BMCR 2007.06.06

Beginning from Apollo. Studies in Apollonius Rhodius and the Argonautic Tradition

, , Beginning from Apollo : studies in Apollonius Rhodius and the Argonautic tradition. Caeculus ; 6. Leuven: Peeters, 2005. xi, 156 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 904291629X. €30.00.

Let me begin by saying that it was a pleasure to review this book. It is an attractively concise collection of essays covering various topics and various aspects of Apollonian studies. In sum, the articles provide us with an impression of the position of Apollonius within the history of Greek and Roman literature. The most important feature of this collection of essays, in my opinion, is that it shows the vibrant status of Apollonian studies today and that we can expect many more surprising insights from this field in the future.

This book is the sixth volume of the Caeculus series and contains the proceedings of the sixth Fransum Colloquium, sponsored by the University of Groningen and organized by Iris Schmakeit and Burkhard Scherer. I will discuss the articles of this volume in the order given by the editors.

Anja Bettenworth’s (B.) article “Odysseus bei Aietes: Primäre und sekundäre Intertexte bei Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 3.210-421″ (pp. 1-17) applies the distinction of primary and secondary sources of the works of epic poets that J.J.L. Smolenaars developed in his commentary on Statius’ seventh book of his Thebais (Statius, Thebaid VII: A Commentary. Leiden 1994, xxviii) to the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, i.e. in this case to the scene in which the Argonauts meet Aietes in his palace and ask Aietes to return the Golden Fleece to them. This scene ends with Aietes’ proposal according to which Jason needs to fulfill three superhuman tasks in order to get the Golden Fleece. Prior research has considered Odysseus’ first meeting with Alcinous (Od. 7) to be the primary model of Jason’s audience at Aietes’ court. B. points our attention to the fact that Odysseus’ visit in Scheria was a happy one. The meeting’s ultimate result was that the Phaeacians transported Odysseus to Ithaca. In contrast to Odysseus’ experience, Jason is not so lucky. B. argues that in spite of the fact that Jason at first seems to approach Aietes’ palace just as Odysseus’ comes to the palace of Alcinous, Apollonius directs his readers’ attention in a way so that they expect a different outcome. Apollonius’ method, therefore, was to include allusions to other Homeric arrival scenes which had a troublesome result for whoever was approaching a new place. Odysseus’ return to Ithaca and his problems with the situation that had developed there during his absence are at the center of a whole bouquet of parallels to Apollonius that B. covers in her article. These allusions occur more and more frequently as the Apollonian scene at Colchis unfolds, dominate the second half of the scene, and become its new primary source, as B. shows. In particular, B. is convinced that the passage A.R. 3.210-4 needs to be read as a direct parallel to Od. 13.189-91, i.e. the mist sent to protect the Argonauts covers the surrounding area, not the heroes themselves (pp. 4-6). B.’s opinion on these verses leads her to further believe that this allusion already prepares the reader for the contamination of both Odysseus’ arrival at Scheria and Odysseus’ arrival at Ithaca.1

Jan Bremmer (“Anaphe, Aeschrology and Apollo Aiglêtês: Apollonius Rhodius 4.1711-1730”, pp. 18-34) offers new insights regarding an Apollonian epithet of Apollo: Aiglêtês. Bremmer’s (Br.) conclusions are: Apollo’s epithet shows that Apollo was associated with Asclepius and therefore a deity of medicine for the people on Anaphe. Apollo’s festival as described by Apollonius show parallels to other New Year festivals of the time. Br. suggests that Apollo as the main deity of a small community had to fulfill many duties. Drawing on many parallels in various cults of various deities, Br. manages to sort out nicely the many difficulties that surround the explanation of the ritual Apollonius is describing in these verses. Br.’s discussion carefully shows how shaky the ground is for any definite conclusion. As Br. himself says on p. 19, this article was written with an emphasis on the religious implications of this scene, not on the literary impact it has.

“Interactional Particles and Narrative Voice in Apollonius and Homer” is the subject of Martijn Cuypers’ (C.) contribution to this volume (pp. 35-69). The article undertakes to show how Apollonius’ usage of “interactional” particles makes his poem different from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. C.’s definition of “interactional” particles is given on p. 35: “particles which … address the intentions, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, expectations, commitment or knowledge … of the speaker and/or his addressee … with respect to the message exchanged, and so modify the communication between them.” C. discusses in particular the particles που, ποθι, μάν, μήν, μέν, ἦ, δή, δῆθεν, θην, τοι, ἤτοι. An appendix contains further observations on δέ, αὐτάρ, ἀτάρ, καί, τε, μέν, γε, περ, ἄρα, ῥα, ἄρ, γάρ, ἀλλά. C. arrives at the conclusion that Apollonius’ narrator uses these particles in a very similar way as the characters of Apollonius’ poems do when they are speaking. Homer’s narrator, however, did not do that, but was “omniscient and authoritative, one-directional, and self-contained” (p. 65). In turn, this conclusion means, as C. claims, that Apollonius is a far more complex narrator than Homer was. C.’s article is based on a massive amount of statistical data. On p. 38-40 a table gives a rough overview over that data, but carefully reminds everyone to check every single instance of Apollonius’ particle usage first and then to refer to this table and compare the data given in it. In general, C. is very good at describing possible methodological problems that an analysis like his necessarily creates because of its generalizing nature. These caveats, however, enable the reader to appreciate better the irrefutable virtues of C.’s exploration of particles in Apollonius. I am sure that C.’s results will prove to be very helpful not only applied to a few verses, but also for the analysis of entire scenes.

Adolf Köhnken (K.) writes a piece entitled “der Argonaut Euphemos” for this volume. On six pages (pp. 70-75), K. convincingly explains that Euphemus is on the one hand a direct link to Pindar’s Pythian 4. On the other hand, Apollonius changes the story of Thera and its coming into being. Also, Apollonius describes Euphemus as the swiftest runner on earth ( ποδωκηέστατος). These two alterations in regard to what Apollonius found in Pindar suggest, according to Köhnken, that Apollonius wants to allude to Callimachus. K. also argues that this intention of Apollonius provides us with the reason for the emphasis given to ‘Kalliste’ as the name of the island whose role in founding Cyrene was vital: Apollonius wants to pay homage to Callimachus of Cyrene.

Marieke Molenkamp (M.) in her article “The Lesbou Ktisis: The Story of Peisidice” (pp. 76-87), carefully reviews the surviving 21 lines of the poem which narrates the foundation myth of Lesbos and arrives at the conclusion that this poem most likely is an imitation of Apollonius’ poetry as far as style, composition, vocabulary, and topic are concerned and fits the Hellenistic genre of aetiological foundation poetry. M. argues for assuming that ring composition is the narratological basis for this poem. In M.’s opinion the characters of this story are to some degree owed to the usual make-up of this type of stories: a girl betrays her home for reasons of greed or love. In the end, however, the girl dies. M. concludes from the information which we get from the Lesbou Ktisis and from other authors about the plot of this myth that this poem was full of motifs that we know from other myths and stories. From M.’s diligent discussion it becomes clear how difficult it is to arrive at definite conclusions about the authorship of this poem. Consequently, M. pleads her case very cautiously.

Jackie Murray (JM.) disentangles the somewhat complicated account Apollonius tells his readers about who built the Argo. And although the argument of JM.’s article (“The Constructions of the Argo in Apollonius’ Argonautica“, pp. 88-106) tackles what is no easy subject, the piece is succinctly and clearly written. JM. shows Apollonius’ version of the building of the Argo. JM. collects the passages of the Argonautica that tell us bit by bit that in sum Athena built the Argo and had Jason and especially Argus, the son of Arestor, as her assistants. This “micronarrative” refutes other accounts of earlier bards. Apollonius also uses Argus, the son of Phrixus, to contradict the version of the myth that had this Argus as the builder of the Argo. This Argus’ shipwreck, as JM. convincingly claims, serves as an anti- Argonautica.

Claudia Schindler (S.) discusses Claudian’s use of the myth of the Argonauts in his de bello Getico on pages 107-123. S.’s article “Claudians ‘Argonautica’: Zur Darstellung und Funktion des Mythos zu Beginn des Epos de bello Getico (1-35)” reads Claudian’s text very carefully and compares it to possible sources of Claudian. There is no immediate model for Claudian’s treatment of the Argonauts, as S.’s inquiry shows, even if there are some verbal parallels to Valerius Flaccus. Yet Claudian manages to employ the myth for his own purposes. Politically Stilicho’s achievements, whose praise is sung by Claudian, is shown to be superior to those stories about the Argo which, in addition, Claudian clearly identifies as fiction. At the same time, Claudian also shows the superiority of his own poetry.

Iris Schmakeit-Bean (S.-B.) concludes this book with her article: “‘Von alten Menschen, den Dingen, die vorübergehen’: die Darstellung des Alters in den Argonautika” (pp. 124-140). In the center of her discussion are Alcon, Aleus, Jason’s parents Aison and Alcimede, Iphias, Polyxo, and Phineus. S.-B. nicely discusses the scenes in which these characters appear or are mentioned. S.-B. draws on parallels especially from Homer and tragedy and concludes that especially the choice between becoming a great warrior and being the supporter of one’s parents is a recurring theme. The possibility that Jason will perhaps not be able to fulfill his obligation of θρεπτήρια towards his parents, for example, adds a tragic color to Apollonius’ epic poem. Polyxo uses this theme to draw the Lemnians’ attention to the future that lies ahead if they will continue to live without men. Polyxo brings her own old age into play. She, however, will not have to face the problem of not being well attended in her old age. But she presents herself to the younger Lemnians as an example. The Lemnian women have a good opportunity to study the question what it means to face the maladies of old age without proper support from a younger generation. Apollonius here, according to S.-B., utilizes Euripides’ works and visualizes the contrast between the consequences of old age: the decrepitude and the wisdom of the seniors of a society. Phineus’ case then is very similar to Polyxo’s, even if his old age is due to a mistake Phineus’ has committed earlier. Old age therefore attains a negative touch in this scene as it is the case with Sophocles’ Oedipus. It would be interesting how S.-B.’s careful conclusions tie in with the works of contemporary art of Apollonius’ time.

I detected a few typographical errors in this volume. None of them, however, was grave enough to be mentioned here.


1. B. stresses the importance of understanding by the expression ἐφῆκε δῑ ἄστεος in 3.211 that Hera poured out mist over the entire city, not around the Argonauts. B. nicely documents the various opinions scholars have on this passage even if one could add one or two more works of scholarship which discuss this passage. Let us assume that we have to include the phrase δῑ ἄστεος in the main sentence, as B. does. I would think that one has to construct ἐφίημι with accusative (3.211 ἠέρα πουλύν) and dative ( τοῖσι νισομένοις) to see what is sent upon whom. The prepositional phrase then adds additional information. We have to reckon with the possibility that the meaning of διά with genitive gives us the direction of Hera’s action rather than the location where the action is taking place. This action then would parallel the movement of the Argonauts through the city. Or we could assume that this prepositional phrase belongs to the phrase τοῖσι νισομένοις. These observations, however, would mean that Apollonius maybe did not see the same difference between the fog in Od. 7 and Od. 13 as we are inclined to see. This detail, however, would not invalidate B.’s overall argument.