Jason and the Golden Fleece (The Argonautica)

Jason and the Golden Fleece (The Argonautica)

Jason and the Golden Fleece (The Argonautica)

Jason and the Golden Fleece (The Argonautica)


The Argonautica is the dramatic story of Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece and his relations with the dangerous princess Medea. The only surviving Greek epic to bridge the gap between Homer and late antiquity, this epic poem is the crowning literary achievement of the Ptolemaic court at Alexandria, written by Appolonius of Rhodes in the third century BC. Appollonius explores many of the fundamental aspects of life in a highly original way: love, deceit, heroism, human ignorance of the divine, and the limits of science, and offers a gripping and sometimes disturbing tale in the process. This major new prose translation combines readability with accuracy and an attention to detail that will appeal to general readers and classicists alike.


The Argonautica is a difficult poem: the Greek is often obscure, and understanding the poem's aesthetic framework and meaning requires coming to terms with poetic traditions which are alien (and sometimes alienating) to many modern readers. Nevertheless, its importance within ancient literary history is not in doubt, even for those who do not actually like it; more significantly, perhaps, its particular literary and intellectual qualities are now attracting much more serious critical attention than ever before. The aim of the present volume is to fill a perceived gap in what should be available if the Argonautica is in fact to reach as many readers as possible, and if appreciation of it is going to continue to make headway. I have tried to convey both the stylistic variety of the poem, and the fact that all of it is written in a language very far from the everyday; where the translation seems forced or imprecise, this may be because I have seen these qualities in the Greek. The Argonautica was never an 'easy read'. No one, on the other hand, is more conscious than I am of the failings of my translation; I can only hope that it will be judged sufficiently utile for the absence of the dulce to be excused.

The basis of the translation has been Vian's Budé text, and in the Notes I have signalled doubts about the text only where even the general sense is unclear.

I am much indebted to Hilary O'Shea for encouragement when it was badly needed, to OUP's editors and readers for their criticisms and suggestions, and to John Donaldson for his invaluable help with the maps. My largest debts--ones I share with all modern students of this poem--are to Hermann Fränkel and, above all, to Francis Vian whose Budé edition was the sine qua non of this volume.

R. L. H.

Cambridge October, 1992 . . .

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