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 ὁ 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.
- Cleon was a native of Curium in Cyprus. We have no means of determining his date. That Apollonius was indebted to his Ἀργοναυτικά is apparent from the schol. on i 625, ὅτι δὲ ἐνθάδε Θόας ἐσώθη, καὶ Κλέων ὁ Κουριεὺς ἱστορεῖ, καὶ Ἀσκληπιάδης4 ὁ Μυρλεανός, δεικνὺς ὅτι παρὰ Κλέωνος5 τὰ πάντα μετήνεγκεν Ἀπολλώνιος. (b)
- Herodorus was born at Heraclea in Pontus. He seems to have lived in the latter part of the sixth century, and so would be a contemporary of Hecataeus. The erroneous theory that his Ἀργοναυτικά was a poem arose from the schol. on ii 1211 ascribing to him two lines from h. Hom. 34.6 The quotations from the work show that it was written in prose. To judge from our scholia, Apollonius agreed with him on many points, though Herodorus made the Argonauts return by the same route as on the outward voyage. Another important work of his dealt with Heracles, τὰ καθ᾽ Ἡρακλέα, and it is referred to both in our scholia and in those on Pindar. We have a quotation from it in Athenaeus.7 (c)
- The notices in Suidas of the various writers who bore the name of Dionysius are hopelessly confused,8 and it is impossible to determine accurately whether both Dionysius of Miletus and Dionysius of Mitylene wrote Ἀργοναυτικά. Dionysius Μιτυληναῖος is twice mentioned in our scholia and Dionysius Μιλήσιος five or six times, and furthermore we have frequently the vague reference Διονύσιος ἐν τοῖς Ἀργοναύταις. Suidas enumerates amongst the works of Dionysius of Mitylene Ἀργοναύτας ἐν βιβλίοις ἕξ, written in prose, and also attributes to Dionysius of Miletus, a contemporary of Hecataeus, a Κύκλος ἱστορικός, and a Κύκλος μυθικός. The contents of the latter are probably given by Diod. Sic. (iii 66): Οὗτος (sc. Διονύσιος) τὰ περὶ τὸν Διόνυσον, καὶ τὰς Ἀμαζόνας, ἔτι δὲ τοὺς Ἀργοναύτας, καὶ τὰ κατὰ τὸν Ἰλιακὸν πόλεμον πραχθέντα, καὶ πόλλ᾽ ἕτερα συνέταξε.
- 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 γυναικῶν）11 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 ὁ τὰ Ναυπάκτια πεποιηκώς, once (ii 299)13 expressly called Νεοπτόλεμος ὁ 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.
- Arg. i 30 “ἑξείης στιχόωσιν”, Phaen. 372 “ἑξείης στιχόωντα”
- Arg. i 555 “βαρείῃ χειρὶ κελεύων”, Phaen. 631 “μεγάλῃ ἀνὰ χειρὶ κελεύει”
- Arg. i 1141 “ἐοικότα σήματ᾽ ἔγεντο”, Phaen. 820 “ἐοικότα σήματα κεῖται”
- Arg. i 1201, ii 1253, Phaen. 423 sqq. (quoted in the note on i 1201）
- Arg. iv 984 “ἵλατε Μοῦσαι, οὐκ ἐθέλων ἐνέπω προτέρων ἔπος”, Phaen. 637 “Ἄρτεμις ἱλήκοι: προτέρων λόγος, οἵ μιν ἔφαντο κ.τ.λ.”
- Arg. iv 997 “φαίης κεν ἑοῖς ἐπὶ παισὶ γάνυσθαι”, Phaen. 196 “φαίης κεν ἀνιάζειν ἐπὶ παιδί.”