Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.02.05

Paul Dräger, Die Argonautica des Apollonius Rhodios. Das zweite Zorn-Epos der griechischen Literatur. BzA 158.   München/Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2001.  Pp. 174.  ISBN 3-598-77707-8.  EUR 80.00.  

Reviewed by B. Scherer, University of Groningen (
Word count: 1372 words

[[For a response to this review, see BMCR 2003.02.26.]]

After his voluminous work on the Argonautic myth, Argo pasimelousa,1 the Trier-based German scholar Paul Dräger has published another study dealing with the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius under the somewhat provocative subtitle 'The second epic of anger in Greek literature'.

After the Introduction (pp. 1-6), the book contains a large section dealing with the Argonautic myth in general (comprising one third of the whole study, '1. Der Argonautenmythos vor, bei und nach Apollonius', pp. 7-58) followed by a section on the dual divine perspective (Apollo-Zeus) within the Iliad and the Argonautica which is a mere 3 pages long ('2. Iliadische und apollonianische Doppelperspektive, pp. 59-61). In the 3rd section, finally, anger is established as Leitmotif of the Argonautica ('3. Leitmotive im Epos des Apollonius', pp. 62-79) before another small section that deals with intertextual references to the Nekyia in the Argonautica ('4. Eine Nekyia bei Apollonius', pp. 80-4). Sections 5 and 6 deal with the characters of the Epic in the light of D.'s anger-theory: 5. With the major Argonauts and gods ('5. Die zentralen Handlungsfiguren des Zorn-Epos des Apollonius', pp. 85-119) and 6 with Jason and Medea ('6. Der Charakter der Hauptpersonen Iason / Medeia und die Einheit des Zorn-Epos, pp. 120-5). Two sections conclude the study (7. Apollonius paizôn or the late revelation of Zeus' anger, pp. 126-34, and 8. Apollonius heuretês and the unity of the Epic of anger, pp. 135-48). These are followed by a summary (pp. 149-51), bibliography (pp. 152-8) and indexes (pp. 159-74: general index followed by an index of Greek words and index locorum).

As can easily be seen from this list of the contents, the arrangement of the study is structurally unbalanced. A more compressed division would have been welcome. Nevertheless, the study's main purpose -- to establish the motif of Zeus' anger as decisive for the plot of the Argonautica -- is not seriously impeded by this choice of arrangement.

Dräger's study is in many ways a curious book. It is obviously a parergon to D.'s excellent new Greek-German pocket edition of the Argonautica (Stuttgart: Reclam, issued November 2002),2 which is most welcome in view of the numerous flaws in Glei/Natzel-Glei's recent Greek-German edition.3 D.'s new study claims to stir up research on Apollonius, which -- despite of the promising reevaluation of the author in recent times -- "still is stuck regarding the question of the unity of the Epic" ("in der Frage der Einheit noch immer auf der Stelle tritt," Preface). Here, D.'s analysis of the state of research is consistent with what he has already stated in his reviews of recent studies on Apollonius, in which he both scrupulously and mercilessly pointed out weaknesses.4 It is very exciting to find a keen critic presenting his own revolutionary view. It's a pity, however, that D.'s own book does not live up to that expectation.

To start with the disproportionately large section on the Argonautic myth (1.): its incorporation into the present book is partly explained as a temporary substitute for the still awaited second part of D.'s Argo pasimelousa (which is supposed to deal with the myth after Apollonius). But as a point of fact, a major part of section 1 is merely a summary and repetition of D.'s ideas on the Argonautic myth laid out in Argo pasimelousa. His reconstruction of the Argonautic myth suffers from questionable methodological assumptions about the nature of an archaic Argonautica, which he boldly identifies with the pre-Homeric version of the myth. Basically, he equates Pseudo-Apollodorus' account with that of Pherecydes, and the reconstructed Pherecydes with this pre-Homeric Argonautica. This creative kind of coping with mythological sources has a pretty long history within Classical scholarship; recently P. Grossardt did so analogously with the Meleagros-myth.5 However, a much more cautious approach is needed to avoid ending up with a circular argument. The foundation should be a thorough chronological collection of evidence on the Argonautic myth (including iconographical testimonia, fragmentary writers and new papyri). Instead however, D. presents a coherent list of motifs which he claims to be the content of 'the archaic Argonautica' (esp. pp. 12-15). But it should be clear that we are not dealing with one archaic (let alone pre-Homeric) version of the myth but a stream of different versions. Dräger's reconstruction does not take the diversity of the testimonia into account sufficiently. Even worse, many of the details aren't attested before Apollonius. And even the older evidence is contradictory: e.g. the singer Philammon who shows up as an Argonaut as early as Orpheus does (Sicyonian treasury, ca. 570 BCE, LIMC Orpheus 6), replaces Orpheus in Pherecydes, but is subsequently not counted as an Argonaut at all. Furthermore Ps.-Apollodorus read Apollonius, so contamination is certain in his case. Accordingly, because of the fragmentary state of the tradition, every reconstruction of a pre-Homeric Argonautica is doomed to fail. We have to accept that cautious scholarship cannot really get beyond collecting the bits and must abstain from jumping to conclusions. After Apollonius D. treats only the three remaining full-scale accounts on the Argonauts: Hyginus, Valerius Flaccus and the Orphic Argonautica, leaving out many important allusions to and re-workings of the Argonautic myth e.g. by Ovid, Seneca and Statius.

The treatment of Apollonius' Argonautica in sections 2-8 is based on D.'s ideas on the epic as laid out in his 1993 study of the Argonautica (pp. 293-327). Here, double perspective and anger as Leitmotif were already discussed, although from a different intertextual perspective. Now D. brings the Iliad as an important intertext into the picture. A thorough investigation of the anger-motif in the Iliad as compared to the Argonautica would have been very promising. One wonders, why D. limited this original comparison to 3 pages (section 2). However, the most essential breakpoint for D.'s theory becomes clear here: how can anger, which is prominently decisive for the plot of the Iliad, be shown as similarly relevant in the Argonautica? Up to his concluding section 8, D. repeatedly runs into difficulties stemming from the excessive nature of his claim.

Anyway, in section 3, we find an interesting analysis of anger and statute, norms, and law as leitmotifs within the epic. This chapter is actually a valid countercheck to a disappointing article on anger in the Argonautica by F. Manakidou (Philologus 142, 1998, 241-69). D. successfully to reasserts the intratextual and narratorial relevance of the anger-motif in the Argonautica. On the other hand, the section does not offer an essentially new approach: D.'s theory from 1993 is pepped up by a more thorough investigation of material and that's it.

The function of section 4 on the Nekyia in the Argonautica is not clear: Nekyia as subtext and leitmotif was recognized long ago, especially by the works of P. Kyriakou and V. Knight. D. offers a nice compilation of the arguments, but the section does not add to his anger-theory.

For the most part, sections 5 and 6 merely collect material on the characters of the epic (most of which can be easily accessed through Vian's index in vol. iii of his Budé edition); nevertheless, they offer some original observations (e.g. on Apollo and Zeus). The final sections try to dismiss the most obvious objection to D.'s claim: why is anger so relatively unprominent and revealed so late in the Argonautica. D. comes up with some witty explanations including the cumulative evidence and the neatly inter-active character of the text. However, they are not convincing: anger is one interesting angle from which to approach the Argonautica, but not the decisive clue for its unity as D. claims. The Argonautica is an 'open', almost postmodern text with many layers, providing manifold possible ways of interpretation (and witty interaction). The Iliad is one among several very important intertexts. There cannot be one decisive clue.

So, is D. successful in his aim to 'stir up' Apollonian research? I must respond in the affirmative because D. certainly has drawn our attention once more to the skillful complexity of the Argonautica in general and to the eminence of the Iliad as intertext in particular. But since D.'s excellent new annotated translation already provides sufficient space for his own ideas; he should have contented himself with that.


1.   P. Dräger: Argo Pasimelousa. Der Argonautenmythos in der griechischen und römischen Literatur. Teil 1: Theos aitios, Stuttgart 1993 (Palingenesia. 43). x, 400 pp. Reviews: B.K. Braswell, MH 51, 1994, 252-3. K. Usener, Gymnasium 101, 1994, 470-2. C.R. Beye, CJ 90, 1994-5, 310-12. R.L. Hunter, CR 45, 1995, 47-9. P. Somville, AC 64, 1995, 260-1. M. Valverde Sánchez, Emerita 63, 1995, 367-8. R.J. Clare, JHS 116, 1996, 178-81. A. Wouters, LEC 65, 1995, 178. G. Danek, WS 112, 1999, 246-7
2.   Cp. Dräger's preface (p. vii), in which he states that the study was developed simultaneously with the Greek-German edition. In the same way was Dräger's study on Pherecydes a parergon to his Argo Pasimelousa (P. Dräger: Stilistische Untersuchungen zu Pherekydes von Athen, Stuttgart 1995, reviewed by N. O'Sullivan, CR 48, 1998, 178).
3.   R. F. Glei & S. Natzel-Glei: Apollonius von Rhodos, Das Argonautenepos. Herausgegeben, übersetzt und erläutert. Band 1: Buch 1-2. Band 2: Buch 3-4, Darmstadt 1996 (Texte zur Forschung. 63-4). Reviews: B.W. Häuptli, MH 53, 1996, 312-13; M. Campbell, CR 47, 1997, 414. LEC 65, 1997, 190-1; P. Dräger, AAW 52, 1999, 4-20; C. Auffarth , Arcadia 34, 1999, 130-2; A. Lozar, Fabula 39, 1998, 326-7; G. Danek, WS 112, 1999, 235-6; K. Groß-Albenhaus, Klio 81, 1999, 273-4.
4.   Esp. on P.H. Gummert, Die Erzählstruktur in den Argonautica des Apollonius Rhodios, Gnomon 69, 1997, 591-9 and Glei (see above).
5.   P. Grossardt: Die Erzählung von Meleagros. Zur literarischen Entwicklung der kalydonischen Kultlegende, Leiden (Mnemosyne supplementum. 215).

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