BMCR 2003.02.26

Response: Dräger on Scherer on Dräger

Response to 2003.02.05

Response by

B. Scherer (University of Groningen) has recently reviewed one of my last books (“Die Argonautika des Apollonios Rhodios: Das zweite Zorn-Epos der griechischen Literatur”, München, Leipzig 2001) in this journal. I do not think he did his job as a reviewer very well (I wish though, he were as “scrupulous” as he deems me). For, obviously, I am sorry to say, he didn’t (or was not willing1 to) understand the main purpose of some chapters of my monograph. Nevertheless I’m obliged to him, in as much as he has presented to me a welcome opportunity to say something (and a little more) about the things in question.

I would like to begin with a few remarks on Scherer’s review especially of my chapters 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8:

ch. 1 (“Der Argonautenmythos vor, bei und nach Apollonios”). The purpose of this longest, indispensable chapter, that does not seem to have been understood by him, is to demonstrate how the many variants of the Argonautic saga came into existence and coexistence / competition respectively. There has not been an anonymous “stream of different versions” since Homer or pre-Homeric times, as Scherer thinks; behind each variant of the myth stands the creative mind of a poet or prose writer who, for various reasons, imitated his forerunner and emulated him respectively. Such aims were motivated either politically-ideologically (e.g. Apollonius, Valerius Flaccus), also monetarily (e.g. Pindar, ‘Auftragsdichtung’), or mythically-chronologically, i.e. they served the purpose of contaminating and harmonizing genealogies (e.g. Pherecydes, Pseudo-Apollodor; only in this way was Orpheus replaced by Scherer’s Philammon in Pherecydes, see FGrHist 3 F 26). In any case, the oldest form of the myth we can fathom is the narration of the widely neglected and disregarded Apollodorus, which goes back to (the poor fragments of) Pherecydes, i.e. a mythographic handbook. Yet Apollodorus can’t have used Apollonius (as Scherer erroneously believes), for ‘the best of Apollonius’ is missing in Apollodorus: no word about the encounter of the Argonauts with the sons of Phrixus on the isle of Ares (where the wrath of Zeus is, for the first time, revealed; see below), no word about the plain of Circe (where the cause of the wrath of Zeus is ‘concealed’ in the fleeces), no word about the role of Phrixus’ son Argos in the encounter with Aeetes / Aietes – Hades / Aides (where the wrath of Zeus is mentioned for the second time) and the role of Medea’s sister Chalciope in Colchis, no word either about the Libyan adventure on the way back (where the wrath of Zeus as a penalty for the murder and burial of the Colchian Absyrtus is renewed)! All these are keypoints in Apollonius’s own construction, i.e. they are his exciting inventions, and not even the most stupid compiler would have omitted them. — Ovid, Seneca, and Statius, whose absence from my survey Scherer regrets, provided no proper, independent contributions to the bulk of the myth, nor do Scherer’s missed “iconographical testimonia”; they are (if not destined and confined by the space or surface of a work of art), as a rule, based on the current or classical poetical treatment.

Let me give you only one example, and the most impressive one of this technique of emulation at that (and one that shows the value of Valerius for our correct understanding of Apollonius): we can be absolutely sure that the poeta doctus Valerius recognized the wrath-(of Zeus-)construction of his ‘forerunner’, the poeta doctus Apollonius Rhodius; for the Roman substituted the corpses hanging in trees (the Colchian sepulchral custom) in the prominent centre of the Greek epos (AR 3,200-209, immediately after the arrival of the Argonauts) for the grave of Phrixus and the cenotaph of Helle, again in the prominent centre of the epos (VF 5,184-190, during the arrival of the Argo); but his proper substitute is the Fatum of Jove — for the Aeneid was meanwhile acknowledged as the main model for every Roman epic writer. To my knowledge, no one took note (orally or in writing) of the correspondence AR 3,200-209 / VF 5,184-190 before 1993. There are ignorance and silence in the works of the ladies P. Kyriakou and V. Knight, quoted by Scherer as ‘forerunners’ for my view of the Nekyia of Apollonius “as subtext and leitmotif”!

By the way, within this context Scherer presumes that the content of my expected “Argo pasimelousa II” will be “the myth after Apollonius”. I am afraid Scherer has missed the point here and does not appear to be a scientific prophet, for, if the subtitle of the first volume is “Theos aitios” and deals with the preliminaries, i.e. the initiation of the voyage by various gods, how can the second deal with “the myth after Apollonius”? This would somehow be inconsequential. He and other curious people are invited to visit my homepage and to look for the planned title (and content)!

ch. 4 (“Eine Nekyia bei Apollonios”). Scherer can’t have understood the object of this chapter either. People’s opinion that the Argonautica formed originally a catabasis is as old (e.g. even the revered Wilamowitz erred on it) as it is wrong. Only Apollonius made the voyage of the Argonauts to Colchis into a catachthonic journey: only in his epic (in the midst) is Aeetes Hades, his palace the palace of the underworld; only in his realm (i.e. in the corpse of the dead Greek Phrixus, hanging in a tree in the Plain of Circe) lies the cause of the wrath of Zeus, which must be appeased by Iason, as Ulysses asks in the Nekyia (in the midst of the Odyssey) for a mode to appease the wrath of Neptune. These are, as far as I can see, all my discoveries, not those of P. Kyriakou or V. Knight! The latter beats about the bush in the same way as did recently D. Nelis (see my “scrupulous and merciless” reviews of their otherwise excellent books in AAHG 51, 1998, 13-22 [Knight] and AAHG 55, 2002, 42-49 [Nelis, in press; already announced on my homepage]).

ch. 5 (“Die zentralen Handlungsfiguren des Zorn-Epos des Apollonios”) underlines the responsibility of the wrath of Zeus (and his mouthpiece Apollo) for the Argonautic expedition in Apollonios’ conception by stressing the leading — and often unexpected — role of their offspring (especially Hercules, Castor, Pollux, Peleus, Telamon, Orpheus, Idmon). Of course, the material is easily accessible through Vian’s Indexes (an astonishing, naive discovery of Scherer’s) — but first one has to find out what to look for and where. The reviewer puts the cart before the horse. — By the way: I did use the indexes neither of Vian III nor of any other book, because I, expertus dicens, distrust the reliability and completeness of indexes, as a matter of principle (cp., contrary, my own indexes).

ch. 7 (“Apollonios παιζον oder die späte Offenbarung des Zeus-Zornes”) tries to justify my main thesis from the literature-theoretical point of view, namely by means of the Hellenistic technique of playing with the recipients (i.e. leading them by the nose) and the use of allusions as decisive clue for the understanding and appraisal of a typical Alexandrian literary product. No word of evaluation by the reviewer: obviously tired, he ‘discusses’ my four chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 in merely 14 lines.

ch. 8 (“Apollonios ηευρετες und die Einheit des Zorn-Epos”) is the breakpoint (and in my eyes the proof) of my wrath-thesis and the breakpoint in the understanding of unity in as much as suddenly all the difficulties of interpretation (detailed on 14 pp.) are removed. Again no word of appraisal by the reviewer, who instead drivels about an “open, almost postmodern text with many layers”.

To sum up: it is not usually the task of an author to present his theses again himself. But, of course, it is if the reviewer is not able or not willing to do so.

Frankly, my book was written within three months’ time during 2001, but it is by no means consequently a “parergon” 2 to “Argo Pasimelousa I” (1993); I myself called it in the Preface “parallel zu meiner kommentierten griechisch-deutschen Apollonios-Ausgabe”. However, the duration of its production need not be an indicator of the quality of a book. On the other hand, the Horatian nonumque prematur in annum doesn’t fit either. Besides, continually occupied with about a dozen Greek and Latin authors and themes, I gathered up old views and new insights, the last ones won especially by translating and commenting on Apollonius for Reclam.

God willing, there will come from a “Trier-based scholar”, i.e. from my hands, within the following thirty years about thirty editions of Greek and Latin authors with translation and commentary — and, I reckon, about fifteen — not “parerga”, but ‘companion volumes’ (see the current projects on my homepage); for translating and commenting on a classical author is the best way to find out about many new, sometimes revolutionary things. However, I will try to ‘offer’ my views more clearly (I am the most merciless critic of myself). So B. Scherer will have an opportunity to polish up and thus improve his German; anyway, I presume and I suspect from his scrupulous enumeration of reviews of mine und Glei / Natzel-Glei, he has like ‘Big Brother’ been ‘watching me’ and my work for a long time (I would take great pleasure in making his acquaintance). He can begin, as soon as possible, with: “Valerius Flaccus. Die Sendung [mission, not transmission!] der Argonauten. Herausgegeben, übersetzt und kommentiert. 604 Seiten, Frankfurt / Main (P. Lang; Studien zur klassischen Philologie) 2003” (in press: nonumque prematur in hebdomadam) — and continue with the inevitable companion monograph, “Die Argonautica des Valerius Flaccus: Das zweite Fatum-Epos der römischen Literatur, ibidem 2003” ( nonumque prematur mensem).

However, I am sure, that like another well-known (greater) “Trier-based” man, and with God’s help in hoc signo (i.e. with my anger- / wrath theory) vincam.


1. See P. Dräger, GFA 5, 2002, 1055-1067 (review of: Apollonius Rhodius, Hellenistica Groningana IV, Leuven 2000).

2. My “Pherekydes” was merely a “parergon” — but what connection is there with Apollonius? Scherer quotes it in a long footnote, together with only one review (with regard to “Argo pasimelousa I” he lists nine!): I’m not a collector of reviews; I know only (and I have some thousands fixed in my mind) what is accessible to me at our ‘poor’ university of Trier and what I accidentally find in the internet (in all, about a hundred per month); but there are other reviews of that book, e.g. by D. Donnet, LAC 65, 1996, 298-299, and K.-W. Welwei, HZ 263, 1996, 735-736.