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Sources of the
Argonautica

To enumerate the probable and possible sources of the poem would be to enumerate the greater part of Greek literature. Nurtured in a literary atmosphere, Apollonius had devoted himself, heart and soul, to the study of all previous writings which could aid him in his work. The rhetor Aelius Theon attributes to him the saying Ἀνάγνωσις τροφὴ λέξεως, and assuredly he must have dipped deeply into the treasures of the great Alexandrian libraries. In trying to sketch briefly the materials at his disposal when he began to write, we must rely, to a very large extent, on the information which has come down to us through the scholia. From them we learn much; but we must remember that they are merely excerpts from the larger works of the grammarians, and, therefore, necessarily imperfect. The sources from which our poet derived materials for his work and the authors whom he imitated may be classified as follows:--(1) The Homeric poems; (2) other ancient epic poems; (3) early logographers and geographers; (4) previous writers of Argonautica; (5) writers who had introduced the story of the Argonauts incidentally; (6) narrators of the deeds of Heracles; (7) authors, most of them little known, to whom Apollonius was indebted on special points; (8) Alexandrian poets.

I. The Homeric poems constitute in the truest sense the πηγὴ καὶ ἀρχή of the Argonautica. Though the matter of the work is not derived from them, yet the diction and the form in which the particular incidents are set forth continually recall to our minds the words of 'the poet,' as the ancients reverently described Homer. Apollonius knew Homer by heart, and one of the chief charms of his work is to come across the familiar phrases reset, some, it may be, dimmed in the process, others shining with added lustre. Our poet was no servile imitator. Nothing could be more erroneous than to regard his work as a mere cento of Homeric phrases. Professor R. Ellis admirably states his position: "For Apollonius the problem was how to write an epic which should be modelled on the Homeric epics, yet be so completely different as to suggest, not resemblance, but contrast. We think no one who has read even a hundred lines of the poem can fail to be struck by this. It is in fact the reason why it is a success. The Argonautica could not have been written without the Iliad and Odyssey, but it is in no sense an echo of either. Nay, we believe that a minute examination of Apollonius' language and rhythm would show that he placed himself under the most rigid laws of intentional dissimilarity."1 In the period between the recensions of Zenodotus and Aristarchus Apollonius had made a critical study of the Homeric poems, as we shall see when we come to consider his other works.

The Argonautica often enables us to infer the meaning which he assigned to doubtful words in Homer and the views which he must have held on disputed passages. This has been worked out with the most painstaking fullness by Merkel in his Prolegomena. Merkel illustrates at length, what F. A. Wolf had already noticed, that many words which occur only once or twice in Homer are only found once or twice in Apollonius, e.g. ἀαγής, ἀβλής, ἀγέραστος, ἅψεα, γαυλός, τρύφος, γλῆνος, κάγκανος, ῥαφαί, μέσφα, ἀμφίδυμος. He also shows that in the case of words like ἀδινός, τηλύγετος, ἀδευκής, αὐτάγρετος, etc., the different views of the ancient grammarians about their meanings are reproduced in different passages of the Argonautica.

II. We may be sure that Apollonius, in cultivating the epic style, had studied the other old epic poems, not merely those belonging to the so-called Epic Cycle, such as the Νόστοι, Θηβαιίς, Ἀλκμαιωνίς, but also works like the Αἰγίμιος (ascribed by some to Hesiod), and the Φορωνίς (a genealogical poem by an unknown poet of Argos), both of which are cited in the scholia for purposes of illustration. We have no evidence that Apollonius derived any of his matter from them. His familiarity with the Homeric hymns is often shown, e.g. in the opening line of the first book.

III. Large use must have been made of the early historians and geographers, especially Herodotus, Hellanicus, Hecataeus, and Acusilaus, whose writings are frequently mentioned in the scholia. Weichert2 shows that Apollonius in all probability studied the λογογράφοι more than the poets, and, in consequence, passed over in silence some things very closely connected with his theme, e.g. a description of the Argo, which must have been given by the earlier poets, while he is very full in dealing with places, peoples, etc. Amongst the old prose writers Simonides of Ceos is often referred to by the scholiasts as agreeing with our poet, e.g. on ii 866, καὶ Σιμωνίδης γενεαλόγος ὁμοίως τῷ Ἀπολλωνίῳ γενεαλογεῖ. Suidas tells us that he was reputed to be a grandson of the famous lyric poet,3 that he lived before the Peloponnesian War, and that he wrote a Γενεαλογία in three books, and Εὑρήματα, also in three books. He may have introduced the myth of the Argo into the Γενεαλογία. In the schol. on i 763 we find a reference to a work of his, Σύμμικτα, which is not mentioned by Suidas.

IV. Most interest naturally attaches to the writers who had dealt with the voyage of the Argo in special works. Of these the three principal were Cleon, Herodorus, and Dionysius.

We may presume that Apollonius was familiar also with the poem in 6500 verses describing Ἀργοῦς ναυπηγία καὶ Ἰάσονος εἰς Κόλχους ἀπόπλους, which was ascribed to Epimenides9 of Crete, a contemporary of Solon, though the references to it in our scholia are very slight.

The so-called Ὀρφέως Ἀργοναυτικά cannot be included amongst the sources, as it is in all probability an imitation of the work of Apollonius by some versifier of the early Christian era. It consists of one book containing 1376 lines. Orpheus, one of the Argonauts himself, tells, in the first person, of the main incident, of the adventure, dwelling at length on the scenes in which he had played the leading part, and more briefly describing the rest. The lateness of the work seems clearly indicated by internal evidence, though some would assign it and more of the 'Orphic' poetry to an early date.10

V. Besides those authors who had written special Argonautica there were several others who had introduced the story incidentally, from whom, as far as we can estimate from our scholia, Apollonius drew more, and more directly, than from the former group.

    (a)
    Eumelus of Corinth was reckoned by some as belonging to the Epic Cycle. Eusebius makes him contemporary with Arctinus about the fifth olympiad. The cyclic poem on the return of the Greeks from Troy (Νόστοι) is attributed to him by Pausanias. In this poem apparently the story of Jason and Medea was introduced, and from it, according to our scholia, Apollonius took iii 1372 sqq. He also wrote a hymn in honour of the Delian Apollo, Bougonia (a poem on bees, containing the fable of Aristaeus), Europia, Titanomachia, and Corinthiaca. Both the Titanomachia and Corinthiaca are referred to in the scholia on the Argonautica.
    (b)
    To Hesiod Apollonius seems to have been greatly indebted, though we could better estimate his obligation if the Ἠοῖαι μεγάλαι (or Κατάλογος γυναικῶν11 had come down to us, for the legend of the Argonauts must have entered largely into it. In several passages our Schol. say that Apollonius directly followed Hesiod (Ἡσιόδῳ ἐπηκολούθησεν), e.g. i 859, iii 311, iv 892. At other times the divergence of Hesiod's views is mentioned, especially about the return voyage of the Argo. In the Theogonia12 Hesiod outlines the whole theme of the Argonautica in a few verses, from the orders of Pelias to the return of Jason to his native land.
    (c)
  • There is no writer more frequently cited by the Scholiasts, and none with whom our poet more often agrees, than Pherecydes of Leros, one of the most celebrated of the early logographers. His chief work was a mythological history in ten books entitled Ἀρχαιολογίαι, Ἱστορίαι, or Αὐτόχθονες. The opening book was a Theogonia, and then followed a description of the heroic age. The legend of the Argonauts and the history of Jason came probably in the sixth and seventh books. Apollonius acquired from Pherecydes not merely details connected with the Argonauts, but also historical and geographical notices which he worked into his poem.
  • (d)
  • Another author often mentioned in the scholia is τὰ Ναυπάκτια πεποιηκώς, once (ii 299)13 expressly called Νεοπτόλεμος τὰ Ναυπάκτια πεποιηκώς. It has been generally assumed that Neoptolemus of Paros (or Parium in Mysia) either wrote it or commented on it. Pausanias (x 38, 6) agrees with Charon of Lampsacus in attributing it to the cyclic poet Carcinus of Naupactus, the work deriving its name from the birth-place of its author, like the Κύπρια of Stasinus of Cyprus. The subject of the Ναυπάκτια, according to Pausanias, was ἔπη πεποιημένα εἰς γυναῖκας. Amongst the famous heroines we may infer that Medea was introduced, and consequently the story of the golden fleece. Only once14 is the author mentioned as agreeing with Apollonius, in all other cases as differing, the difference being strongly marked with regard to the flight of Medea.15
  • (e)
  • Pindar in his masterpiece the fourth Pythian ode sings of the voyage of the Argo, telling of the foundation of Cyrene by Battus from Thera, and the fate-fraught clod of earth given by the god Triton to Euphemus in Libya.16 The story of Aristaeus and the Etesian winds is derived from Pind. Pyth. ix. According to the Schol. Pindar agreed with Hesiod and differed from our poet about the return of the Argonauts.
  • (f)
  • Antimachus of Colophon is another poet whose influence on Apollonius must have been very great. Weichert17 well describes him as "gleich berühmt als Epiker durch seine Thebais, wie als Elegiker durch seine Lyde, und in beiden Gattungen der Poesie das Vorbild der Alexandriner." The love tragedy of Jason and Medea must surely have formed part of his Lyde. On ii 296 we are told that Apollonius took from him the version that the harpies were not slain by the sons of Boreas, and again on iv 156 we find that Apollonius described the drugging of the dragon and the winning of the fleece συμφώνως Ἀντιμάχῳ.18
  • (g)
  • The three great Tragedians must have frequently woven the quest of the Argonauts into their lost plays. Aeschylus' drama Ὑψιπύλη is cited by the Schol. on i 773 as describing the meeting of the heroes with the women of Lemnos, and on i 105 there is a reference to a work of his entitled Ἀργώ. On iv 284 we are told that our poet followed the Προμηθεὺς λυόμενος in making the Ister flow from the land of the Hyperboreans and the Rhipaean Mountains. In another play, the Κάβειροι, we know that Aeschylus brought the Argonauts into contact with those strange divinities19. The plays of Sophocles embracing the legend which are quoted in the scholia are those entitled Κολχίδες, Σκύθαι, Λήμνιαι, Τάλως, Ῥιζοτόμοι, and Φινεύς. In portraying the character of Medea Apollonius must have had ever present to his mind the great tragedy of Euripides, and also the tragedies of lesser writers such as Neophron on the same theme. Another play of Euripides, the Φρίξος, is referred to on ii 382 as describing the birds which discharged their plumes as shafts on the island of Ares.

VI. Our poet, to judge from the scholia, made abundant use of the many authors of Ἡράκλεια, whose writings recounted the deeds of Heracles. Of these we may mention Cinaethon the cyclic poet of Lacedaemon, Pisander of Camirus in Rhodes, and Panyasis of Halicarnassus the kinsman of Herodotus. Writers on the same theme who were contemporary with, or subsequent to, Apollonius were Demaratus, Rhianus, and Conon. There are three other authors of treatises, partly historical, partly geographical, on the town of Heraclea and the legends associated therewith, Promathidas, Nymphis, and Callistratus. They are not merely mentioned as agreeing with Apollonius, but we are also directly told that Apollonius took certain statements from the first two, who were both natives of Heraclea. From Promathidas20 he took the story of Sthenelus (ii 911), also the legend of the foundation of the town of Heraclea (ii 845), while the description of the ἄκρη Ἀχερουσίς (ii 728) is from Nymphis.

VII. Some of the philosophic doctrines of Empedocles find expression in i 496 sqq., iv 676 sqq. In the account of the Idaean Dactyli (i 1129 sqq.) Apollonius was indebted to Menander as well as to Stesimbrotus. In the fine passage, iii 158 sqq., we are told διὰ τούτων τῶν στίχων παραγράφει τὰ εἰρημένα ὑπὸ Ἰβύκου, and Ibycus is also imitated in iv 814.

Other authorities cited at times by the Scholiasts, though to us in many cases they are mere names, are Nymphodorus of Amphipolis, author of Νόμιμα Ἀσίας, from whom Apollonius drew his account of the customs of the Colchi (iii 203), the Tibareni (ii 1012), and the Mossynoeci (ii 1020)21; Deilochus, or Deiochus, of Proconnesus, who wrote a work περὶ Κυζίκου, from which our poet got much of his information about that town, agreeing with him also in his account of the death of Amycus22; Evanthes, probably of Samos, author of Μυθικά, who had told of the death of Clite, wife of king Cyzicus (i 1063); Theolytus, an epic poet of Methymna, author of Βακχικὰ ἔπη, already mentioned in connexion with Cleon; Androetas of Tenedos, who wrote a περίπλους τῆς Προποντίδος (cited on ii 159); and, lastly, Timagetus from whom Apollonius derived his version of the return voyage of the Argonauts through the Ister. His work περὶ λιμένων is often referred to by the Scholiasts in connexion with the flight of the Argonauts from Colchis, though otherwise there is nothing known of him.

VIII. Apollonius had studied closely the didactic poem of Aratus, as we see by comparing

The simile in ii 933 is derived from Phaen. 278αὐτὰρ ὅγ᾽ εὐδιόωντι ποτὴν ὄρνιθι ἐοικώς.” Leutsch23 shows that it was from Phanocles, author of elegies under the title Ἔρωτες καλοί, that Apollonius, in all probability, imitated the lengthening of the second syllable in Θρηίκιος. The address to the Libyan goddesses (iv 1309, 1322) is modelled on the epigram of Nicaenetus beginning Ἡρῷσσαι Λιβύων ὄρος ἄκριτον αἵτε νέμεσθε.24 In iv 447, ἄλγεα τ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἐπὶ τοῖσιν ἀπείρονα τετρήχασιν, we have a clear reminiscence of Philetas (xvi 3, Jacobs), Οὐδ᾽ ἀπὸ Μοῖρα τέλος τι κακῶν φέρει ἀλλὰ μένουσιν Ἔμπεδα καὶ τοῖσιν ἄλλα προσαυξάνεται.

The number of coincidences which we can detect between the Argonautica and the works of Callimachus is very small, as we have few fragments of the Αἴτια, which had contained among its subjects the story of the Argonauts. In i 1309 we have a verse apparently taken completely from Callimachus (fr. 212).25 Other resemblances are referred to in the notes on i 129, 738, 972, 997, 1116; ii 713, 770, 1094; iii 277, 876, 932; iv 961, 1165, 1614, 1717.

Though Theocritus took for his theme some of the subjects which Apollonius also treats of, we cannot say that Apollonius borrowed from him, as the uncertainty of the chronology in the case of both poets prevents any definite conclusion as to their influence on each other. Knaack and Gercke26 assume, on quite insufficient grounds, that Theocritus' poems on Hylas (xiii) and the Dioscuri (xxii) were composed as the most effective form of criticism on Apollonius' defective treatment of the same subjects at the end of the first book and the beginning of the second. In his Thalusia Theocritus had introduced the attack on imitators of Homer, which we have already quoted in dealing with the life of our poet, though there is no evidence that it was directed against Apollonius in particular.

Some of the post-Homeric verbs used in the Argonautica may have been derived from Lycophron.27


1 Quoted by Way, The Tale of the Argonauts, p. 208.

The relation of Apollonius to Homer, with regard to forms, vocabulary, and syntax, has been discussed by Rzach, Grammatische Studien zu Ap. Rhod.; Merkel, Prolegomena; Schmidt, De Ap. Rhod. elocutione; Seaton, Amer. Jour. Phil. xix; Cholevius, Ueber den griech. Epiker Ap. Rhod.; Linsenbarth, De Ap. Rhod. Casuum Syntaxi; Goodwin, Ap. Rhod., His Figures, Syntax, and Vocabulary; Oswald. The Prepositions in Ap. Rhod.; etc.

2 op. cit., p. 146.

3 For probable references in our scholia to the lyric poet v. Bergk, Poetae Lyrici Graeci iii 382 sqq. (frag. 3, 43, 206, 212, 213).

4 Suidas says that this Asclepiades was a μαθητὴς Ἀπολλωνίου who afterwards taught at Rome in the days of Pompey. Unless the word μαθητής is loosely used, these two statements are chronologically irreconcilable.

5 Two lines earlier the schol. says εἴληφε τὴν ἱστορίαν παρὰ Θεολύτου. Mueller (Frag. Gr. Hist. iv 515) assumes that Apollonius drew from Cleon, and Cleon from Theolytus.

6 Cf. Diod. Sic. i 15. 4, where they are rightly assigned.

7 ix, p. 410.

8 v. Welcker, Der epische Cyclus 1 72 sqq.; Meier, Quaestiones Argonauticae, cap. i.

9 Diog. Laert. i 111.

10 v. Schneider's preface to his edition of the Orphic Argonautica.

11 With reference to the question of the identity of these poems it is interesting to note that they are distinguished by the Schol. on 11 181: πεπηρῶσθαι δὲ Φινέα φησὶν Ἡσίοδος ἐν Μεγάλαις Ἠοίαις, ὅτι Φρίξῳ τὴν ὁδὸν ἐμήνυσεν, ἐν δὲ τῷ γ Καταλόγων, ἐπειδὴ τὸν μακρὸν χρόνον τῆς ὄψεως προέκρινεν.

12 vv. 992 sqq.-- “Κούρην δ᾽ Αἰήταο διοτρεφέος βασιλῆος
Αἰσονίδης βουλῇσι θεῶν αἰειγενετάων
Ἠγε παρ᾽ Αἰήτεω, τελέσας στονόεντας ἀέθλους,
Τοὺς πολλοὺς ἐπέτελλε μέγας βασιλεὺς ὑπερήνωρ
Ὑβριστὴς Πελίης καὶ ἀτάσθαλος ὀβριμοεργός.
Τοὺς τελέσας ἐς Ἰωλκὸν ἀφίκετο, πολλὰ μογήσας,
Ὠκείης ἐπὶ νηὸς ἄγων ἑλικώπιδα κούρην
Αἰσονίδης, καί μιν θαλερὴν ποιήσατ᾽ ἄκοιτιν.

13 Where Keil needlessly alters the schol. in a mistaken effort to secure uniformity. On the question of the authorship, see Clinton (F. H. i 349). It was sometimes attributed to a Neoptolemus of Miletus.

14 Schol. on ii 299, in reference to the retreat of the harpies to Crete.

15 See note on iv 87.

16 Cf. Arg. iv 1551 sqq.

17 op. cit., p. 233.

18 The differences mentioned in the schol. are trifling except with regard to the return voyage where Antimachus agreed with Hesiod and Pindar.

19 See note on i 917.

20 Mueller, op. cit. iii 201, shows that Promathidas probably lived much later than Apollonius (about 80 b.c.), and so Lehrs would alter the schol. on ii 911, on the assumption of a lacuna, into τὴν δὲ περὶ Σθενέλου ἱστορίαν ἔλαβε παρὰ … (ἔστι καὶ παρὰΠρομαθίδᾳ (mss. Προμαθίδα). This change is adopted by Keil.

21 It is curious that the works of Xenophon are never mentioned in our scholia, though his account of these tribes closely resembles that of Apollonius.

22 ii 97 sqq.

23 Philol. xii 66.

24 Anth. Pal. vi 225.

25 See Appendix on the Double Recension of the Argonautica.

26 Rh. Mus. xliv 137 sqq.

27 v. Boesch, De Ap. Rhod. Elocutione, p. 50. He gives as instances γατομέω (ii 1005; Lyc. 268, 1396), δωμάω (ii 531; Lyc. 719), μυδαίνω (iii 1042; Lyc. 1008), δύπτω (i 1008, 1326; Lyc. 715).

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
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