Argonautica - Greek Epic (special topics course that wasn't on list)

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Classical Studies
Classical Studies 3612F/G
Richard Brown

Argonautica • Interested in writing epic, but written from a very different perspective; reflects the preoccupations of the museum in Alexandria, and the preoccupations of writing epic, but by redefining it • Much better defined notions of genre • Although Hunter translates it in verse, it was written in the same metre as the Homeric texts  Some language differences (i.e. in rhetoric); very interested in “showing off” obscure learning much more so than Homer • Virgil strongly engages Apollonius strongly in his poems, which is why he is so important • Alexandria  Founded to commemorate Alexander  In North Africa  Site of the first site for advanced intellectual study; the museon (museum)  After the conquests of Alexander, Greek culture gets pushed further and further out into the world; Alexandria becomes the real cultural centre of Greece, so all the major texts got brought over to Alexandria; collected them all, but also pulled them out of their cultural context; as a result, poets start to experiment with common stories in novel ways (i.e. hybrid genres), so get lots of engagement with epic-epic, epic-lyric, epic-tragedy, and others • Apollonius  We are now dealing with a specific author, not a committee or tradition; although we don’t know why he is called “Rhodius” because most agree he was born in Alexandria  Wrote scholarly works as well in which he tried to make sense of other texts; the Argonautica seems to be his creative spin on these other texts  He was a scholar & poet; worked as librarian (sometimes the head librarian) at the Library of Alexandria; library marked a huge transformation in how literature was read; engaged the text in a much more minute and precise level (i.e. verbal similarities not seen in the Odyssey)  Probably responsible for the divisions (books) in the poem, as well as the arrangement; plays with the Aitia by Callimachus; collection of poem of similar type arranged in an artistic way; different invocations at the beginning of Book 1, Book 3, and Book 4 may reflect how the poem was originally published  Writes about a topic that preceded the Homeric tradition  Other poets  Theocritus: poet who may have begun pastoral poetry (shepherds, vaguely mythical landscape); sometimes mini-epic episodes that draw on Apollonius & Callimachus • Apollonius’ treatment of the Argonautica  Books 1 and 2: take us from the onset of the voyage to the arrival at Colchis  Very episodic; lots of digressions that could be pulled out of the poem and not miss them; as a result, there is a lot of literary criticism levelled against it; part of the problem with this episodic nature is that this poem is not bound together by a powerful central figure, as the Odyssey is  Argonautica is concerned with showing the prowess of the other members of the voyage, which reinforces the fragmentary nature of the poem; hard to determine what he was up to, the expectations of his audience, etc.  Book 3: challenge faced by Jason, growing love of Medea for Jason  Book 4: Jason obtains the Golden Fleece and the Argonauts travel home by a different route than they came Argonautica  Reasonable geographical precision compared to Homer, unlike the wanderings of Odysseus Book 1 • Proem is recognizable, but different from Homer  Recognizable world; passage that sets out the deeds of heroes; some linguistic features of Homer  Where Homer shows a very disinterested narrator, Apollonius uses the first person often; Muses are called “inspirers” rather than singers of the song; we are much more aware of the poet than elsewhere  This passage has more similarities to passages like the Homeric hymns than traditional epic, which shows that Alexandrian poets were interested in these poems; Callimachus actually writes several hymns himself; very strong similarities with the opening of the Hymn to the Moon (Selene)  Beginning from a divinity; verb in the first person stressing the presence of the poet; recount the “glorious” deeds of men “born long ago”; same word used in both that suggests something larger than life, used of someone special, like a hero; thus, Apollonius gives us a poem that is much more knowledgeable of a literary past • He may use this hymn because it is minor, so it shows that he is less interested in the divinity; the hymns were preludes to epic recitations, so his evocation of the hymn allows him to include the prelude without reciting the entire hymn, thus evoking the recitation of early epic to ultimately distance himself from it  Begins from Apollo because an Apollonian oracle sets the entire action of the play in motion • Heroism of Jason  Odysseus sometimes characterized by polymechanos (“he of many contrivances”), whereas Jason is often paired with the word amechanos (“without resources, at a loss of what to do”); he is remarkably ineffectual, especially for people who judge heroes on their comparison to Homeric heroes  When faced with the tasks of Aeetes, he is portrayed with cowardice and doubts, just as the other initiatory heroes are; however, like the other heroes, he receives the help from a woman  However, Jason is different, and Apollonius is interested in writing something different about a different kind of hero who has affinities with many other literary traditions  His name means “healer”; can view his story as that of
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