Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica: Abbreviated Voyages in Silver Latin Epic

By Debra Hershkowitz | Go to book overview

2
Belatedness: Silver Linings

IN THE BEGINNING

Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica opens with a declaration of primacy:

prima deum niagnis canimus freta peruia natis fatidicamque ratem, Scythic quae Phasidis oras ausa sequi mediosque inter iuga concita cursus rumpere flammifero tandem consedit Olympo.

We sing of the sea first penetrated by the great sons of gods, and the prophetic ship which dared to seek the shores of Scythian Phasis and to burst through the Clashing Rocks with a middle course, and finally settled in the fiery heavens (1. 1-4).

Not only does the first word, prima, point to the Argo's status as the first ship, but its meta-narrative resonance also seems to mark out the work as a first of some kind as well. Yet by stressing the notion of primacy, the proem calls attention to the epic's belated status, to the fact that this is not the first poem to deal with the Argonautic enterprise. Poetic accounts, epic and otherwise, of the Argo' voyage existed from pre-Homeric times onwards. Valerius could not even claim to be the first Roman epicist to compose on the subject.

The Flavian Argonautica's belatedness in the literary tradition is further signalled in the proem by echoes of several of these previous versions. Among other texts, Davis1 has noted how the importance of the concepts of the Argo's novelty (prima) and daring (ausa, rumpere) in the opening lines is anticipated by Catullus. 64,2 Horace's Odes 1. 3, and

____________________
1
Davis ( 1990), 49-9, 51-2, 57-8.
2
Cf. esp. Catull. 64. 6 (ausi sunt tiada salsa cita decurrere puppi, "they dared to travel over the salty sea in their swift ship") and 11 (illa rudem cursu prima imbuit Ampititriten, 'That [ship] first introduced unbroken Amphitrite to being sailed over').
3
Cf. esp. Horace, Odes 1. 3. 9-12 (illi robur et aes triplex | circa pectus erat, qui fragilem truci | commisit pelago ratem | primus, "There was wood and triple bronze around his heart, who first entrusted a fragile ship to the fierce sea") and 25-8 (audax omnia perpeti | gens humana ruit per uetitum nefas. | audax Iapeti genus | ignem fraude mala gentibus intulit, 'Daring to endure everything, the human race rushes through all prohibited wrongs. The daring son of Iapetus brought fire to mankind by evil deception').

-35-

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Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica: Abbreviated Voyages in Silver Latin Epic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preace vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • 1 - Incompleteness: Me Talia Uelle? 1
  • 2 - Belatedness: Silver Linings 35
  • 3 - Recuperations: Better, Stronger, Faster 105
  • 4 - Digressions: the Road Not Taken 190
  • 5 - Dissimulation: Unlearnèd in the World's False Subtleties 242
  • References 275
  • Index of Passages 289
  • General Index 298
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