In This Article Apollonius of Rhodes

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • General Overviews
  • Collections of Papers
  • Bibliographies
  • Editions
  • English Translations
  • Literary Readings
  • Narrative Techniques and Voice
  • Description
  • Characters
  • World, Fictional and Real
  • Engagement with Earlier Greek Poetry
  • Relation to Contemporary Poets
  • Literary Criticism
  • Other Poetic Works
  • Reception

Classics Apollonius of Rhodes
by
Martine Cuypers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0002

Introduction

Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century BCE) is the author of the Argonautica, the only full-scale epic surviving from the seven centuries that separate Virgil’s Aeneid from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. In almost six thousand lines, the Argonautica narrates the quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece: their journey from Iolcus in Greece through the Clashing Rocks to Colchis in modern Georgia (Books 1–2); Jason’s completion, with the help of Medea, of “impossible” tasks set by the Colchian king Aeetes (Book 3); and the Argonauts’ journey back to Greece with Medea and the Fleece (Book 4). Little survives of Apollonius’s other works, which included scholarly prose and ktiseis, poetic accounts of the foundation of cities.

Biography

From the main sources for Apollonius’s life (presented concisely by Hunter 1989: 1–3) we may gather that he served as head of the Library and royal tutor at the Ptolemaic court in Alexandria c. 270–245 BCE, roughly contemporary with Callimachus. The designation “of Rhodes” clashes with Apollonius’s reported place of birth, Alexandria or Naucratis in Egypt, and probably accounts (together with evidence for revision in Argonautica 1–2) for the biographical sources’ confused accounts of an exile in Rhodes after a bad reception of the Argonautica in Alexandria (Lefkowitz 1981). It is more likely that Apollonius was of Rhodian extraction; Greeks in 3rd century BCE Egypt usually kept their family’s original ethnic designation. The notion of a literary quarrel between Apollonius (“old-fashioned”) and Callimachus (“innovative”), which modern scholars have spun from the ancient evidence, is probably also incorrect (Lefkowitz 2008, arguing especially against Cameron 1995). Most scholars now agree that the similarities between the Argonautica and the poetry of Callimachus are more striking than the differences—as seems also implied in the ancient biographical sources’ listing of Callimachus as Apollonius’s “teacher,” which amounts to an acknowledgment of literary affinity. See also Relation to Contemporary Poets.

  • Cameron, Alan. 1995. Callimachus and his critics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    On Apollonius, see especially pp. 214–219, 225–228, 247–257, and 426–430. Offers an elaborate but highly controversial reconstruction of 3rd century BCE literary debates and relative chronologies.

  • Hunter, Richard. 1989. Introduction. In Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica book III. Edited by Richard Hunter, 1–12. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Presentation and discussion of the evidence for Apollonius’s life and works.

  • Lefkowitz, Mary R. 1981. The lives of the Greek poets. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    For Apollonius and Callimachus, see pp. 117–135. Very skeptical of the information provided by the ancient biographical sources.

  • Lefkowitz, Mary R. 2008. Myth and history in the biography of Apollonius. In Brill’s companion to Apollonius Rhodius. Edited by Theodore D. Papanghelis and Antonios Rengakos, 51–72. Rev. ed. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    E-mail Citation »

    Builds on Lefkowitz 1981, but adds further arguments against the reliability of the biographical sources and reacts to Cameron 1995.

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