BMCR 2001.11.13

A Companion to Apollonius Rhodius

, , A companion to Apollonius Rhodius. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Leiden: Brill, 2001. 1 online resource (xiii, 362 pages).. ISBN 1417536683. $120.00.

In A Companion to Apollonius Rhodius, Theodore Papanghelis and Antonios Rengakos have collected 14 papers by leading scholars of Apollonian studies or in their own fields. The breadth of topics covered and the high quality of the contributions ensure that this is a book that all students of Hellenistic poetry, and even of Augustan poetry will want to consult. Chapter 1 by Reinold Glei outlines recent scholarship; chapter 2 by Gerson Schade and Paolo Eleuteri discusses the Argonautica‘s textual tradition; chapters 3 and 4 by Mary Lefkowitz and Adolf Köhnken discuss Apollonius’ biography; chapters 5 through 8 by Richard Hunter, Massmio Fusillo, Bernd Effe, and Marco Fantuzzi treat various aspects of Apollonius’ poetics; chapters 9 and 10 by Antonios Rengakos and Doris Meyer investigate Apollonius’ interactions with Hellenistic scholarship; and chapters 11 through 14 by Damien Nelis, Edward Kenney, Francis Vian, and John Newman discuss aspects of Apollonius’ reception. Some of the contributions are updated versions of papers or chapters available elsewhere (Lefkowitz, Köhnken, Effe), others condense or refocus recent or forthcoming longer treatments by the author (Rengakos, Meyer, Nelis), and again others provide primarily new treatments (Hunter, Fantuzzi, Kenney, Newman). This combination is perhaps demanded by the “companion” format, but it does contribute in this case to a sense that the editors did not keep a single audience in mind. Where the author of a chapter has returned to a topic previously treated, I have indicated the extent of the new material in an endnote.

The first contribution, “Outlines of Apollonian Scholarship 1955-1999,” by Reinhold F. Glei, divides that scholarship into seven categories: 1. Editions, Commentaries, Translations; 2. Aesthetics; 3. Heroism; 4. Epic Technique; 5. Philology; 6. Priority; 7. Magic and Other Realien. Glei makes no claim to fullness, specifically excluding studies on textual problems, brief episodes, or the influence of the Argonautica, but identifies the most important and influential works in each of his categories. Glei suggests that many of these categories no longer promise high returns, e.g. “the 1001st study on Jason’s heroism” (25). Instead he calls for new work to be done in cultural history and reception. In light of this it is surprising that he does not include any bibliography on Hellenistic cultural history. Such a bibliography could become very extensive, but a few very major works 1 would certainly be at home in Glei’s selection.

The second contribution, “The Textual Tradition of the Argonautica,” by Gerson Schade and Paolo Eleuteri, examines first the evidence for the alleged quarrel between Apollonius and Callimachus and then the evidence for the proekdosis. An account of the papyri is then given, at first with a view to disproving the possibility that single-word variants in the tradition can be traced back to the proekdosis, ending with an appendix listing the published papyri by their position in the Argonautica. The second half of this essay deals with the medieval tradition, generally following Fränkel and correcting him with Vian, with a few additional details not available to the earlier scholars.

In “Myth and History in the Biography of Apollonius,” Mary Lefkowitz advances the argument she made in The Lives of the Greek Poets,2 by attempting to show that the biographers of the Hellenistic poets employ the same methods as the biographers of the classical poets and are therefore no more reliable, contrary to Cameron’s view.3 Lefkowitz naturally draws heavily on her earlier work, but notable contributions include demonstrating the parallelism of Apollonius’ voluntary exile with those of Aeschylus and Euripides (60), or the parallelism between the identification of the Ibis as Apollonius and the jackdaws as Bacchylides and Simonides in Pindar (61-2). Then, Lefkowitz adduces further examples of Cameron’s incautious optimism or misunderstandings of her method. Lefkowitz further discusses problems in the lives of Theocritus, Nicander, and Aratus overlooked by Cameron (63-70), reasserting that there is not enough reliable material preserved for any of the Hellenistic poets to be useful for the critic.

Adolf Köhnken, in, “Hellenistic Chronology: Theocritus, Callimachus, and Apollonius Rhodius,”4 first endeavors to clarify the textual evidence that is usable in this discussion. On the basis of carefully limited textual evidence Köhnken makes a strong case for Callimachus being earlier than Apollonius (77-80), and Theocritus than Callimachus (80-3). He spends rather longer approaching the main crux, the relative priority of Theocritus and Apollonius, considering especially the available pre-Hellenistic traditions and the parallel similes, finally supporting Theocritean priority (83-92). Köhnken’s order Theocritus, Callimachus, Apollonius is ultimately convincing for me, but defenders of Apollonian priority will no doubt advance further arguments. Nevertheless, Köhnken’s meticulous paper will provide the starting point for all future discussions.

In “The Poetics of Narrative in the Argonautica,” Richard Hunter addresses Apollonius’ use of the epic genre, with the attendant concerns of authority, the appropriateness of epic in a Hellenistic milieu, the relation of epic and drama, and the possibility of cyclic model. In the discussion of the epic poet’s authority, Hunter returns to a number of familiar topoi : the Hellenistic book-poet’s option to tell different versions of a myth (94-95), the appeal to aitia instead of divine truth as the guarantee of the epic’s authority (99), Apollonius’ Muses as “hypophetores” (99-100), the poet’s indecision at 4.1-5 (102). Hunter breathes some new life into these well worn passages by linking them together as aspects of Apollonius’ handling of epic authority. If the connections he makes are typically subtle and suggestive, rather than clear and incisive, this perhaps better reflects the suggestive nature of Apollonius’ text. The section on the Hellenistic context (105-18) is similarly wide-ranging and suggestive, touching Callimachus, Virgil, Polybius, Aristotle, and Apollonius’ use of the Alexandrian footnote. The final two sections on drama and the cyclic poems are quite brief, and, although space is clearly limited in a contribution of this sort, some might prefer to see more spent on these less familiar topics than on the better represented topics Hunter chooses to expand on.

The sixth essay, “Apollonius Rhodius as ‘Inventor’ of the Interior Monologue,” by Massimo Fusillo turns to a narratological approach familiar from its author’s earlier work. Fusillo first makes a distinction between “interior monologue” (the Apollonian technique) and “stream of consciousness” (as in Joyce’s Ulysses), a hint of the seminal position he will maintain for Apollonius in the history of the psychological narrative (128-9). After reviewing the Homeric precedents for the interior monologue, Fusillo turns to Medea’s three monologues, not primarily in narratological but in psychological terms: “Apollonius’ epic appears…to be completely dominated by psychological reactions to an event rather than on its fulfillment” (132). Allusions to the narrative pacing of the epic, its relation to Alexandrian poetics and the Greek novel, the problem of Jason’s heroism (!), and the unity of the poem lead to a final narratological section on focalization (143-6), making a distinction between Homer’s subjectivity (as argued by De Jong), and Apollonius’ much broader use of interior focalization. This last section is particularly useful in showing how a narratological approach can isolate the nature of Apollonius’ innovations. The psychological approach to Medea’s dialogues will be welcome to the casual reader of Apollonius, but others may feel the lack of a direct response to the anti-psychological approaches of Hunter and Goldhill.5

Bernd Effe’s primary concern in, “The Similes of Apollonius Rhodius: Intertextuality and Epic Innovation,”6 is to reinforce the argument that Apollonius’ use of and allusion to Homer is polemical, that these allusions primarily point to the difference between Apollonian and Homeric epic rather than forging continuity. Using Apollonius’ similes, most of which do have a Homeric precedent, Effe first points to the recurring incongruity between the Homeric figure in the simile and the un-Homeric figure to which the simile refers. For example, when Aietes rides out to oversee Jason’s trials, Apollonius compares him to Poseidon visiting various cult sites; the simile is a familiar Homeric type, but the implicit contrast between Poseidon’s honors and Aietes’ imminent embarrassment is an Apollonian innovation (150). Especially interesting are the cases where Effe points out that Apollonius is improving a specific Homeric simile by giving originally decorative details further thematic significance (153-8).

In “‘Homeric’ Formularity in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes,” Marco Fantuzzi attempts to place Apollonius within the continuum of Greek epic poets as imitators, or, more precisely, as non-imitators of Homeric formular language. After a précis of the current uncertainty concerning the origins, functions, and aesthetics of Homeric formular diction, Fantuzzi considers the varying fortunes of some formulae: αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα in Pollianus’ epigram belongs not to Homer but his “bad” imitators (172); τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος, on the other hand, virtually disappears until Cratinus parodies it (172-3). Fantuzzi notes the same trend in the practice of Zenodotus and Aristarchus of athetizing repeated passages in Homer, allowing only the most natural or necessary occurance (174-7). Beginning then with Apollonius’ verba dicendi, Fantuzzi isolates three trends: avoidance of Homeric formulae, appropriation of marginal Homeric uses, and the creation of a non-formulaic formula which repeats the same vocabulary (often, but not exclusively Homeric) but avoids exact repetition, a usage he compares to Hainsworth’s “mobile formula” (183). Fantuzzi’s final section attempts to distinguish between “first uses” and “re-uses” of archaic epic language. According to the argument, the “first use” (and, occasionally, a second use) of a word or phrase will demand that the reader consider its original context because of the similarity of the context in Apollonius. On the other hand, “re-uses” of the word will not allude to the earlier text but will refer to the “first use” in Apollonius’ text (186-92). Fantuzzi’s examples and discussion of the ramifications of this technique are naturally limited by the companion format, but this distinction, which will presumably be developed further elsewhere, will have immense implications for the study of Apollonius.

In the ninth contribution, “Apollonius Rhodius as a Homeric Scholar,” Antonios Rengakos considers Apollonius’ place in the tradition of Homeric scholarship and his usability as evidence for the Homeric text of the Alexandrians.7 Concerning the first question, Rengakos concentrates, though not exclusively, on Apollonius’ problematic relationship to the D scholia (199-200), and on his general agreement with later Hellenistic scholars (201-3). Concerning the Alexandrian text of Homer, Rengakos considers the evidence of Apollonius’ Pros Zenodoton, and the use of Homeric variants in the Argonautica. Although the conclusions that Apollonius was among the foremost Homeric scholars of his time and that Apollonius’ use of his scholarship in the Argonautica is an essentially Callimachean technique may not be surprising, Rengakos’ care and thoroughness in concretely establishing Apollonius’ intellectual context are to be appreciated.

In her paper, “Apollonius as a Hellenistic Geographer,” Doris Meyer considers the physical organization of Apollonius’ narrative in relation to the habits of thought of Hellenistic geographers. Meyer notes that attempts to understand Apollonius’ use of geographical matter in terms of scientific geography have been unsatisfying (224), and therefore moves the focus of the debate from Apollonius’ use of geographical data to his use of geographical narrative. The importance of geographical narrative to the Argonautica is most clear in Meyer’s distinction between “hodological” and “cartographical” narratives, the former represented by the experiential periplous, the latter by the map (229-230). Meyer thus explains, for example, the fantastic Istros of book four as, “not a real geographic entity but a projection onto an imaginary map of something which was partly trade route and partly schematic speculation” (230). Meyer touches on related topics such as the poet’s relation to his prose sources and the distribution of “hodological” and “cartographic” geography in the poem, offering a tantalizing glimpse into an under-explored aspect of Apollonius’ thought.

Damien Nelis provides a preview of his forthcoming book (240) in “Apollonius and Virgil” 8 where he outlines the influence of Apollonius on the Latin poet. After briefly discussing the history of the neglect of Apollonius in Virgilian studies, Nelis focuses first on the allusion to Arg. 3.1 in Aen. 7.37 as a structural pattern with wide-ranging consequences (240-6). Mapping the entire Aeneid onto the Argonautica on the basis of nunc age…Erato :: ἄγε νῦν, Ἐρατώ, may find more supporters in Apollonius’ readers than among Virgil’s, but Nelis is aware of potential resistance (244) and is convincing when he discusses particular passages informed by the comparison. Nelis sees the key to accepting Apollonian allusions in Virgil in emphasizing that they do not compete with long-recognized Homeric allusions but coexist with them. In the second half of the paper, Nelis explores the nature of this coexistence, which he alternatively labels “widow references” or “two-tier allusions” or, again, “double allusions” (247-8). In closing, Nelis tantalizingly suggests that Virgil not only uses Apollonian material, but that, “study of Apollonius helped teach him how to produce an epic which could be Homeric and original, classicizing, Aristotelian and yet Callimachean at the same time” (258).

Continuing the Companion‘s look at the Roman reception of the Argonautica Edward Kenney’s contribution, “‘Est Deus in Nobis…’: Medea Meets her Maker,” surveys Ovid’s use of Apollonius in Heroides 12, his fragmentary Medea, and Metamorphoses 7. Kenney first concentrates on Ovid’s development of Jason, whom, he argues, Ovid further deheroizes from Apollonius’ already ambivalent characterization (262-7). After cursorily mentioning Ovid’s inheritance of the problem of the two Medeas, Kenney focuses on the other texts that compete with Apollonius in Ovid’s intertextual heroine. Specifically, he sees Euripides as even more pervasive than Apollonius, while Catullus, Virgil, and Ovid’s own Amores also contribute to the polyphony. Although he does not make an explicit contrast, Kenney seems to observe a different technique at work in Ovid than Nelis’ Virgilian “two-tiered allusions.” Rather than seeing Ovid underlining Apollonius’ references to Euripides, he imagines Ovid staging a contest between Apollonius and Euripides for the control of the characters, a contest whose victory by Euripides is signaled by such phrases as uideo meliora ( Met. 7.20, cf. E. Med. 1078-9) (270), and her (forward) reference to Scylla ( Met. 7.66-7, 8.141-2, cf. E. Med. 1343-4) (274-5).

In the penultimate contribution, “Echoes and Imitations of Apollonius Rhodius in Late Greek Epic,” Francis Vian considers the evidence for the familiarty with the Argonautica of Quintus Smyrnaeus, Triphiodorus, and Nonnus of Panopolis. In view of his limited space, Vian explicitly eschews questions of vocabulary or a comprehensive list of textual borrowings. Instead, he concentrates on nautical scenes, “typical” scenes, similes, mythology (including bare names), and extended scenes that recall similar scenes in Apollonius’ epic, such as the episode of the Spartoi (N. 4.427-63) recalling Jason’s battle with the earth-born at the end of Argonautica 3. To a large extent these references are left undigested, without comment on the implications for Apollonius or the later poets’ technique, but this is in line with Vian’s goal of simply demonstrating that the earlier poet continued to be an important model in Greek late antiquity. Nevertheless, the few comments Vian does provide, for example, showing that mythological anachronisms in Nonnus act as self-conscious references to earlier poems (296-7) or contrasting Quintus and Triphiodorus as covert with Nonnus as an overt user of Apollonian allusion (307-8), whet the reader’s appetite for more.

The final essay in the collection, “The Golden Fleece: Imperial Dream,” by John Newman considers Apollonius’ treatment of the Argonautic myth in the context of its cultural uses from Homer to the Hapsburgs. The intriguing title of his paper relates primarily to the contrast Newman draws between Apollonian and Roman uses of the myth, especially by Varro of Atax and Valerius Flaccus, who, he argues, reinvest the golden ram with its old Indo-European regal symbolism, which had been displaced by the Greeks and their development of Medea’s role in the myth. This is only one aspect of this wide-ranging and suggestive paper, which draws evidence from Thracian iconography, Accius’ Brutus, Virgil’s Eclogue 4, Agrippa’s Porticus Argonautarum, and Titan’s portrait of Philip II of Spain. Occasionally it is possible to question Newman’s use of his evidence (e.g., whether Propertius was really a “devoted servant of the regime” (328), or whether Apollonius really went into exile at Rhodes (335-7)), but this does not significantly detract from the main virtue of Newman’s approach, namely connecting Apollonius’ epic to the world outside the Library.

In conclusion, the individual contributions to the Companion are all of high quality and touch on the major themes of Apollonian scholarship of the late twentieth century, so that anyone working within these topics will need to consult it. There seems to have been little collaboration between the various authors, however, and, while this does not necessarily effect their contributions, it does seem like a missed opportunity. Fantuzzi and Vian’s excellent but technical papers will appeal more to specialists, who will not need to spend much time reading the updates provided by Lefkowitz, Effe, and Rengakos. This lack of a consistent audience is, again, not a flaw but another opportunity missed. Finally, the selection of topics is somewhat conservative, especially given Glei’s call for new directions (25-6), staying largely within the well-worn tracks of Apollonian scholarship, though the final chapters, especially those of Nelis and Newman partly make up for this. Especially missed are chapters on typical “companion” topics, such as Apollonius and the gods, Apollonius and Hellenistic philosophy, or Apollonius and the Ptolemies (again Newman touches on this). These are minor complaints, but contribute to the impression that more people will consult this book than read it.


1. E.g., Fraser, P. M., Ptolemaic Alexandria. Oxford, 1972, is a necessary starting place; similarly, Cameron, A., Callimachus and his Critics. Princeton, 1995, is unjustly passed over.

2. Lefkowitz, M., The Lives of the Greek Poets. Baltimore, 1981, pp. 117-135. The last part of the chapter, dealing with Cameron’s arguments is the primary new contribution.

3. Cameron, A., Callimachus and his Critics. Princeton, 1995, pp. 185-8, 213-9.

4. This paper comprises a considerable updating of his similar argument in, Köhnken, A, Apollonius und Theokrit. Göttingen, 1965.

5. Especially, Hunter, R., “Short on Heroics: Jason in the Argonautica,” CQ 38 (1988), pp. 436-55, and, Goldhill, S., The Poet’s Voice. Cambridge, 1991.

6. The argumentation here is virtually unchanged from, Effe, B., “Tradition und Innovation: Zur Funktion der Gleichnisse des Apollonios Rhodios,” Hermes 124 (1996), pp. 290-312, though he does acknowledge some more recent contributions to the topic.

7. Rengakos is primarily selecting material from his earlier treatments: Rengakos, A., Der Homertext und die hellenistischen Dichter. Stuttgart, 1993; and, Rengakos, A., Apollonios Rhodios und die antike Homererklärung. Munich, 1994.

8. Now available: Nelis, D., Vergil’s Aeneid and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius. Cambridge, 2001.