life” is evidently incomplete, nothing being an allusion to Apollonius, may be put with much prob-said about the end of Apollonius’ career.

ability at 248 or 247 B.C. Apollonius must at that date The principal event in his life, so far as we know, have been at least twenty years old. Eratosthenes died was the quarrel with his master Callimachus, which 196-193 B.C. This would make Apollonius seventy-was most probably the cause of his condemnation at two to seventy-five when he succeeded Eratosthenes.

Alexandria and departure to Rhodes. This quarrel ap-4

The Argonautica

pears to have arisen from differences of literary aims go further. It was an age when literary men were more and taste, but, as literary differences often do, degen-inclined to comment on writings of the past than to erated into the bitterest personal strife. There are ref-produce original work. Literature was engaged in tak-erences to the quarrel in the writings of both.

ing stock of itself. Homer was, of course, professedly Callimachus attacks Apollonius in the passage at the admired by all, but more admired than imitated. Epic end of the “Hymn to Apollo”, already mentioned, also poetry was out of fashion and we find many epigrams probably in some epigrams, but most of all in his “Ibis”, of this period—some by Callimachus—directed against of which we have an imitation, or perhaps nearly a the “cyclic” poets, by whom were meant at that time translation, in Ovid’s poem of the same name. On the those who were always dragging in conventional and part of Apollonius there is a passage in the third book commonplace epithets and phrases peculiar to epic of the “Argonautica” (11. 927-947) which is of a po-poetry. Callimachus was in accordance with the spirit lemical nature and stands out from the context, and of the age when he proclaimed “a great book” to be “a the well-known savage epigram upon Callimachus.*

great evil,” and sought to confine poetical activity within Various combinations have been attempted by schol-the narrowest limits both of subject and space.

ars, notably by Couat, in his “Poesie Alexandrine”, to Theocritus agreed with him, both in principle and prac-give a connected account of the quarrel, but we have tice. The chief characteristics of Alexandrianism are not data sufficient to determine the order of the at-well summarized by Professor Robinson Ellis as fol-tacks, and replies, and counter-attacks. The “Ibis” has lows: “Precision in form and metre, refinement in dic-been thought to mark the termination of the feud on tion, a learning often degenerating into pedantry and the curious ground that it was impossible for abuse to obscurity, a resolute avoidance of everything commonplace in subject, sentiment or allusion.” These traits

*Anth. Pal. xl. 275.

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are more prominent in Callimachus than in Apollonius, perished. The best known earlier account that we have but they are certainly to be seen in the latter. He seems is that in Pindar’s fourth Pythian ode, from which to have written the “Argonautica” out of bravado, to Apollonius has taken many details. The subject was show that he could write an epic poem. But the influence one for an epic poem, for its unity might have been of the age was too strong. Instead of the unity of an found in the working out of the expiation due for the Epic we have merely a series of episodes, and it is the crime of Athamas; but this motive is barely mentioned great beauty and power of one of these episodes that by our author.

gives the poem its permanent value—the episode of the As we have it, the motive of the voyage is the com-love of Jason and Medea. This occupies the greater mand of Pelias to bring back the golden fleece, and part of the third book. The first and second books are this command is based on Pelias’ desire to destroy Ja-taken up with the history of the voyage to Colchis, while son, while the divine aid given to Jason results from the fourth book describes the return voyage. These por-the intention of Hera to punish Pelias for his neglect of tions constitute a metrical guide book, filled no doubt the honour due to her. The learning of Apollonius is with many pleasing episodes, such as the rape of Hy-not deep but it is curious; his general sentiments are las, the boxing match between Pollux and Amyeus, not according to the Alexandrian standard, for they the account of Cyzicus, the account of the Amazons, are simple and obvious. In the mass of material from the legend of Talos, but there is no unity running which he had to choose the difficulty was to know what through the poem beyond that of the voyage itself.

to omit, and much skill is shown in fusing into a tolerably The Tale of the Argonauts had been told often be-harmonious whole conflicting mythological and histori-fore in verse and prose, and many authors’ names are cal details. He interweaves with his narrative local leg-given in the Scholia to Apollonius, but their works have ends and the founding of cities, accounts of strange cus-6

The Argonautica

toms, descriptions of works of art, such as that of

“Argonautica” was translated by Varro Atacinus, copied Ganymede and Eros playing with knucklebones,* but by Ovid and Virgil, and minutely studied by Valerius prosaically calls himself back to the point from these pleas-Flaccus in his poem of the same name. Some of his finest ing digressions by such an expression as “but this would passages have been appropriated and improved upon by take me too far from my song.” His business is the straight-Virgil by the divine right of superior genius.* The subject forward tale and nothing else. The astonishing geogra-of love had been treated in the romantic spirit before the phy of the fourth book reminds us of the interest of the time of Apollonius in writings that have perished, for in-age in that subject, stimulated no doubt by the researches stance, in those of Antimachus of Colophon, but the of Eratosthenes and others.

“Argonautica” is perhaps the first poem still extant in The language is that of the conventional epic.

which the expression of this spirit is developed with elabo-Apollonius seems to have carefully studied Homeric ration. The Medea of Apollonius is the direct precursor glosses, and gives many examples of isolated uses, but of the Dido of Virgil, and it is the pathos and passion of his choice of words is by no means limited to Homer. He the fourth book of the “Aeneid” that keep alive many a freely avails himself of Alexandrian words and late uses passage of Apollonius.

of Homeric words. Among his contemporaries Apollonius suffers from a comparison with Theocritus, who was a little his senior, but he was much admired by Roman writers who derived inspiration from the great classical writers of Greece by way of Alexandria. In fact Alexandria was a useful bridge between Athens and Rome. The

*e.g. compare Aen. iv. 305 foll. with Ap. Rh. iv. 355 foll.;

Aen. iv. 327-330 with Ap. Rh. I. 897, 898; Aen. iv. 522 foll.,

*iii. 117-124.

with Ap. Rh. iii. 744 foll.

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THE ARGONAUTICA

the king saw him and pondered, and devised for him the toil of a troublous voyage, in order that on the sea or among strangers he might lose his home-return.