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How does Apollonius' Argonautica rewrite Homeric epic?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Literature
Wordcount: 2364 words Published: 18th Oct 2021

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When arguing whether the Argonautica is a rewrite of the Homeric epic, we must zoom into the characters. In each of the three books, different characters take the spotlight in the expedition, and the books follow the course of the tradition of Homeric epic: Book 1 we have Hercules, a violent and strong man that mirrors the character of Achilles in the Iliad and the concept of biē. Book 2 presents with Polydeuces and the helmsmen, heroes who practice mētis, that also falls under Odysseus's shadow and his mētis. This then leaves us with Book 3, with Jason and his human realism. This essay will demonstrate how the book's characters are more reminiscent of the Homeric epic. I demonstrate this by comparing the characters to one another and drawing out similarities between them, proving that Argonautic was a Homeric epic rewrite. Nevertheless, the main argument that I will argue towards the end of the essay is that, at the end of book 3, Apollonius puts forward the notion that traditional Homeric heroes are no longer needed in the Hellenistic world demonstrating a new rewrite of the Homeric epic and epic world.

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Paragraph 1: Similarities between Hercules and Achilles

It is evident in Book 1 that Heracles represents the Homeric epic, and more specifically, illustrates the Iliadic heroics. Heracles is thus instrumental steppingstone for Jason and the Odyssean characters of Book 2. Although Heracles and Achilles are from different eras, they present some similarities between themselves[1]. Listing, a few of them, would be: They both have attacked Troy (Iliad 5.640-2, 5.650-1, 20.145), they both have one divine parent, and, as with Achilles' quarrel with Agamemnon, Heracles demolished the city because Laomedon refused to give him the compensation that he deserved (Iliad. 5.650-51). Even in the Iliad, Achilles compares himself to Hercules (Iliad. 18.115-21), and both heroes challenged the communal values: Hercules is independent,[2] and Achilles, after Agamemnon, isolates himself from the Greeks. Traditional Myth, therefore, has already linked these two characters together on several fronts purely based on their similarities, thus putting forward the argument that Argonautica is a rewrite of the Homeric epic. I would like to further exemplify this by pointing out that Heracles' famous lust is absent in the Argonautica, which is demonstrated by the rejection of sex at Lemnons.[3] This is quite surprising as Heracles was the man who impregnated the fifty daughters of King Thespius (date). This is another attempt by Apollonius to mirror Heracles to Achilles as Achilles is not known for lust, so by removing this trait, Hercules is a step closer in mirroring Achilles, the hero of the Iliad. Thus,presenting that Apollonius moulds Heracles in a way that allows him to channel the heroism of old epic, and bring to the mind Iliadic heroism.[4] This is also important in understanding that Jason rejects Heracles, as he is bringing on the Argo what Heracles stands for: the Achilles of the Iliad, the first leg of the epic tradition.

In the next two paragraphs, book 2 is a shift from the Iliadic in book 1 to entering the Odyssea. There is not one main character, the four character are key to understand the heroic identity.Polydeuces represents a sense of mētis similar to Odysseus when he steps up to fight Amycus, demonstrating a shift from only depending on Heraclean biē. Similar to Odysseus, Polydeuces is powerful. He can stand up to the formidable Amycus without giving ground (2.78), his "prowess and strength flourish like a wild beast's" (2.44-45), and his final hit is so powerful that the king's skull is shattered (2.95-96). When discussing similarities, both Polydeuces and Odysseus are likened to shipbuilders when they are attacking these monster: the punches of Amycus are compared to carpenter pounding pegs into "ship timber" with a hammer (2.79-82). in comparison, the latter twists the sharpened stake in the Cyclop's eye and is compared to a man boring a hole into "ship timber" with a drill (9.384-86). In both similes, Polydeuces and Odysseus are equated to craftsmen building a ship and using tools to create holes in wood.[5] It cannot be mistaken: Apollonius wants us to think of Odysseus as we read about Polydeuces disposing of yet another monstrous, hubristic, and hostile son of Poseidon. Apollonius wants us to view Polydeuces as a second Odysseus of sorts.

The next character that I will be discussing is the Helmsmen. Apollonius often described the helmsmen's role as requiring mētis, which is essential for Odysseus's heroic worth. For instance, Lawall discuss the helmsman role as: "Judge from signs and tokens" (1.108), "cunning" (1.560) and "wise of mind" (1.560). The last quote is important as it is one of the epithets from Odysseus in the Odyssey.[6]Including this was a tactical move from Apollonius, as to present to us Odyssean mētis in all its aspects, seeing the helmsmen in action was crucial. It could be argued to be the only way to represent Odysseus' heroic abilities fully.

However, in Book 2, Heracles does make a return but almost having a different persona. I believe it is because now he is a man of mētis rather than biē. An example would be the strategy used with Ares' birds, linking him with the quality of mētis. A former companion, Amphidamus, said that Heracles made extremely loud noises to scare the birds off instead of shooting them down like the Earthborn men (2.1052-57).[7] This almost seems like Apollonius is trying to recreate Heracles as Odysseus, again providing the argument that Argonautica is trying to rewrite the Homeric epic. This was so important to Apollonius, even sacrificed the integrity of Heracles' character by lending him two different, conflicting masks to wear as he participates in the Argonautica.

As of this point in the essay, I argued that Apollonius was deliberately rewriting the Homeric epic, especially in book 1 and 2. Book 3 however, Apollonius rejects the notion. I put forward this argument because, in book 1, we learn about a vast amount of supernatural qualities: Euphemus ran on water (1.182-84), and Orpheus music makes wild oaks walk (1.28-31. The rest of book 1, Heracles displays many god-like strength. The same goes for book 2; the Argonauts display likened achievements: Boreads exhibits superhuman speed by catching up to the Harpies who have been said to run faster than the west wind (2.27381) and Polydeuces shattered the bones in Amycus head in one fatal blow (2.94-97). I mention these points because it is only in book 3, where no member exhibits anything beyond norman human potential. For instance, At Colchis, they do not consist of a generation of heroes with remarkable skills. As the people of Iolcus expected before the expedition set out (1.244-45), they do not prove their superiority by razing the place when Aeetes refuses them the fleece. Instead, it is at Colchis that the Argonauts come to terms with their human limitations. Jason attempts to be Odysseus, but he does not consummate Odysseus' mētis.

Several Argonauts will try to be like Achilles, but they have insufficient human strength. Thus, we leave the Homeric sphere in book 1 and 2, representing the old traditional epic of extreme heroes. Therefore, Book 3 is where Apollonius' rejects Iliadic and Odyseeasn heroes, and how it is impossible to replicate the heroic models in homer. I will be discussing this idea further in the next two paragraphs, that Apollonius is rewritten the idea of a hero is, and the Homeric hero can only thrive in literature.

Apollonius deliberately shifts Jason away from acting like a traditional hero, and as a result, he is unable to be a hero at all.[8] Gilbert Lawall labelled Jason as "anti-hero", as he was a man who did not embody traditional Homeric traits, but, instead, he relies on "unheroic, circumvented arts of success", results in his reliance on Medea.[9] In the Argonautic, Jason does not once present any extraordinary potential. In effect, Jason is just an ordinary man from the real world, placed in an epic past,[10] without the support of supernatural traits on Homer's heroes. He becomes a hero of love, thus revealing his humanness: "The keynote of the new heroism is not traditional individualistic prowess but the willingness to admit to and exploit the power of a more human force, love."[11] This demonstrates that Apollonius' hero has not been rewritten from the Homeric epic, but instead from reality. Jason is representing a Hellenistic man in an Apollonius epic.[12]

However, it is essential to understand that Jason is not unable to contribute to an epic because of his human limitation. Instead, he attains a new mētis from Medea's which is quite the opposite from Odysseus', which again separates Apollonius' epic from a Homeric epic. Argus and Hera used mētis to describe the plan against the princess (3.30, 4.75), and three times, the word mētis was described for the scheming of Medea's (3.720, 7.81, 9.12). This is important to mention as the uses of mētis strains far away from Odysseus way of use.

Jason is turning the concept into a dangerous and deceptive way, which Homeric heroes like Odysseus have tried to contain. Again, showing the Argonautica has altogether left the Homeric writing. Accordingly, when Jason enters the field contest, having obtained magical prowess. Apollonius cleverly uses Homeric languages to describe the scene, but this exaggerates Jason's new status and shifts him further away from the Homeric Heroes, thereby stressing its magic, not Jason's human self, that caused the success. The Homeric allusions in the final two hundred lines of Book 3 are so extensive it would be beyond the scope of this chapter to outline each one as Hunter and others have done.[13] Hunter also notes that Apollonius exaggerates Jason's ability, making him seem even more superhuman than the Iliad's heroes. The simile comparing Jason to a shooting star (3.1377-80) only finds a parallel in Homer in a description of Athena shooting through the sky (Il. 4.75-78), thereby figuratively elevating Jason to the level of the divine.

Moreover, when Jason throws the stone in 3.1366-67, Apollonius says that not even four men would be able to lift it, while in Homer, he always sets the bar at only two men (e.g., Il. 5.303-34 and 20.286-87). Therefore, Apollonius paints a Homeric landscape but makes his hero far more robust than Troy's warriors. They were subject to human limitation. After magic, however, Jason can be both Iliadic and Odyssean par excellence.


In conclusion, the Argonautica is an epic where each of the first three books represents a different stage in the epic tradition, more specifically a Homeric epic. The first two books presents Homeric concepts of heroism. The book opens with the Iliadic Heracles and then progressed to various of Odyssean figures. Thus the first two book answers the argument on whether Argonautica was a rewrite of the Homeric epic. However, instead, What I understood from It was the first two books together, were just a deception for the Hellenistic centric of the second half of the poem. I believe Apollonius demonstrated with Jason's human realism that Homeric heroism can no longer exist in the third century BCE. Thus resulting in the death of the Homeric epic and a rebirth of a new concept of heroism, and putting forward the notion that humans are no less capable of being heroic humans


[1] Galinsky 1972: 14-15

[2] Clauss 1993: 65-66

[3] Hunter 1993: 33-34

[4] C.f Beye 1969: 40

[5] Rood 2007: 113

[6] Lawall 1966: 132

[7] Brommer 1988: 26-28

[8] Carspecken 1953: 99-125

[9] Lawall 1966: 166

[10] Galinsky 1972: 109

[11] Zanker 1979: 74

[12] DeForest 1994: Chapter 1 & 2

[13] Fantuzzi-Hunter 2004: 270-82


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