Epic and Romance in the Argonautica of Apollonius

Synopsis

Apollonius' Argonautica is almost universally ignored, yet according to John Gardner in his Foreword, this great epic of third-century Alexandria is astoundingly modern in spirit and applicable to today's problems.

"Understanding the work as Beye explains it," Gardner notes, "we can see why it apparently failed with most of the sorrowful, lawful Romans; why only a few passages were allegorically acceptable to the Middle Ages; why the Victorians scarcely noticed it; and why now, in our time, it has resurfaced as an important work. In an age of nihilism and cynicism, it satisfies all our needs, yet it is not finally nihilistic or cynical."

After sketching Apollonius' life, Beye delves deeply into the intellectual and literary currents that spawned the Argonautica. He notes that Apollonius "remains the poet who showed the Roman the way to translate the oral poetry of heroism into a complicated literary expression freighted with symbol."

Beye continues: "More than anything else, however, the Argonautica is entertaining in itself. By turns witty, humorous, perverse, sad, even tragic, the narrative is itself a voyage; the narrator asks us to embark with him to gain not only the fleece and Medea but a style and a chastened sensibility as well. And then, of course, there is the love story, one of the first in the Western tradition and one of the best."