Book 4 of the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius tells the story of the quest by a band of Greek heroes led by Jason to recover the Golden Fleece. It’s an old tale. From the very first line, the poet makes it plain that he is telling a story that is older than Troy: ‘ Taking my start from you, Phoebus, I shall recount the glorious deeds of men of long ago’. Published probably in 238 B.C. in Alexandria it, nonetheless, draws on the entire tradition of Ancient Greek literature to retell a myth that may well have had many contemporary resonances for its ancient readers. Book Four is concerned with the voyage back to Greece, the Argonauts’, often terrifying, trips through the unknown rivers of central Europe and the desert of North Africa, the killing of Medea’s brother, Apsyrtus, and the anguish of the young girl which foreshadows (see Euripides’  Medea, in toto) her bloody future. The poem, as a whole, is a masterpiece of Hellenistic poetry, very influential, as it was, on Virgil’s Aeneid. It’s significance for the development of the European literary tradition cannot be underestimated. Book 4 is characterised by travel on a grand and exploratory scale, scenes of deep dramatic interaction between the main protagonists, combined with a strange other-worldliness. The dragon which guards the Fleece, Phaethon’s smouldering body, Circe’s animals modelled after the philosophy of Empedocles, the empty Syrtis, the Garden of the Hesperides, Triton and Talos are a few of the episodes and moments which contribute towards its almost experimental feel. It requires, provokes and deserves discussion, explanation and comment now, much as it did from the date of its first publication.

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