Bryn Mawr Classical Review 94.05.18


Lars Nyberg, Unity and Coherence. Studies in Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica and the Alexandrian Epic Tradition. Studia Graeca et Latina Lundensia 4. Lund: Lund University Press, 1992.


Reviewed by Ole L. Smith, University of Gothenburg.

It does not happen every day that a new study on a major classical author is presented as a doctoral dissertation in Scandinavia, still less in Sweden where topics regarded as suitable for such purposes traditionally have been very restricted. Still more to be welcomed is it that a dissertation promises to put forward a fresh literary interpretation of a classical work, especially one that has fallen into comparative neglect. However, the expectations raised soon prove themselves to be unfounded.

The problems of N.'s approach are presented to the attentive reader already in the bibliography: the bibliography of 'editions' only mentions Homer's Iliad in the Macmillan school edition by Leaf and Bayfield; the important and indispensable commentaries on Apollonius Rhodius by Ardizzoni and Livrea have not been used or even mentioned; there is no edition of the scholia mentioned in the bibliography. (K. Wendel's Die Überlieferung des (sic) Scholien zu Apollonius (sic) Rhodius (sic) is mentioned but not used and the scholia text referred to cannot be found). Charles R. Beye, the author of Epic and Romance in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius (Carbondale, Ill. 1982), appears throughout the book as (C. H.) Bey, starting with the bibliographical entry on p. ix (where the abbreviated reference is given as Bey (1982), whereas in the full reference the year of publication is 1981.1

Furthermore, E. J. Kenney is regularly mentioned as (E. J.) Kennedy (e.g. p. x), Wendell Clausen usually as Claussen (ibid.)2 and the year of publication of D. N. Levin's Apollonius' Argonautica Re-examined is given throughout as 1972. Hermann Fraenkel's paper in Museum Helveticum 14 has been given a false title. Some items have been listed in such a way that the reader will have difficulty in finding them; for instance, the work by J. J. Clauss on p. x is an unpublished dissertation, and in the case of Briggs' work on 'Vergil and the Hellenistic Epic' the reader is only referred to the nightmare of Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Books quoted on second hand are also found in the bibliography, as for instance Pöschl's Die Dichtkunst Virgils. As if this were not enough, several works mentioned in the book cannot be found in the bibliography.3

N.'s basic argument is that unity of Apollonius' poem is to be found in recurrent imagery and themes. This is no completely new insight, although it has never before been worked out in such painstaking (and repetitive) detail as here. But N. has made it very difficult for the reader to see what is his own contribution, and one strange fact makes the reader doubt whether this lack of clarity has to do with other things than insensitivity to scholarly precision. On p. 52 in n. 158 after having referred to Feeney (1991)4 he makes the surprising statement that Feeney's book was not available at the time of writing. At this point we have met with references to Feeney in at least six cases without any further comments5 and we are later in the work to see Feeney referred to in the notes as well as in the text proper.

Perhaps the most important point in my quarrel with N. is that on top of his philological irresponsibility there is next to no theoretical awareness or discussion of the method he has employed in his reading. Apart from some remarks in n. 70 on p. 17, there is nowhere in the book a discussion of literary interpretation in general nor of his own method in particular. He rejects the biographical/intentional interpretation pp. 15-17 primarily with a quotation from Wellek (and Warren)6 but there are really no arguments offered for the method followed in his own study of the text where the idea of arte allusiva is often in practice used to establish connections between anything that fits with his reading. See, for instance, the way in which the cloak on p. 29 changes between being a token of civilization, a symbol of hospitality, a love token and of lethal treachery, and cf. also p. 33 where the cloak of Polydeuces also of a sudden becomes a love symbol, and again p. 35 where it changes into something representing eroticism and refinement. His juggling with the text may also be seen from his comments p. 32 on the comparison between Jason and Sirius; there he says that Sirius is a star that brings evil to flocks and men, but in the Greek text iii 956ff only sheep are mentioned.

In fact, the whole system of recurrent motives, leitmotifs and allusions is in N.'s analysis characterized expressis verbis as intended by Apollonius. There is no attempt to argue how you can both reject the method in theory and follow it in practice. The reader cannot help wondering what N. means by claiming disinterest in the author's intentions and then using Apollonius' intentions to explain the connection and the symbolism. Instances of this willingness to adduce authorial intention can be found e.g. p. 27 on the connotations of the star simile: 'Apollonius, however, is probably suggesting that the simile is more complex than it might appear at first sight.' On p. 59 N. accepts Fraenkel's idea that Apollonius is talking directly to us in a couple of passages. There is no discussion here or anywhere else of the implications of a presumption like this, even though this question of the author/narrator is of central importance to any theory of literature. On p. 74 'Apollonius wishes to demonstrate' and on the next page we have an 'intentional connection' and are told on occasion of 3. 876ff that 'Apollonius has of course been inspired to the simile by book 6 of the Odyssey.' On p. 32 in n. 107 N. is certain that 'Apollonius ... must have had the Euripidean Jason and Medea at the back of his mind'.7

N.'s close reading of the text and his attempt at bringing out the meaning of the recurrent imagery cannot command respect as long as he does not discuss the implicit fundamentals of his reading: what are the criteria for regarding these motifs and recurrent images as part of a larger structure of meaning? Precisely for this reason the detailed interpretation fails to convince, and I will give one example out of many to show the problems of N.'s method. On p. 22 he begins the section on the star simile as a unifying device by discussing Arg. i 238ff.

A)MFI\ DE\ LAW=N
PLHQU\S SPERXOME/NWN A)/MUDIS QE/ON, OI( DE\ FAEINOI\
A)STE/RES W(\S NEFE/ESSI METE/PREPON, W(=DE D' E(/KASTOS
E)/NNEPEN EI)SORO/WN SU\N TEU/XESIN A)I/SSONTAS·
He comments: 'As the scholiast suggests, the primary function of the simile is to contrast the dazzling sight of the aristocratic heroes with the plebeian masses.' A footnote then refers to Levin (1972) 36, 39. The correct reference, of course, is to Levin (1971) and N. should have given p. 38 where Levin points out that the scholiast refers to the social distinction between the heroes and the masses. N. does not quote the scholium, nor does he refer to Wendel's (or any other) edition of the scholia, so one wonders from where comes the idea of 'the dazzling sight'. It came from Fraenkel, Noten 56 who interprets the text of Apollonius as aiming at 'der Kontrast zwischen der strahlenden Erscheinung der vornehmen Göttersöhne ... und den mitlaufenden Haufen der gewöhnlichen Bürger'8 but this notion cannot be found in the scholia, cf. sch. i 240 PRO\S TO\ GE/NOS KAI\ TH\N TU/XHN KAI\ TW=N A)NDRW=N A)PIDW/N, A)STE/RAS ME\N TOU\S H(/RWA/S FHSI, NEFE/LAS DE\ TOU/S DHMOTIKOU\S O)/XLOUS. N. then elaborates on Levin's and Fraenkel's ideas to argue that we have in this passage because of the emphasis on brightness a connection between the Argonauts and the Olympic powers, a connection he also finds and emphasizes out of all proportion later in the poem.9

N. might have been able to write a much shorter article on literary aspects of Apollonius' poem. His work in its present form is unacceptable, irrespective of our personal point of view of the literary text and the methodological principles for our analysis.


NOTES

  • [1] Similar errors in the bibliography's references to Burnett (1974), Espmark (1986), Hutchinson (1990) and Olofsson (1981).
  • [2] Further misspellings of scholars' names are Barret (p.ix), Cambell (p.x but correct in the abbreviated reference), Feeny (p.xi), Hirsh (p. xiii). In the text proper, Karl Galinsky is sometimes referred to as Galinski. Bernard M.W. Knox appears in the bibliography in two different forms, and on p. 110 n. 313 as Nox.
  • [3] See the references to Kroll p. 5 n. 17, Staiger (1951) p. 11 n. 46, Mettinger (1992) p. 16 n. 63, Kennedy [Kenney?] (1989) p. 17 n. 67, Giangrande (1979) p. 17 n. 68 [misprint for 1970?], Wilamowitz p. 18 n. 73, Fraenkel (1954) [misprint for 1952?] p. 19 n. 77, Burnett (1973) [misprint for 1974?], Dodds (1974) [misprint for 1973a?] p. 47 n. 143, Kindstrand (1976) p. 48 n. 145, Nilsson (1969) [misprint for 1961?] p. 49 n. 150, Dodds (1978) p. 51 n. 154 [misprint?], Dodds (1975) [misprint?] p. 54 n. 164, Halliwell p. 67 n. 201 etc. What happened in n. 262 on p. 91 where we are referred first to Bey, (1983) without any page numbers and then to (1969) 31-55 I have no idea.
  • [4] D. C. Feeney, The Gods in Epic. Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition (Oxford 1991).
  • [5] One of these references deserves to be singled out. On p. 8 we have a direct quote (including one error in copying) from Feeney's book p. 2 with the footnote Feeney [1991] passim. This is by no means an isolated case of total confusion.
  • [6] Why N. here (p. 15) ascribes the quote from Wellek's and Warren's classic Theory of Literature p. 136 (p. 148 in the Peregrine ed. 1963) to Wellek alone is not clear, since the two authors expressly stated that the whole book was to be regarded as their joint responsibility, nor why he thinks that Wellek's and Warren's discussion only pertains to modern or even contemporary literature. Perhaps because the American critics reject the method even if we are in possession of contemporary evidence. But of course, contemporary here in Wellek's and Warren's discussion means not contemporary with us but with the poet.
  • [7] More surprisingly, N. on p. 120 even goes as far as to suggest that Jason 'perhaps unwittingly' mistreats Iphias (A 311-16). One wonders what that is supposed to mean. A case of Lady Macbeth's children?
  • [8] Referred to by N. (n.83) but in such a way as to suggest that he has made his own interpretation independently of Fraenkel: 'Fraenkel (1968) 56 has made the same observation.'
  • [9] It is ironical that N. p. 67 n. 200 joins Hunter (CQ n.s. 38 [1988] 437) in criticizing Fraenkel's 'penchant for reading between the lines' since this objection is precisely what N. himself is open to.