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“Apollonius ..[a young man from Rhodes with thin legs].., then only eighteen, gave in the Mouseion a public reading of the preliminary draft of his poem. A violent quarrel was the result, Apollonius was expelled , E.M. Foster

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Apollonius of Rhodes (Apollonios Rhodios) (270 BC? – unknown, after 245 BC), Hellenistic Greek epic poet and scholar of the Library of Alexandria, during the reigns of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III, and a chief librarian of the Library of Alexandria. He is best known for his Argonautika, a literary epic retelling the ancient story of Jason and the Argonauts' quest for the Golden Fleece.

What is known of Apollonius' life comes from two accounts taken from scholia. Alexandrian by birth, Apollonius was drawn to the center of Hellenistic scholarship, the Library of Alexandria, where he became a student of Callimachus. Callimachus almost exclusively wrote epigrams and other short works, while Apollonius became interested in epic poetry. Their difference of opinions over the appropriate length and style for poetry led to a long and bitter literary feud, which may have been exacerbated after Ptolemy II chose Apollonius over his teacher Callimachus for the prestigious post of chief librarian. References to this feud appear in both poets’ surviving work, in the form of direct and vicious insults: Apollonius wrote an epigram calling Callimachus “trash” and a “blockhead,” and another calling the writing of Callimachus’ Aitia an “original sin, and among Callimachus' own contributions to the feud was a curse poem (‘’katadesmos’’) called The Ibis, which does not survive, though Ovid wrote his own imitation. From references in scolia, it is known that The Ibis attacked Apollonius as tasteless, vulgar, and a plagiarist.

Early in his career, Apollonius gave a public reading of an early draft of the Argonautika. Given a poor reception by Callimachus and his supporters, Apollonius left Alexandria for Rhodes, where he revised his Argonautika. While on Rhodes, Apollonius won fame and respect, allowing him to return to his more respectful peers at the Library of Alexandria (by 270 BC – 265 BC). As a sign of love and gratitude for the city that had adopted him, he changed his style of address to Apollonios Rhodios, Apollonius of Rhodes. As one of the most respected scholars of Alexandria, Apollonius served as childhood tutor for Ptolemy III Euergetes in addition to his other responsibilites. He was appointed head of the Alexandrian Library, succeeding Zenodotus. Though some sources claim he served as chief librarian until his death, he most likely retired in 246 BC/245 BC, and Ptolemy III Euergetes appointed Eratosthenes as his replacement. Apollonius then retired to Rhodes, where he remained until his death at an unknown date.

Argonautika

Main article: Argonautika

The Argonautika differs in some respects from traditional or Homeric Greek epic, though Apollonius certainly used Homer as a model. The Argonautika is much shorter than Homer’s epics, with four books totaling less than 6,000 lines, while the Iliad runs to more than 15,000. Apollonius may have been influenced here by Callimachus’ brevity, or by Aristotle’s demand for "poems on a smaller scale than the old epics, and answering in length to the group of tragedies presented at a single sitting" (Poetics), which is true of the Argonautika.

Apollonius’ epic also differs from the more traditional epic in its weaker, more human protagonist Jason and in its many discursions into local custom, aeitiology, and other popular subjects of Hellenistic poetry. Apollonius also chooses the less shocking versions of some myths, having Medea, for example, merely watch the murder of Apsyrtos instead of murdering him herself. The gods are relatively distant and inactive throughout much of the epic, following the Hellenistic trend to allegorize and rationalize religion. Heterosexual loves such as Jason’s are more emphasized than homosexual loves such as that of Herakles and Hylas are less discussed, another trend in Hellenistic literature. Many critics regard the love of Medea and Jason in the third book as the Argonautica’s best written and most memorable episode.

Opinions on the exact merit of the poem have been divided, with Longinus' and Quintilian's considering it mediocre. Other sources ranging from the Encyclopedia Britannica to many Roman poets, whose own epics were influenced by Apollonius, hold higher opinions

Selected References

  • Editio princeps (Florence, 1496).
  • Merkel-Keil (with scholia, 1854).
  • Seaton (1900).
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Green, Alexander to Actium: The political evolution of the Hellenistic age (1990), particularly Ch. 11 and 13.
  • Longinus (De Sublime, p. 54, 19)
  • Quintilian (Institutio Oratoria, x. 1, 54)
  • Aristotle (Poetics)

English translations: Verse:

  • Greene (1780).
  • Fawkes (1780).
  • Preston (1811).
  • Way (1901).
  • Green (1989).

Prose by Coleridge (1889).

  • Auguste Couat, La Poésie alexandrine
  • Franz Susemihl, Geschichte der griechischen Litteratur in der Alexandrinerzeit

LIBRARIANS at the Great Library of Alexandria

Callimachus of Cyrene (260-240 BC)

Apollonius of Rhodes (240-235 BC)

Eratosthenes of Cyrene (235-195 BC)

Bibliography related to Apollonius of Rhodes from 1496 - 2005

The Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius

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