The Argonautica

by Apollonius

Other authorsRobert C. Seaton (Translator)
Hardcover, 1988



Call number

FH 42552 A693



Cambridge, Mass. London Harvard Univ. Press Heinemann 1988


The Argonautika, the only surviving epic of the Hellenistic era, is a retelling of the tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece, probably the oldest extant Greek myth. Peter Green's lively, readable verse translation captures the swift narrative movement of Apollonios's epic Greek. This expanded paperback edition contains Green's incisive commentary, introduction, and glossary. Alternate spelling: Argonautica, Apollonius Rhodius

Media reviews

Apollonius dramatically closed the distance between the writer and the reader in what is, arguably, the prototype of a new genre in literature; the poet used the epic form to write a traditional tale of high romance and adventure, but the Argonautica is historically unique in its psychological
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insight and personal point of view.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member overthemoon
I approached this with some trepidation because I thought it would be way over my head, but no, completely enjoyable and readable from beginning to end, and magnificently illustrated.
LibraryThing member Malarchy
The Penguin Epics snippet from The Voyage of the Argo by Apollonius of Rhodes is superb. Jason and the Golden Fleece retells the narrative from the Argonauts arrival at the kingdom of Amycus through to Jason's completion of the task set by the keeper of the Fleece, Aeetes. The tale is everything
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that could be asked for from an Epic - the action is terrific, the romance believable and emotional, and the historical setting vividly conjured.

One of the elements of Jason that works well is that it is not just about the lead character. A few of the Argonauts crop up regularly and while Jason is clearly the lead hero, his is a band of followers that merit their own characters. As they are not faceless, their actions and roles impact on the rest of the team. The deaths of two characters early on in this snippet plunges the Argonauts into grief. Too often elsewhere, the death of a comrade has no real meaning but here such depth of feeling demonstrates a kinship worth being a part of.

The action sequences are great from the very beginning of the snippet when Argonaut Polydeuces takes on King Amycus in a boxing match. While this is not a blow-by-blow account, it is a great rendition of martial sport told by a writer who clearly understood what he was talking about. Apollonius is also wise to include the gods but to not deliver them an automaticity in that they too are striving for success. This is a useful reminder of the Greek understanding of the world in that reliance on divine intervention alone could not be enough for success.

Romance is not always easy but Apollonius hits some terrific notes between Medea and Jason. His depiction of the passion that Medea holds within her after Eros has hit her with love's arrow is highly believable. Medea finds herself in a very familiar female quandry - the powerful but dangerous stranger is the person she is drawn to. The steps she takes to move from the obligation she has to her family and the self-doubt it inspires make for such a rich and impressive character. The conflict between loyalty and love makes each step of her rebellion a difficult choice for Medea. To a great extent Medea is the star of this particular snippet.

The morality of Jason is relatively simple. Good deeds performed without desire for personal gain are rewarded while the arrogant are not. The soothsayer Phineus is the embodiment of this. It transpires that he slightly arrogantly took his foresight too far and failed to show due respect to Zeus who punished him harshly. He was otherwise a good man and the Argonauts provide him with the greatest reward which is release from his curse. One other character who had supported Phineus prior to the Argonauts arrival is also rewarded.

With any epic, the place and culture matter just as much as the tale and the key at the back of the book helps slightly though it would still require further information to really get to grips with where and who. The snippet does though get the balance right between having enough names to capture the imagination without delving into lists. Apollonius gives lineage to most characters and the places he describes are identifiable enough to be traceable for a modern reader. Older legends are touched on such as the battles between the gods for supremacy as well as tales from the outer reaches of Greek knowledge such as the Caucasian mountains. This is an old tale though and it is really fascinating to catch glimpses of people that affect later stories.

Jason and the Golden Fleece is a snippet from the epic and the only negative that can truly be felt is that it leaves the reader wanting the rest.
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LibraryThing member ragwaine
Too many names, too disjointed, didn't know what was going on half the time.
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
This book was not initially well received by the Rhodians who had the reviewer's perks in the 200's BCE, when the book was produced. This translation reads quite well, and is an interesting companion to "Hercules My Shipmate", by Robert Graves. Please read this version before watching any movies
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featuring Jason. Please!
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LibraryThing member BayardUS
First, a note as to the version I read: I was very satisfied with the Peter Green translation of The Argonautika, it’s clear from his introduction that he has a passion for this story, and the extensive glossary, maps, and analysis of the text demonstrates that he has the expertise for the job of
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translation as well. Green keeps the text in the form of an epic poem, and there are segments of beautiful and evocative imagery. I’d highly recommend the Green translation.

That being said, the subject of Green’s efforts is less impressive. You can’t help but compare The Argonautika to the other epic poems of antiquity like The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, and when such a comparison is made it’s hard not to find The Argonautika wanting. Compared to the other epics, with their interesting and complex main characters, Jason is rather boring. His sole characterization is “hero on a quest,” and there’s oh so little to differentiate him from any generic hero in any generic tale. When one of his shipmates suggests that Jason intentionally left behind Herakles so that he would not be outshined by that superior hero I wished that it was true, as it would at least imbue Jason with some individuality. Sadly, this was not the case.

Jason’s dullness is made more serious by the fact that he is surrounded by more interesting characters. As I mentioned, Herakles is one of his original shipmates, and while they are quickly separated, the crew of the Argo more than once stumbles across some place that was or would become part of Herakles’ journey. Orpheus is also a shipmate of Jason, and his musical ability saves the crew more than once. Even Achilles is referenced, though still a baby. All these characters are more interesting than Jason, and the tales that concern them are all more engaging than Jason’s quest for the golden fleece (which is perhaps the first ever MacGuffin). Medeia (Medea) gets her fair share of the spotlight in The Argonautika as well, and while she’s interesting, she oscillates between hyper-competent potion master and a helpless crying and begging damsel a few times too many for the story. Furthermore, The Argonautika ends before it gets to Medea’s most interesting actions. For those you’ll have to read Euripides.

Not only does the abrupt end of The Argonautika do a disservice to Medea, but it also makes the final book of the epic very anticlimactic, and doesn’t make much sense. Apollonius ends the story with a line about Jason and his crew reaching home “with no further adventures,” leaving completely unresolved the fact that Jason would there have to confront Pelias once again, the one who sent Jason on the quest in the first place. Compare this to the homecoming depicted in The Odyssey and it becomes very clear why Homer and his works so vastly outshine Apollonius and The Argonautika today. The story of Jason’s quest isn’t a bad one, it just pales in comparison to the other ancient epic poems, which still feel fresh today in a way that The Argonautika does not.
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LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
A solid piece of classical literature. I read my copy from Perseus Digital Library and I was thrilled with the story. The descriptors are sharp and the plot, although sometimes complex by means of the way the sentences were arranged (and I assume the way it was translated) it was still a great
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journey and one that I feel bettered for reading. I recommend this to all interested in the classics.

3.65 stars.
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LibraryThing member MusicforMovies
A delightful Grecian tale written in Alexandria during the Hellenic period; a great prequel to the play Medea by Euripides. Recommended for those interested in Greek tales and mythology.
LibraryThing member Sammelsurium
Best parts:
1. The metaphors. Lots of excellent ones here, much akin to the Iliad.
2. Medea shows up halfway in and steals the show. She might be the only interesting character, but she's interesting enough on her own to make up for the perfunctoriness of the rest. The gender relationships between
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men and women are a source of conflict throughout the text, and that is never more apparent than through the tensions inherent to Medea's character, simultaneously magically powerful and societally disempowered. Certainly a recipe for tragedy, though tragedy is not very present here.
3. Detailed nautical descriptions, if you're into that. I certainly am.
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Original publication date

3rd Century BCE


0674990013 / 9780674990012
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